File this under the heading of strange and possibly suspicious. The Insurance Corp. of B.C. says it needs a premium increase because trafficrelated injuries are up. Over the past five years, the annual total of people hurt in road accidents province-wide has grown to 81,000 from 75,000.
But isn't this rather odd? We hear constantly how tougher law-enforcement policies are making our roads safer.
And so they are, in objective terms. The yearly volume of traffic accidents across B.C. has fallen by 20,000 since 2008 - a seven per cent reduction. And this despite our growing population.
Road deaths are likewise down substantially. There were 281 fatalities in 2012, which is 32 per cent fewer than the 411 victims who died in 2007.
It seems unlikely that some engineering factor, such as a change in vehicle construction, is to blame. The B.C. experience is not reflected in other jurisdictions.
Among provinces that publish collision figures, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, injuries trend in the same direction as accident and death rates. When death rates go up, injuries go up; when they fall, injuries fall.
There's no suggestion ICBC is crying wolf. The corporation has seen payouts for automobile injuries rise by $165 million over the past 12 months, and more than $400 million during the preceding five years.
To recoup the losses, management is seeking a 4.9 per cent lift in basic insurance rates. For average drivers, that translates into a hike of $36.
And last year, the cost of basic coverage rose 11.2 per cent. Both increases are partially offset by reductions in the price of optional insurance.
We can't help noting that these cost increases are trivial compared with the whopping "dividends" paid to the provincial government by ICBC. Over the past five years, the Finance Ministry has siphoned more than $1.6 billion from company coffers. That's four times the impact of rising injury costs. There would be no need for premium increases if the government wasn't so greedy.
Nevertheless, an unexplained phenomenon remains - injury claims are rising despite other road safety indicators trending in the opposite direction.
Some experts have suggested that drivers are being distracted by their smartphones. But while that might be true, it doesn't solve the puzzle: The number of accidents is down, not up.
One possible answer may be insurance fraud. It's no secret that soft-tissue wounds such as whiplash represent a significant portion of bodily injury claims. Medically speaking, these can be difficult to verify or disprove.
Perhaps in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, the number of suspect claims has climbed. B.C. was harder hit by the downturn than most regions of the country.
ICBC is dubious about this explanation. Yet fraudulent claims have always been a challenge for the industry. Traditionally, the company has estimated the cost of fraud at $100 to $150 per premium.
Unaccountably, however, statistics are not kept on the type of injury cases being settled by the courts. No one knows if soft-tissue claims have surged ahead or remained in line.
But if a rising tide of fraud is involved, more diligent investigations are required.
This editorial first appeared in the Times Colonist.
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