Last week, as I forked over another $1,600 to insure my modest, six-year-old Honda, I asked the agent why my premiums were going up again. Another year without an accident or a claim of any kind. (To add to 30-odd accident-free years.) Another year of depreciation on the car. Another year without any penalty points or moving violations.
The agent looked at me and shrugged and said, "You know …ICBC … the government."
This was before the news this week that the provincial insurance corporation is asking for a 4.9-per-cent hike in basic insurance rates, on top of the 5.5 per cent drivers were hit with last year.
The good news, according to provincial Transportation Minister Todd Stone, is that the rate hike would have been much higher if the government had not generously agreed to forgo its $160-million dividend this year. (According to the minister, the province has taken more than half a billion dollars in dividends from ICBC since 2012.)
"The reality is that ICBC is facing immense and unprecedented cost pressures," Mr. Stone said in an interview. "There's a significant increase in the frequency, complexity and severity of bodily injury claims."
According to ICBC, the number of crashes has increased 15 per cent over the past two years alone. The cost of the resulting personal injury claims has also gone up as the number of claims jumped by 14 per cent over the past 12 months. The cost of repairs is also substantially more – in part because of the expensive new technology built into vehicles.
ICBC president and CEO Mark Blucher says what is behind the increase in crashes is an increase in the number of vehicles on the road, and that, because of "B.C.'s healthy and strong economy," people are driving more.
He also cites distracted driving. "One in four fatal accidents in B.C. is now caused by distracted driving," he said.
None of this should come as a shock to anyone who has driven the streets of Vancouver this summer. It seems that all of the competent drivers have left town and two extremes remain: the inexperienced, tentative and poorly skilled drivers, and the hyper-aggressive, texting and speeding non-signalers who need to get around them.
You can witness it daily in any playground zone where someone is abiding by the speed limit of 30 kilometres an hour. You'll hear the revving engine as the pick-up truck speeds past, crossing into the oncoming lane to pass.
You'll see it at intersections where red lights are mere suggestions and traffic signs are clearly optional.
As Mr. Blucher notes, you'll see it in the number of people who refuse to put down their phones when they are behind the wheel.
And you will certainly see it on the highways when you're travelling at 90 kilometres per hour and someone passes you like you're standing still or you're forced onto the shoulder to make way for an oncoming driver who didn't leave enough room to pass.
Yes, there are fines and penalties for all of those drivers – if they're ever caught. And yes, some of them will pay higher insurance rates because of the way they drive.
When I asked Mr. Blucher about holding the line on rates, he told me, "I think it's the responsibility of each individual to make sure they don't have traffic infringements, that they don't have crashes, and ultimately the cost of their insurance and penalties will be lower than the costs for an unsafe driver."
That's when it occurred to me that it's not about the money.
What's lost in all of this is that the grim statistics and the resulting higher insurance rates deflect attention from the real issue – which is how people drive.
When we have three roll-over crashes in the city during one afternoon rush hour – as we did a few weeks ago – you've got to ask yourself what's going on.
When the minister talks about "the frequency, complexity and severity of bodily injury claims," he's talking about people whose lives may be lost or changed forever. He's talking about children losing their parents and teenagers who will never walk again.
When I asked my insurance agent why I was paying more this year, a better answer would have been, "because the roads are full of selfish and dangerous maniacs."
Yes, insurance rates are an issue. No one likes to be nickeled and dimed to death.
The truth is that paying an extra $3.50 a month for insurance is not going to kill me.
But that guy in the pick-up truck probably will.
Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 88.1 FM and 690 AM in Vancouver.