auto insurance

The auto insurance issue

jurisdiction differences

Auto insurance has been the primary electoral issue in New Brunswick and a major issue in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, in part due to the effect of current policies on aging drivers.

The introduction of no-fault insurance has been hotly debated in British Columbia and also in Manitoba and Saskatchewan where governments run the insurance system.

In Quebec it has been less of an issue, due to a longstanding policy to separate the damage to public goods from those to private ones. Quebec drivers pay separately for collision insurance and personal injury insurance, and there have been proposals to do more "at the pump" and "at licensing time", and so on.


The role of lawyers in auto-related injuries is a hotly contested issue in itself. US consumer advocate Ralph Nader adamantly opposes a no-fault model and has a long list of examples of difficulties it causes to deny citizens the right to seek legal help for certain classes of injuries. There are also social arguments against it: for instance, exceptionally high damage caused by a certain class of vehicles, such as SUVs, would not be obvious, nor would damage caused by lacks of attention by specific authorities in specific towns.

No-fault essentially puts all people of a jurisdiction into one big risk group administered by the government.

risk model

A less monolithic concept of collective fault (shared by all people who gas up at the same station, and most especially by that station's owner, who has a lot to lose if his share of the tax goes up a cent and a safer driving area's goes down a cent) is reflected in some variants of the pay at the pump model.

This model is increasingly advocated because fuel tax is already paid there, and it is increasingly possible to verify license, insurance and registration at a checkout when gas is paid for. It is also very flexible with respect to tourist needs (GST plus charges paid at the pump can cover automobile and basic medical needs) and such a model can accomodate any existing insurance scheme (prove you're insured, premium portion of the gas price comes off). Pay at the pump ensures that there are no uninsured drivers, ever.

Varying insurance rates based on some of the actual problems that arise from failures of scrutiny and enforcement by fellow drivers and gas stations, who are in a position to do something about it, might also be desirable, though it can be considered intrusive: a good example of a human rights tradeoff.

when to pay?

In line with the Quebec model, some advocates favour trying to keep damage to public goods enforced at registration time when other conditions can be set by the province to protect the public goods. Since provinces already enforce eye tests, road rule tests, age restrictions, at licence and registration time, it seems reasonable that bad drivers could be detected and either charged or sent to remedial courses at that time, as a condition of registration in that province.

At present, insurance companies often feel that they are enforcing rules that are ultimately government's basic responsibility, such as keeping dangerous drivers off the roads. They may not be in a position to do so. Governments are.

Accordingly, reforms may only be held back by cowardice or stupidity, a common combination in politics.