- An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Blame
If you ever drive eastbound on the Barnett Highway, just by the cement factory on the Burnaby side, on your right you will see the carefully preserved colour photos of two young men, twins it looks like, cut down by a traffic accident. This memorial is often supplemented with fresh flowers. It has been for years. A parent’s grief does not go quietly into the night. It’s a constant ache that lasts forever.
This is one of thousands of such shrines to lost loved ones that dot the city streets and highways all around our Province. If you look for them you will see them everywhere. Some are just bouquets fading in the rain, others are small white crosses, some have a written sentiment that recalls something unique about that particular human being, that friend, family member, contributor to the community, that will be missed – always.
They are also reminders of the chronic mismanagement of our public roadway systems, of a lack of imagination, a lack of caring that shows up in the very manner of the Government’s administration of the key publicly owned device for addressing the problem, the Insurance Corporation of BC. The Government points an accusing finger at public fraud and greed, all the while hiding its flaccid and underfunded accident prevention arm, ICBC’s nearly non-existent Traffic Safety Department, behind its back.
- The Moving Definition of No Fault Insurance
Back in 1974, when ICBC was young, and creative, and effective ‘no fault insurance’ meant delivering financial and health care support to injured motorists when they needed it, in the accident’s aftermath – because they were hurt, not because they could sue someone! Today there is talk of ‘no-fault insurance’ in the context of taking away an injured person’s right to have compensation for their losses independently adjudicated. It’s like trusting the Canadian Parliament, Liberal or Conservative, to act without the check and balance of the Supreme Court of Canada. It would turn ICBC into a rolling Worker’s Compensation Board. Must the citizens of this Province pay for the Government’s chronic, incompetent political meddling in ICBC’s operations with this clumsy, wholesale sweeping away of citizen rights?
- Minister Stone is Experiencing Unusually High Call Volumes
It’s so frustrating and such a waste of time being put on hold with a large corporation because of the ‘unusually high call volume’ that is … well … really just ‘business as usual’. And then when you finally get to speak to a human, they don’t have any authority to help you actually solve your problem. That’s what the Government has done to ICBC. And Minister Stone wonders why people hire lawyers.
- A Step Too Far for The Government
Want to reduce ICBC expenditure by millions of dollars? Eliminate the Subrogation inequity. Here’s what that is. Someone pays a private insurer a premium for collision coverage on their vehicle. They get rear ended. The private collision coverage insurer exercises its right of Subrogation, meaning they are legally entitled to collect what they have paid to their insured from the negligent motorist. ICBC, because it’s the only provider of basic liability coverage, always insures the negligent motorist and is therefore always required to pay the private insurer.
The private insurer collects the premium, ICBC pays the loss. You and I pay the loss because we must buy basic liability insurance from ICBC. It works the same way for disability insurance. The private sector collects the premium, ICBC pays back the wage and medical expense benefits. You and I pay the loss while the private sector, having already accounted for these losses when they set premiums, receives a gift.
There’s a simple solution. It can be done at the stroke of the Government pen. The Conservative Government did it in Alberta. The private sector automobile insurers did it in Quebec. It could easily have been done here in British Columbia at a savings to ICBC of literally tens of millions of dollars a year. Minister Stone, take a deep breath, step up to the plate, and eliminate the Subrogation inequity.
If a long-term incumbent Conservative government in Alberta could take away disability insurance subrogation privileges, if the private sector in Quebec could agree among themselves to do it, then why can’t you?
- The Amber Light The Government Ignores
Last minute lane changes, charging amber lights and blindly turning left across oncoming traffic add up to the most common cause of violent intersection accidents – collisions between left turning and oncoming vehicles. Flashing overhead amber warning lights, set at safe stopping distances from intersections, are already installed at a few intersections such as Boundary and Vanness. Install more of them and make it illegal to enter an intersection against them. Enforce with existing red light camera technology.
Fewer violent intersection collisions equals less personal injury, less property damage, and lower premiums. Perhaps if ideas like this had crossed the Government’s mind, when they were removing restraints on speeding motorists, they would not now be in the position of complaining about the high accident rate and looking for someone else to blame.
- The Blind Eye of the Government and a Bucket of Paint
Turning blind across multiple lanes of oncoming, speeding traffic – we do it all the time, like at Granville and 41st Avenue, Main and 49th, Broadway and Clark, to name a few. Sounds crazy right? But it’s just normal. This is the normal way the government designs city intersections. The painted lines on the road at these intersections, and hundreds of others in all of our cities and towns, design left turn lanes so that opposing left turners can’t see past each other.
A bucket of paint will drastically reduce the number of violent head on collisions at each of these intersections. It’s a simple thought but perhaps the Government has been too busy raising speed limits, dismantling photo radar and dreaming about the Christy Clark Bridge across the Deas Slough to take this simple, inexpensive, life-saving step.
