We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Fairness on the road? That’s the ticket

By Steve Wallace, Special to Times Colonist June 10, 2011 8:03 AM

Having many speeding tickets is usually a sign of a bad driver, but having only one could just be bad luck.

Recently, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia announced its intention to financially penalize drivers who had a single speeding ticket on their driving abstract. The penalty was to be retroactive. After a short, frank discussion with the minister responsible, the plan was scrapped. The president of ICBC made a rare media appearance and did his best to calm the waters of discontent by stating that the aforementioned plan was dead in the water, so to speak.

The retro activity of the proposal was so offensive that it served as a catalyst for galvanizing opposition to the ill-conceived plan, which was seen as a simple cash grab. The monolithic, monopolistic nature of ICBC aside, the question remains: Is a single speeding ticket the sign of a bad driver?

Multiple driving infractions are generally a good indication of the future crash potential for drivers. The key word is “multiple.” Not only are the crashes more likely when several speeding infractions are accumulated, but also the severity of the crashes increases. Most insurance companies can show a correlation between speeding infractions and the likelihood of a car crash. One speeding ticket is not an indication of a driver gone wild. In fact, it is an indication of much more at play in our traffic system.

Most drivers who get a speeding ticket learn from their mistake. There are all sorts of reasons why a traffic violation is understandable, but not justified.

Drivers sometimes do not see a sign which indicates a drop in the speed zone. If a driver passes a huge semi-trailer in a changing speed zone, it is easy for the big truck to hide a speed zone sign. The average driver would not even know that the speed had changed. This is not an excuse, but an explanation of a totally innocent omission by an average driver travelling in, quite possibly, an unfamiliar area. Should such a driver be fined additionally for this oversight? I think not.

In my teens, I got a ticket for failing to yield to a railway crossing signal light. It was on a weekday mid-morning commute to the University of Manitoba. I approached the crossing, where a vehicle ahead of me had stopped before the flashing red lights at the tracks. The driver paused, looked both ways and then proceeded to cross the tracks. I did the same. Winnipeg is flatter than a pancake, and you can see for miles. The trouble started when a policeman on the other side of the tracks motioned me over to the side of the road and instructed me to park behind the other offending driver. It was a sting operation.

There had been someone killed at that very crossing the week before. The police were trying to get the message out as to how dangerous the crossing had become, since trains were allowed to go up to 100 kilometres per hour on that stretch of railway tracks. I had to pay a fine, and it ruined my Christmas, but I learned my lesson. I never failed to wait for the train again. Should I have received an additional ICBC proposed financial penalty? I think not: The lesson was learned.

There is a much larger issue at play in this ICBC proposal. Should an insurance company have access to the driving record of any driver, without the driver’s permission? Would a private insurer have the same unfettered access to such documentation? Is it proper for a Crown corporation to have both the licensing regulatory function and the monopoly insurance function? We may very well be the only jurisdiction in the free world where such unbridled power is held in such a dual capacity.

Perhaps the minister responsible should take a long hard look at other functions of her ministry. Senior driver’s re-exams might be a good place to start.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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