Canadian Underwriter

Ontario highway incident management the “missing piece” of auto insurance fraud reform: Critic

November 2, 2015   by Canadian Underwriter

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A private member’s bill intended to clear Ontario highways of incidents more quickly is the “missing piece” of Bill 15, the Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act passed into law in 2014, the Progressive Conservative’s critic for Greater Toronto Area issues has suggested to the legislature.

Managing incidents on Ontario highways is one aim of Bill 30, which MPP Gila Martow says is the missing piece ofthe province’s auto insurance fraud legislation

Gila Martow, PC MPP for Thornhill, asked during a recent Question Period when Liberal Transportation Minister Steve Del Duca will bring Bill 30 “forward for discussion” at Queen’s Park in Toronto.

If passed into law, Bill 30 would require the establishment of a committee of traffic incident management experts. Among other things, that committee would be required to study and report on the issue of detecting highway incidents and clearing provincial highways after incidents.

Bill 30, the Highway Incident Management Act, passed second reading more than a year ago and was the subject of committee hearings last June.

During Question Period Oct. 21, Martow referred to Bill 15, which was passed into law in November, 2014. Among other things, Bill 15 changed the Consumer Protection Act to require towing and auto storage providers to publish their rates, accept credit card payments and provide itemized invoices before receiving payment. It also changed the Highway Traffic Act to include tow trucks in the commercial vehicle operator’s registration system.

“Unfortunately, missing from this new legislation was a concrete plan to address highway incident management,” said Martow, PC critic for the Greater Toronto Area. “Mr. Speaker, will the (transportation) minister move forward with the missing puzzle piece of their own Bill 15 by bringing Bill 30 forward for discussion in this House?”

Del Duca replied that the transportation ministry’s goal “is to safely manage highway incidents as quickly as possible.” He added that Bill 30, “like all others, will continue to work its way through the legislative process.”

If Bill 30 gets passed into law, it would require that an advisory committee be established – within two months – by the Minister of Transportation, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). Within eight months of being established, that committee would have to report on the issue of providing public education programs to improve driver behaviour in circumstances involving highway incidents. It would also study the issues of providing timely and accurate information about highway incidents to drivers and improving the safety and security of the province’s highways.

Within two months of receiving the committee’s report, the both the transportation and community safety and correctional services ministers would be required to tell the legislature which recommendations would be implemented.

When she tabled Bill 30 for second reading Oct. 23, 2014, Martow said there are too many incidents when emergency response times are too slow.

“Once an incident is detected and confirmed, the response and clearance must be managed so as to preserve and protect human life, maintain a reasonable level of safety for all participants, minimize delays to the travelling public, and minimize damage to public and private property,” she said at the time. “In a major incident, these are complex and often competing factors. Successful incident management can be facilitated by high-tech equipment, but is largely dependent on inter-agency coordination, education and on-site personnel.”

During that debate, Liberal MP Peter Milczyn said the government “has taken a number of actions precisely to reduce gridlock and improve traffic flow.”

He alluded to the law that requires motorists, when traveling on a road with two or more lanes of travel in the same direction, to move a lane away when passing a stopped emergency vehicle or tow truck with its roof lights on.

The “premise” of Bill 30, Milczyn added at the time, “is reducing gridlock and improving traffic flow, and it would require the government to create an advisory committee …. but the real essence of reducing gridlock and improving traffic flow is not simply having an advisory committee; it’s about actions.”

In its examination last June of Bill 30, the Standing Committee on General Government heard from Joey Gagne, president of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario.

“Bill 15 does not deal with fraud very well and definitely doesn’t deal with incident management in any way, shape or form,” Gagne said, referring to the Fighting Fraud and Reducing Automobile Insurance Rates Act, passed into law in November, 2014. In addition to regulating the towing industry, Bill 15 also reduced the number of days that a vehicle can be stored after an accident without giving notice to the owner and other persons. It also moved the dispute resolution system, for auto insurance claims, from the Financial Services Commission (FSCO) to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Licence Appeal Tribunal.

“Currently, if an accident happens on the 400-series highways the OPP make a general call out over one of their public channels to all available tow trucks that there is a crash, and the first on scene gets the job,” Gagne told the Standing Committee on General Government. “This causes a great panic and a rush to the scene by all available heavy tow trucks and light-duty tow trucks. In an effort to put this into context, a heavy tow truck weighs between 45,000 and 60,000 pounds. To make my point clear, potentially you have 10 to 15 of these giant tow trucks about the size of a motor coach racing down the highway and up the shoulder of the roadway in an effort to secure a job. This doesn’t guarantee that the operator is qualified to provide the service required, but if you’re first on the scene, you are likely to be allowed to try and possibly learn on the side of road, at the expense and time of everyone tied up in the ensuing traffic jam.”

During the hearings, Liberal MPP Kathryn McGarry (parliamentary secretary to Del Duca) asked Gagne for his suggestions.

“It has to be legislation,” Gagne told the committee. “We’ve been talking about this for 40 years and the traffic is getting worse and worse. I run a towing company as well. I know what it’s like. I can tell you that certain operators that are out on the road are not providing the quality of service that the public requires and, in fact, are providing a very substandard service and charging a premium for it, and the public is paying for that.”

Also addressing the committee in June was Elliott Silverstein, manager of government relations for CAA South Central Ontario.

“We’ve seen, through the regulation-of-the-towing-industry discussions, that there is a need for further dialogue and interaction between government and stakeholders to ensure that people are protected and that the costs aren’t going to be too prohibitive so that, at the end of the day, people who are stuck on the side of the road are not going to be paying too much money – excessive costs – and also they can get to safety in a reasonable amount of time,” Silverstein said.

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