BRITISH COLUMBIA (NEWS 1130) – BC Liberal House Leader Mary Polak says changes proposed by the NDP for ICBC don’t go far enough, noting it might be time to privatize the Crown corporation.
“We’re the only ones who maintain a structure that is purely a government monopoly,” she said. “Most systems have some kind of a hybrid if not fully privatized.”
“It’s clear now that it’s not just that ICBC has a problem – ICBC is the problem.”
When asked why her government didn’t do that before losing power last year, she said they were convinced the Crown corporation could be fixed.
“Well, we were convinced just as every other previous government that there were ways to fix ICBC without fundamentally changing its structure,” Polak said.
She also defended her government taking more than a billion dollars from ICBC to help balance past budgets saying that “had nothing to do” with why the corporation is losing money now.
Union representing ICBC workers happy with proposal
Meanwhile, the head of the union representing most ICBC workers is confident changes announced on Thursday will help erase this year’s projected loss of $1.3 billion dollars.
“We’re pleased to see yet another announcement talking about modernizing and improving the insurance system here in BC,” said MoveUp president David Black. “I’m not any different from any other British Columbian. People who drive safely should be able to pay less and people who are riskier drivers need to pay more because they’re the ones causing the accidents.”
Black says problems at ICBC have been building for several years. He says the BC Liberals’ idea to privatize ICBC is not a good one.
“My first reaction is to laugh because the Liberals are the ones who created this mess,” he said. “There’s a reason why ICBC was created in the first place. Going back to a model of private insurance where money leaves the province and uninsured drivers run around, I don’t think anybody wants that.”
Black notes public auto insurance is popular in Saskatchewan and Manitoba which both have right-wing governments.
John Rice with the Trial Lawyers Association of BC isn’t satisfied with the proposed changes.
“If you’re a reckless driver who’s causing a lot of car accidents, is a couple hundred bucks a year really that much of a disincentive to you?” he wonders.
He says such drivers should pay significantly more than someone who accidentally bumps into another car in a parking lot.
While he supports changes targeting bad drivers, Rice also remains critical of plans announced earlier this year to cap ICBC pay-outs for victims of minor injuries.
“This legislation doesn’t go far enough,” he said. “Most specifically, when it comes to bad drivers who not only cause material damage to vehicles, but those people who cause human damage.”
He says when a crash involves pedestrians or cyclists, premiums should be increased significantly.
BC Greens welcome the change
Meanwhile, Andrew Weaver says he’s happy with the proposed changes, noting he is pleased drivers will have a fairer system.
“These are progressive changes that will ensure that those with clean driving records will be paying less, while people who cause crashes will generally be paying more,” Weaver said in a statement. “These changes will align rates more closely with risk and the actual cost that drivers pose to the insurance system.”
Penalties going up for traffic offences
Along with premium changes, ICBC would like to increase the penalties associated with traffic and other distracted driving offences by 20 per cent this year and another 20 per cent next year.
Those penalties are applied to a person’s driver’s licence, not vehicle insurance.
Derek Lewers with Sense BC, a group which opposes more stringent distracted driving penalties, fears more drivers will be caught up in the Driver Penalty Point and Driver Risk Premium programs.
“The incentive will now be to target more people at intersections touching their phones, which they don’t seem to be able to stop because the average person does not see it as an unsafe action.”
According to ICBC, the Driver Penalty Point program applies to “drivers who receive four or more penalty points in a one-year period. These points are for traffic offences such as disobeying a stop sign or driving without due care.”
The Driver Risk Premium program “applies to drivers who receive serious convictions such as roadside suspensions or prohibitions, excessive speeding and distracted driving.”
Lewers considers the two programs cash grabs.
“That is a tax that most people are not aware of, even if you get a ticket. If you don’t dispute it, people don’t realize it, but the Premium Driver Risk Premium program assigns guilt, whether or not you own a car. And then you get billed.”
The premium ranges from $175 for four points to $24,000 for 50 or more points.
Lewers says ICBC needs to review its driver risk program to better reflect what behaviors actually lead to at-fault crashes.
“Like driving over a fire hose is a three-point penalty. That’s one point away from you going into the Driver Risk Premium category. Does that accurately indicate that you are more likely to be involved in an at-fault crash?”
New premium proposed for learners
ICBC is also proposing an additional premium that “will recognize the risk that a learner driver represents.”
The premium would range from $130 to $230.
Kurtis Strelau with Young Drivers of Vancouver is not sure if that amount will be considered too onerous for some parents with learner drivers in the family.
“It remains to be seen how penny pinching the public is, and what they are willing to pay. With incomes and cost of living in the Lower Mainland, it doesn’t take much to put a dent in a family’s transportation budget.”
But given the costs of paying for putting a child through driving school, and to have them do all of their driver training at the school, rather than a combination of lessons and practicing with the parents, many may opt for the extra premium.
“In many ways, most people will insure their car for their learner. The learner gets their practicing in, and our school gets a better driver because they’ve been practicing,” says Strelau.
He says ICBC could follow the lead of other provinces and supply insurance discounts to inexperienced drivers, if they have taken an approved course. ICBC has indicated it wants to reduce discounts that are now given to new drivers.