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

Just Posted

BC Hydro replacing hundreds of old power poles in Surrey

More than 10 per cent of BC Hydro poles are at least 50 years old

WATCH: $76 million pledged for coastal flooding mitigation in Surrey and Delta

Portion of funding will be used to replace the Nicomekl and Serpentine sea dams

Last-second kick gives Mariners a Fraser Valley rugby win

Earl Marriott senior boys side defeats Abbotsford’s Yale Lions 24-22 in championship tilt

UPDATE: Surrey RCMP say body found after fire at Whalley homeless camp

Police are investigating after the incident, near 97A Avenue and 137A Street

Survey finds SkyTrain extension has 85 per cent support in Surrey, Langley

TransLink says there has been record-level response in public engagement about the project

BREAKING: Court says B.C. can’t restrict oil shipments in key case for Trans Mountain

A five-judge Appeal Court panel agreed unanimously that B.C.’s proposed legislation was not constitutional

RCMP probe hit-and-run of Richmond senior

The man, who is in his mid-70s, was walking with his wife when he was allegedly struck

More than half of Canadians support ban on handguns, assault rifles: study

Divide between rural and urban respondents in latest Angus Reid Institute public opinion study

Coquitlam crash kills one person, injured two others

Investigators with the RCMP criminal crash unit are working to determing the cause of the incident

Spring rain needed as B.C. sees one of the lowest snowpack levels in 40 years

Snowpack levels in B.C. recorded on May 15 were similar to those in 2015 and 2016

Theresa May to quit as party leader June 7, sparking race for new PM

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election

Vancouver man in serious condition after crash between motorcycle, transport truck

The man, 40, remains in hospital after a Thursday collision. Police believe speed was a factor

B.C. man who fell off cliff returns there to rescue eagle from vulture attack

Nanaimo’s James Farkas, who broke his hip in a fall, saves eagle on same beach months later

Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 to move within 1 game of NBA Finals

Leonard scores 35 as Toronto takes 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee

Most Read