Should Traffic Tickets Affect Your Insurance Rates?

Last week, British Columbia’s Attorney General, David Eby, gave remarks that suggest the government is contemplating traffic tickets resulting in an increase in insurance rates. The Attorney General cites a survey, conducted by the Provincial Government, which found that there was overwhelming support for the idea that high risk drivers should pay more for their insurance.

At first blush, having a traffic ticket affect your insurance rates may seem like a step in the right direction toward solving ICBC’s financial problems and promoting road safety, but this idea is deeply flawed in several respects. Here’s why.

Disputing a Traffic Ticket is not like Disputing Other Charges
The most significant flaw with this rhetoric is that is fails to appreciate the difference between a traffic ticket and another type of offence. Traffic tickets are one of only a few offences whereby a person is required to take actual steps to dispute the allegation or they are deemed to have committed it. This is important because people do not always get their traffic ticket disputes processed in time, are late filing disputes, or do not realize the timelines. And the process to file a late dispute of a traffic ticket is convoluted and difficult. People who miss this deadline, who are otherwise innocent of the offence, are simply assumed to be guilty.

Contrast this with a crime like fraud, which does not affect your home insurance rates or your MSP premiums. If you are charged with fraud, you are assumed innocent, and if you don’t show up for court a warrant is sought for your arrest. You are brought to court. Even if you don’t show up for your trial, there is still a whole process that must be completed after which you can be found guilty in absentia. Not so with a ticket: miss your court date? Guilty.

Traffic Tickets Can Be Subjective
The Government is cited as being concerned specifically about what it calls “high risk offences.” These are offences that are more likely to lead to a collision or pose a public safety risk. However, the high risk offences that they have listed are as follows:

  • speeding tickets;
  • failure to yield tickets;
  • disobey traffic control device tickets;
  • following too closely tickets; and
  • improper passing.

These violations can be extremely subjective and do not necessarily mean a person is a high risk driver.

What seems like following too close to me, may not be following too close for someone in a vehicle equipped with automatic brakes. Just look at the Motor Vehicle Act provision for following too closely:

¬†That’s extremely subjective. It has a whole host of subjective factors that must be made out before a conviction can be entered. And what may seem prudent to an officer may not be prudent from a public safety perspective, and may not be prudent from the perspective of reducing a crash risk.

Speeding is no better. While speed limits are at least an objective measure of whether a person violated the law, that does not necessarily equate to safety. Just look at the good work that the people at SenseBC are doing to try to bring some logic to the “Speed Kills” rhetoric.

And a quick review of the other listed provisions reveals similar problems.

So now all of a sudden your insurance rates will be increased on the basis of the subjective belief of a police officer that you were doing something that put public safety at risk, and for which you had only a limited opportunity to dispute.

Now, even that may not be so offensive. After all, drivers in this province should be well aware by now of the time limits to dispute a traffic ticket and the process for doing so. Plus there are some very good lawyers *cough cough* working in traffic ticket defence who can assist you with disputing the violation for these so-called high risk offences. All that might be bearable and well and good, until you remember that the BC Government still has it in the works to do away with traffic court altogether.

The Traffic Ticket Tribunal
While preparations for this are in their infancy, the rollouts of the beginning stages of the traffic ticket tribunal are in the works. The Vancouver Police Department rolled out e-ticketing earlier this month, allowing police officers to issue tickets electronically and prepare their notes and evidence more quickly roadside.

Eventually, this will morph into a full-fledged system designed to eliminate traffic court altogether and persuade people to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity, with very little opportunity to challenge the police evidence. And if you aren’t skeptical, look at the numerous failings of the Immediate Roadside Prohibition scheme in British Columbia to see how reducing offences to administrative penalties eliminates justice.

It’s likely that traffic tickets will soon affect your insurance rates in British Columbia. And while that might solve ICBC’s financial crisis, or at least mitigate it, the reality is that it will put yet another unfair burden on citizens of this province. And that’s just plain wrong.

2 thoughts on “Should Traffic Tickets Affect Your Insurance Rates?”

  1. ICBC still has a low bar for granting driving licenses so their commitment to truly safe driving is debatable at best. I frequency see drivers who can’t parallel park let alone drive competently.
    The proposed insurance changes will generate money for ICBC but will not make our roads safer. Only improving licensing requirements can really accomplish that goal.

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