ICBC seeks 4.9 per cent basic rate hike as crashes, costs climb

$60 a year increase for most drivers once optional auto insurance increase is included

Rising numbers of crashes and higher claims costs are hurting ICBC's bottom line.

ICBC wants to increase basic auto insurance rates by 4.9 per cent – the fifth straight annual increase – as it continues to grapple with rising numbers of crashes, claims and dramatically increasing costs.

The typical driver will pay $3.50 a month or $42 a year more for basic insurance if the hike is approved.

But the corporation is also raising optional rates by 2.8 per cent so the average customer who buys both basic and optional insurance with ICBC will see their insurance bill rise $5 a month, or $60 a year.

ICBC CEO Mark Blucher said the basic rate hike would have been much worse – 15.5 per cent translating into a $130 annual premium increase – had the province not approved another major transfer of $472 million from the optional to the basic side of operations.

A compounding factor has been the long decline of interest rates, which result in less investment income revenue to ICBC.

“These external pressures have really created a perfect storm and it’s a really significant challenge for the organization,” Blucher said in an interview Thursday.

ICBC had raised rates 5.5 per cent a year ago, and the province’s rate smoothing policy requires the annual change be within 1.5 per cent of the previous year’s increase.

The number of crashes has climbed 15 per cent in two years and damage claims are up 11 per cent.

Vehicles are increasingly reliant on technology and expensive materials that have become more costly in recent years as the loonie sagged against the U.S. dollar.

Despite much safer vehicles, injury claims have soared to $2.4 billion, up 60 per cent from $1.5 billion in 2008.

“We’ve seen no evidence that these strong trends are abating,” Blucher said. “In fact, if anything, they’re continuing to escalate going forward.”

Blucher also noted there are more cars on the road in B.C. today – 3.1 million up from 2.8 million in 2011 – and people are driving more because of cheaper gas, contributing to more accidents, particularly in densifying urban areas.

And he pointed to personal injury lawyers as an aggravating cause of ICBC’s spiralling claims costs.

“B.C. is the only province in Canada where you can sue another motorist for even a minor traffic accident,” Blucher said, noting an increase in lawyer-represented claims and advertising by injury law firms.

Internal operating costs have been cut by $186 million a year, and ICBC is counting on more savings ahead, through its modernization program, by more aggressively combatting insurance fraud and from a hoped-for drop in distracted driving as motorists respond to stiffer penalties.

But transfers from the optional side to bolster the basic side will likely be needed for the foreseeable future, Blucher said, because basic premiums can’t keep up with rising costs.

In a surprise move, the B.C. government will this year forgo extracting its usual $160-million annual dividend from ICBC’s optional side into general revenue.

“Forgoing the dividend this particular year is one strategy amongst a litany of others we’re employing to get that basic trate increase down,” Transportation Minister Todd Stone said.

Stone said the $514 million the province has transferred out of ICBC in dividends since 2012 is small compared to the $1.4 billion over the same period that has been shifted from the competitive optional side to basic to apply downward pressure on basic rates.

The minister would not say if the government would permanently give up the ICBC dividend.

Adrian DIx, the NDP critic for ICBC, said the dividends to government have exceeded $1.2 billion since 2010 and predicted they’ll resume after next year’s election because the BC Liberals are “addicted” to using ICBC as a “profit centre.”

Dix said the reliance on shifting huge amounts of capital from optional to basic raises troubling questions.

“Next year they’ve got to find that $472 million,” Dix said. “What they’ve done is create a disaster at ICBC and their only hope is to deceive the voters until after the election.”

He said ICBC’s new move to hire more claims staff underscores problems with completing the computer modernization that was supposed to make operations more efficient.

“The transformation project has taken longer than World War 2 and is not close to finished.”

ICBC’s basic rates rose 11.2 per cent in 2012 and at least five per cent every year since.

The new rate hike is subject to B.C. Utilities Commission approval.

ICBC Rate Pressure Charts

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Booms go up in Gorge Creek after hydrocarbon spill

The source of the spill is being investigated

Thief steals donation box, tip jar from Oak Bay businesses

Oak Bay Police Department looking for suspect

George Jay parents tired of dog poop left on school’s fields

Parents advocate for stronger fines, more signage in the neighbourhood

Dog dies, Victoria man arrested after incident in Oaklands

Police called to ‘incident between a man and a dog’ Monday afternoon

VIDEO: Greater Victoria mom shares ‘insane’ experience of viral dinosaur video

Tabitha Cooper filmed her costumed sons meeting their grandma at the Victoria International Airport

Skier dies at Fernie Alpine Resort

It’s the second person to die in a tree well at a ski resort in B.C. in the past week.

Power lines cut as thieves strike Vancouver Island veterinary hospital

‘Thankfully there weren’t any animals or staff in the clinic when this happened’

Vancouver Island home to one of Canada’s largest private skateboard collections

Eric Pinto owns hundreds of boards, spanning multiple decades

ICBC to bring in ranking system for collision, glass repair shops

Change comes after the much-maligned auto insurer has faced criticism for sky-high premiums

Surrey’s ‘Pink Palace’ being used for Stephen King horror shoot

New web series based on King’s The Stand novel

‘It was just so fast’: B.C. teen recalls 150-metre fall down Oregon mountain

Surrey’s Gurbaz Singh broke his leg on Mount Hood on Dec. 30

Vancouver Island Pride weekend returns to Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Building on the success of last year’s family-friendly pride festival on Vancouver… Continue reading

Scarlett Point lighthouse keeper wins a million bucks playing the lottery

“I usually just get a quick pick, so I didn’t expect to win a big prize”

Most Read