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Should snow tires be mandatory in B.C.? Critics say no
VANCOUVER -- In the wake of a South Coast snowstorm that crippled travel this week, the province's auto insurer is dealing with a surge of accident claims, with the insurer saying “the biggest mistake” people are making is driving without winter tires.
That's prompted B.C.'s attorney general, David Eby, to consider "whether the data supports" expanding the current rules that make winter tires mandatory on certain B.C. highways during the winter months.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Eby said he's already had conversations with ICBC and the Ministry of Transportation.
However the Ministry of the Attorney General later issued a statement walking those comments back, writing that "at this time there are no plans to expand rules for mandatory tires.
"Currently, winter tires are not mandatory province-wide in B.C. due to its varied weather," ministry communications staff wrote. "Sixty per cent of all B.C. motorists drive in parts of the province where snow conditions are not common."
The B.C. government has been grappling with how to get a handle on the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia's ballooning financial losses.
In September, the government made changes to the Crown corporation's insurance rate structure in an attempt to stem some of the losses – and those changes resulted in steep increases for some, and especially for new drivers.
Eby said poor driving habits and ICBC's rising losses are connected.
"It's critically important for British Columbians to recognize the connection between our insurance rates in the province, and the collisions that happen on our roads when cars aren't prepared for bad weather," he said.
"So if your car's not prepared for winter weather, don't take it out of the driveway, because your collisions are driving up insurance for everyone else."
Joanne Bergman, a road safety coordinator with ICBC, said the insurer received over 14,600 calls in the past seven days, and most of those calls will result in an insurance claim eventually being made to ICBC.
To put that number in context, Bergman said ICBC would normally handle that many calls for the entire month of January.
"The one big (mistake) people are still making is snow tires," Bergman said.
"People are still thinking that in the deep snow, in the light snow, on the icy roads, that they can get around without changing their tires, and that's not the case."
Currently, B.C. drivers are required to have winter tires if they're travelling on highways throughout the province, including the Sea to Sky, and Highway 1 starting near Hope and travelling east. Drivers who don't have winter tires may be turned away or fined.
But the provincial rules don't apply to some routes because "B.C. cities, municipalities and private roads (such as ski hills) may have their own bylaws or rules around the use of winter tires, chains or traction devices that may differ from provincial highway regulations," according to the province.
And "due to a more temperate winter climate in the Lower Mainland and southeastern Vancouver Island, drivers are not required to use winter tires in many areas along the coast."
The Opposition was quick to react to Eby's comments.
"David Eby speculating about making winter tires mandatory for the one week it snows in Van(couver) is pure deflection,” Jas Johal, a B.C. Liberal MLA representing Richmond-Queensborough, said on Twitter.
”Doesn’t want to talk about court losses or ICBC rates does he?"
Johal was referring to a recent court decision that struck down a planned limit on the number of medical expert reports that can be used in auto insurance claims that go before judges. The B.C. government had tried to limit the reports as a way to save money.
Derek Lewers with the group SenseBC, which advocates against photo radar and "the use of traffic tickets and penalty points to generate revenue," called Eby's comments "more of an emotional reaction to the news stories we're seeing."
He said he'd like to see more emphasis on driver education and reviewing whether the province and municipalities are properly clearing roads, before the government moves to expand rules around winter tires.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Sheila Scott.