- The Government’s Thoughtless Public Transportation Statistics
The Skytrain moves literally millions of people a week all over the Lower Mainland. Number of fatalities caused by the negligent operation of the Skytrain – Zero. Number of people injured in collisions between skytrain vehicles – Zero. Number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents each year – over three hundred. Number of people injured in motor vehicle collisions or run over as pedestrians each year – countless, in the tens of thousands. The danger of texting while sitting on the skytrain – none. The danger of texting while driving a car – immense.
Why hasn’t the Government thought about the safer and less expensive options to get people where they need to go? Obvious solutions have been staring them in the face for years!
- Think Public Surface Transit Minister Stone – Or Just Think Period
Think Toronto Go Train, Calgary C Train, our own West Coast Express. Then think 3.9 billion dollars to build the new Port Mann Bridge and the half billion dollars a year that it is currently losing operationally. Now think twenty car pile ups, falling lumps of ice and the fact that building bigger roads invites more traffic, which leads directly to more congestion, more pollution, more accidents, more injuries, higher insurance premiums and longer commuting times.
We the people already own a strip of land, ideal for building safe, public, at-grade, light rapid transportation, complete with overpasses and space for parking lots, from the Skytrain nexus at Lougheed Mall, all the way to Abbotsford. It’s called the median between the lanes on Highway 1. Maybe Minister Stone and Premier Clark should think a little more deeply before rushing into recreating the Port Mann Bridge fiasco over the Deas Slough. Highway 99, like Highway 1, has a similar strip of land ready for public surface transportation linking the communities south of the Fraser River to existing Skytrain links at YVR and Surrey Central. Build it.
- To Be a Premium or Not To Be a Premium – That Is the $1.2 Billion Dollar Question
At a time when average loss payouts and litigation costs were dramatically increasing, and premiums were (and still are) going through the roof, the government took $1,200,000,000 out of ICBC’s bank account. How could that possibly have made sense operationally? ICBC’s big but that’s 118 dump truck loads of loonies. You could lay a trail of loonies, edge to edge, from Vancouver to Calgary and back with One Billion, Two Hundred Million Loonies.
In the Legislature, Minister Stone recently admitted to taking this money, which was collected as ICBC premiums, and spending it on health and school programs. As if the end justifies the means. As if saying one thing and doing another is acceptable conduct for a government minister. I’ve never been a finance minister or an insurance executive, but it seems obvious to me that money collected as school taxes should be spent on schools and money collected as insurance premiums should be spent on claims and loss prevention. That way all us dummies actually get what we’re told we’re paying for.
- Wither Goest Thou ICBC?
ICBC is in trouble financially. We’ve all heard about it in the papers. Some say we can’t keep the ‘tort system’ (the right of motorists to have the value of their injury claims independently adjudicated by the courts) as is. In terms of ICBC’s financial viability, the only thing that’s changed in the last 45 years, is the Clark Government of the last 5 years. Clearly, they are not up to the task. We are all very, very tired of paying for their mistakes. They now understand that much so it’s not likely to stay the same. So what are the options going forward?
Here’s the inside gossip on the choices about ICBC that any new Government will consider after the May election:
- No Fault – WCB on wheels, no thanks.
- Caps – limit the amount payable on ‘mild injuries’ and argue about what ‘mild’ is. A further complication to a system already creaking and groaning under the weight of its own process. Didn’t work in Ontario, didn’t work in Alberta, not likely to work here.
- Deductibles – a set amount is automatically deducted from the pain and suffering part of your injury claim. It’s like the collision coverage on your car only for injury claims, EXCEPT: You pay it even though you’re not liable. You pay it from the compensation you need to recover from your injuries. You pay it so that the government can continue to make the same mistakes it’s making now.
- Choice – this is the worst of the bunch. You pay extra for what you already have – the right to sue; or, you pay the same for less. Your choice. An overly complicated motor vehicle version of two-tiered health care. Of course, if you’re Mark Blucher, ICBC’s CEO, who we premium/tax payers shovelled out $409,179.00 to last year, then you can probably afford the extra hit for the really good coverage. For those of us making less than $409,179.00 every year, we must quite literally settle for less.
The Hybrid Option – This is a three- step recipe for constructive change – Start with a large helping of financial and health care support at the time of the accident. For everyone. Delivered directly by ICBC. That’s called Enhanced Accident Benefits Coverage. Season with careful consideration of compensation for future losses. That’s keeping the part of the tort system we actually need. And then, for the first time ever, bake into the basic psyche of ICBC the importance of a meaningful, comprehensive and ongoing loss prevention program.
Thousands of accident victims over the last 45 years have all told me the same thing:
“It doesn’t matter how much money I get, I would rather not have had the accident”
They can’t all be wrong. What happens to ICBC is very important to all of us. Ask your politicians which option they endorse, but don’t waste your time with Minister Stone. He’s already said he doesn’t know what to do. He’s got someone reviewing it. Rome is burning, Minister Stone.
Nick de Domenico has been on the front lines of motor vehicle accident claims settlements since 1971. Out of that experience he has become a strong believer in both the tort system and the concept of publically owned automobile insurance.