In terms of jargon used in the world of Road Accident Fund claims one of the most frequently used terms is that of ‘motor vehicle’. Although the term may seem straight forward, when cognizance is given to the definition of a motor vehicle in terms of the Road Accident Fund Act, it becomes evident that it is not always as straight forward as one might think.
In terms of the Road Accident Fund Act, 56 of 1996 a motor vehicle is defined as follows; “any vehicle designed or adapted for propulsion or haulage on a road by means of fuel, gas or electricity, including a trailer, a caravan, an agricultural or any other implement designed or adapted to be 5 drawn by such motor vehicle”.
In Road Accident Fund v Mbele the court dealt extensively with the matter of defining what a motor vehicle is according to the Act. The matter dealt with the issue of whether a reach stacker (a vehicle essentially used for the handling of cargo) could be defined as a motor vehicle for purposes of the Act to enable a loss of support claim by the surviving spouse of the deceased, who passed away as a result of an accident involving a reach stacker.
The court explained that there are 3 requirements that need to be satisfied in order for a vehicle to be classified as a motor vehicle. These requirements are as follows.
The vehicle must be propelled by fuel, electricity or gas
This first requirement generally does not give rise to much academic discussion, confusion or debate and is relatively easily satisfied.
Whether or not a vehicle is propelled by fuel, electricity or gas is easily ascertainable and should not generally give rise to any problems.
In the matter at hand the reach stacker satisfied this requirement as it is propelled by means of a diesel engine.
The vehicle must be designed or adapted for propulsion or haulage
The court here referred to the matter of Chauke v Santam Limited, which gave a clear explanation of this requirement. The court in this matter stated that one should apply an “objective common sense meaning” to the phrase and not over complicate it.
Where the vehicle cannot be not operated on a road used by other vehicles and pedestrians without the needs for special precautions or adaptations and such use would cause hazards then the vehicle cannot fall within definition of a ‘motor vehicle’ in terms of the Act. However, if the above-mentioned adaptations were affected or applied to the vehicle to enable it to be used on a road used by other vehicles and pedestrians then the vehicle would be classified as a ‘motor vehicle’ in terms of the Act not because it was primarily designed or intended for such use, “but because it was adapted for such use”.
The court, in terms of this requirement, deemed that it was satisfied. This is so because the reach stacker was fitted with most of the features that are present on general motor vehicles. These being, amongst others, features such as indicators, brake lights etc. The court held that despite the reach stacker’s size, it would not be hazardous to be operated on a road used by other vehicles and pedestrians.
On a road
The court did not go into much discussion of this aspect of the requirements since it does not have significant bearing on whether or not a vehicle can be classified as a motor vehicle.
Sufficed to say, a road is, as stated in the matter of Road Accident Fund v Vogel, “a road which the public at large and other vehicles are entitled to use and do use; and in general parlance, a public road”.
The court in Mbele eventually came to the conclusion that the reach stacker satisfies the requirements to be classified as a motor vehicle in terms of Section 1 of the Act. The above makes it clear that all is not always as simple as it may seem on face value and due consideration must be given to definitions of terms in terms of the law.
 (555/19)  ZASCA 72; 2020 (6) SA 118 (SCA).
  ZASCA 120; 1997 (1) SA 178 (SCA);  4 All SA 59 (A)
 2004 (5) SA 1 (SCA)