Proposed ICBC change would leave distracted drivers on the hook for crash costs

The change would void parts of distracted drivers' insurance coverage in a collision, meaning they would have to pay for their own auto repairs, medical expenses, and the settlements from any resulting lawsuits — all of which ICBC currently pays for.

At-fault distracted drivers would pay out for own auto repairs, medical expenses, lawsuit settlements

B.C. Attorney General David Eby says the proposed change is part of both a crackdown on distracted driving and a financial restructuring of ICBC. (Getty Images)

The province has asked the Insurance Corporation of B.C. to investigate the possibility of making distracted drivers responsible for several significant costs if they're found to be at fault in a crash, CBC News has learned.

The change would void parts of distracted drivers' insurance coverage in a collision, meaning they would have to pay for their own auto repairs, medical expenses, and the settlements from any resulting lawsuits — all of which ICBC currently pays for.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby has directed ICBC to look into the change, and says it's part of both a crackdown on distracted driving and a financial restructuring of the auto insurer.

Eby says statistics he's received show distracted driving is as bad a problem as drunk driving — and in some cases it's worse — so they should be treated the same when it comes to insurance.

The potential savings would be a boon to ICBC, which Eby described in early 2018 as a "financial dumpster fire," with losses forecast at $1.3 billion dollars in the fiscal year 2017.

A report issued by ICBC in late 2017 called distracted driving "a major reason for the increase in claims costs," though the insurer said in a statement that its claim database does not track causes.

Complex enforcement

Former B.C. public servant Richard McCandless, who has written several papers on ICBC's finances, agrees with clamping down on distracted driving. But he says the potential change raises a lot of questions around enforcement.

"There's a lot of subjectivity that comes into [determining whether someone is driving distracted]. With impaired driving you blow [into a breathalyzer] and you get the reading — it's much more cut and dry."

Shifting expenses

He also sees a problem in the legal expenses ICBC could take on.

There's going to be a major incentive [for at-fault distracted drivers] to seek legal opinion and dispute [their loss of coverage] in the courts, which is contrary to what the government is trying to do with reducing the current dependence on lawyers in the system."

Eby said if ICBC's research into the change determines it is a desirable option, it could be in place within the year.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story stated that Richard McCandless sees a problem in the legal expenses the province could take on. In fact, he sees a problem in the legal expenses ICBC could take on.
    Apr 05, 2018 12:25 PM PT

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