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Preventing distracted driving is a top priority for brokers


October 1, 2019   by Greg Meckbach


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Brokers are focused on preventing distracted driving, which is near the top of the agenda for the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC).

Kent Rowe, IBAC’s new president, told Canadian Underwriter that distracted driving is part of a nascent federal advocacy program for IBAC. “We are in the infancy stages of development of that plan,” he said in an interview Monday. “I think it’s safe to say you can expect to see more from us on that file over the next year.”

Kent Rowe, president, Insurance Brokers Association of Canada; vice president, commercial lines, Wedgwood Insurance. Photo by Amy Fitzpatrick

Rowe became president of IBAC during the association’s annual general meeting in mid-September. Canadian Underwriter asked him about IBAC’s top issues right now. Building up an awareness campaign around distracted driving ranks near the top.

“We want to make sure we build momentum around our federal advocacy plans,” said Rowe, who by day is vice president of commercial lines for Wedgwood Insurance in St. John’s, Nfld. “We have done a pretty good job engaging MPs and senators, and we want to make sure we take that engagement to a higher level.”

Speaking to federal policymakers about distracted driving “aligns well with what brokers do and the services we provide,” Rowe said Monday. “We want to make sure we are engaging at the right level to try to prevent or reduce distracted driving wherever we can.”

The same issue was on the minds of industry executives at Symposium West, held last month at the Cambridge office of the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association and Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan Inc.

“I think there is an opportunity…for people to understand your premiums are all of a sudden going to go from $1,000 a year to $7,000 or $8,000 a year [if you are convicted of distracted driving],” said Steve Smith, then CEO of Farm Mutual Re, during the leadership panel at Symposium West. He was alluding to the fact that for some auto insurers, a distracted driving conviction is a “major” conviction for the purpose of setting rates.

“If you are not paying attention to the road, and you are looking at your phone, that is impaired driving – you are not focused,” Tracey Medeiros, senior vice president of national operations for Arthur J. Gallagher Canada, said during the leadership panel in August. “All just because someone could not wait to say, ‘Yeah buddy, I will see you at five’ – those kinds of things.”

Smith, who retired at the end of August, offered his own observations of distracted drivers during Symposium West.

“My concern is that I am on [Highway] 401 from Guelph out to here every day, and I am seeing people sitting in the passing lane always looking down while doing 100 kilometres an hour,” said Smith. “There has got to be a threat of getting caught. I don’t know how we support that, because without that threat people will continue to do what they are doing.”

On some roads, police are on buses looking down out of the window at drivers to see if they are texting, talking, putting on makeup or eating while they drive, noted the panel’s moderator, insurance defence lawyer Kadey Schultz, partner at Schultz Frost.

Auto insurers normally divide offences into three types of categories: minor, major, and criminal, says Insurance Hunter, an online brokerage owned by Hub International. A minor conviction will often not result in a rate increase. But one major or criminal conviction normally will result in a rate hike, Insurance Hunter suggests.

And more insurers are classifying distracted driving as a major offence, said Donna Ince, senior vice president of personal lines for RSA Canada, during Symposium West, produced by the Insurance Institute of Canada.