We have all heard in the news lately that ICBC and the NDP propose that innocent people injured in motor vehicle crashes will have their injuries “capped” if they are deemed to be minor. I have grave concerns about what this will mean to persons injured as a result of unsafe behavior. A good example is what happened this past weekend, Feb 25, on the Coquihalla Highway where a serious multi-vehicle crash that sent 29 people to hospital and stranded another 136 in Hope. Luckily there were no fatalities. The cause of this horrible accident is not yet known.
The best way of controlling injury costs is by reducing the number of crashes in the first place. Leaving aside the issue of what is a “minor” injury and who decides which injuries falls into that category, these so-called reforms do nothing to address the underlying issue of road safety. Our current legal system creates legal liability on anyone who carelessly causes injury or damage to another person who could be expected to be hurt by that careless behavior. For example, a drunk driver can expect that his dangerous driving might cause harm to other users of the road, including motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. If the drunk driver causes that harm he will be responsible for the harms and losses he causes.
By creating legal responsibility for careless actions the law discourages unsafe behavior. Lawyers hired by crash victims of the Coquihalla accident will have to consider a number of different potential causes that could have contributed to the crash. Some of these factors are:
- Driver inattention. One or more of the drivers may have been inattentive or distracted in the moments before the crash.
- Excessive speed. One or more of the vehicles may have been driving too fast for road conditions.
- Driver exhaustion. Commercial drivers are allowed to drive a maximum number of hours over a given period. If a driver exceeds these limits they may be too tired to drive with proper care and attention.
- Mechanical or design problems. Any of the vehicles involved may have experienced a mechanical problem. There may have been design flaws in some of the vehicles that contributed to the severity of injuries.
- Inadequate road maintenance. The Ministry of Highways requires the companies that maintain the roads to adhere to certain minimum standards. These may not have been followed. Alternatively, the standards themselves may have been inadequate.
- Poor road design. The design of the road itself may contribute to accidents or the road may lack safety measures that would avoid or reduce the severity of accidents.
All of these potential causes have at their root one common element: dangerous or careless behavior. A strong legal system identifies the problems that lead to crashes and imposes judgments that compensate the crash victims for their losses and encourage the wrongdoers to improve their attention to safety. If damages are capped the ability of lawyers to investigate these crashes and determine who is responsible will be diminished. The financial consequences faced by the responsible parties under our legal system will be reduced. Safety suffers.
In the meantime, while the role of speed is not known in this specific incident, it is known that in 2014 the previous government increased speed limits for many stretches of highway across the province. A study done for the Ministry of Transportation concludes that the rise in speed limits has contributed to an 11% rise in the crash rate along those stretches of highway.1
As stated earlier, the best way to control rising insurance rates is by lowering the rate of accidents. The legal system is best placed to find and remedy unsafe behaviors. In the meantime, a good start would be to rescind the increased speed limits enacted by the previous government and reinstate the previous limits. Speed contributes to both the frequency and severity of crashes. A review of all speed limits across the province ought to be considered.
We encourage readers to contact their local MLA or the Premier at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-250-387-1715 about this serious issue. Tell the government to punish bad drivers, not innocent victims by preserving our legal system and also tell the government to start making safety a priority by reducing the unsafe speed limits imposed by our last government.
1 Safety Analysis of Changed Speed Limits on Rural Highways in British Columbia, Tarek Sayed and Emanuele Sacchi, February 15, 2016.