Congratulations on being able to announce the third year of rate freeze for ICBC premiums.
Thank you. It’s really a credit to motorists and to those who advised us in the public process last year to put an emphasis on traffic safety, and to police and others who have supported their program. That’s where congratulations should be directed.
Traffic safety initiatives are seen as the alternative to no-fault insurance. Is it living up to your expectations?
Well, if you look at the recommendations of people who were talking about product change, they were really talking about a way of gaining some short term breathing room in the way of savings. Traffic safety was assumed by most of the experts to take two to three years to translate into improvements. What happened in the consultation is, a lot of the groups said they believed there was a public appetite to move on traffic safety much more quickly, that there was more to be saved in that area than a lot of the experts and consultants were prepared to concede. I think what we’ve seen is, the view expressed strongly by the public and by stakeholder groups, including the CBA and others, has, at least to this point, had some validity. The response seems to be greater, and people do seem to be slowing down fairly dramatically. As a result, ICBC’s deficit will be cut in half. If we can continue that trend, then hopefully we can keep rates down in the future.
So you think there’s room for improvement?
Yes. First of all, to this point the major traffic safety initiatives have been photo radar and the initial steps under the six-point program that were rolled out in the Fall, but have not had a full year’s implementation. We still have new six-point program initiatives that have not fully taken effect, such as graduated licensing, intersection cameras, and the power of the superintendent to pull licenses of people who have ongoing bad driving records and require re-training. We’ve seen a huge response to the initial steps, but much of the program is still in infancy or is being rolled out, so it seems there is a lot of potential for improvement in accident rates and in the severity of the injuries. These have a major social cost, but also a huge financial cost to ICBC and to the traveling public.
You touched on graduated licensing, which was a major proposal of the Bar. Can you tell me where that’s at in terms of implementation?
That is an initiative that is being worked on very aggressively by ICBC. It requires a fair bit of lead time because it does entail a number of changes that involve other groups. For example, part of graduated licensing is to have a much closer relationship with driving schools and to encourage the use of driver training. So we have to make sure that the driver training services in the province are ready to do this.
It also means that we have to develop a different kind of license, the terms of that license, and how it’s enforced. We need to make sure the police are comfortable with it, and that it has the appropriate forms and consequences. All of that requires time.
The third thing is the testing. There’s going to be much more rigorous testing, and we have to make sure that we have the ability to carry it out in an effective manner. As a result, it didn’t come into being as quickly as some things we could do much more readily, like the three-strikes-you’re-out, or the increased speeding fines. But it will hopefully be up and running halfway into the year. We want to make sure it’s done in a way that works, and that all the testing and licensing are ready to go before we announce the program.
Is it your sense that the public is ready for graduated licensing?
I think so. In other jurisdictions like Ontario, this has been proven to reduce death amongst young people, in particular, who tend to be the bulk of first time drivers. I think the general view of the public is shifting to one of driving as a privilege, and that as a society we can’t just allow people to get onto the road without making sure they have the tools to drive safely and protect the lives not just of themselves, but of others. I think that the success of similar programs elsewhere, and some of the benefits it can bring here, in terms of, for example, breaking some of the early psychological and social links that are made between drinking and driving, are ones that the public will generally support.
What about theft and vandalism?
We announced stronger anti-fraud measures in the bill we introduced, we increased fines for insurance fraud, and ICBC has also launched a very aggressive campaign to encourage people to lock their vehicles. We are looking, down the road, to providing some incentives to people who use anti-theft devices. Also, ICBC has been talking with the Attorney General’s Ministry, and I know the Ministry is looking with the police at a more aggressive approach to auto theft and fraud. We’ve seen some crackdowns in the last year, and I think you’ll likely see some more initiatives coming up.
What do ideal auto insurance programs look like?
I think the ideal auto insurance program is one in which people are provided access to an affordable, universal form of insurance that provides for the necessary minimum coverage they require in terms of liability insurance and the like. Ideally, it is also a program that is closely allied with a commitment to reducing the costs of insurance by reducing carnage on the roads. One of the real advantages we have of having a public auto insurer is that we can relate those two goals much more closely.
Insurance is a poor substitute for the tragedy and dislocation that people suffer when they or their family incur a serious traffic accident. So while insurance is necessary, it works much better, in my view, if it is seen as a fallback and complement to an equivalent, perhaps stronger commitment on the part of government and on the part of the public to taking steps to prevent the need for claims to have to go to insurance.
What’s your main message to the public?
My main message to the public is that the best way to prevent auto insurance costs from going up is to take steps to drive more safely. Drive more slowly, first of all, because we all know that when mistakes are made, if they’re made at a higher speed the results are much more tragic. Secondly, take other steps in terms of improving your driving. Think twice as you come to an intersection. Stop, don’t run that red light. Don’t drive too closely to cars in front of you. Drive defensively. If you do all that, you will be part of a major solution, in terms of your own insurance costs, and you’ll be part of a much more important solution in terms of reducing death and injuries on the road.
And your message to lawyers?
My message to lawyers is that I hope they will work with the six point program. There are parts of that program in which we’re looking for example, to try to make use of mediation, as an alternative to litigation. I hope lawyers, while they will defend clients vigorously, will not encourage clients to bring claims that may be excessive.
Generally, my message to lawyers is to view their role as trying to help solve the problems of their clients in the most cost-effective way possible. That means working through mediation, working with some of the changes that we’ve brought about in consultation with the Bar, and working in a way effects that resolutions to improve people’s lives.
This article was published in the February 1998 issue of BarTalk. © 1998 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.