By Jeff Sanford
Toronto, Ontario -- May 18, 2018 -- In today's Friday Fun: Black boxes become mandatory in cars in Europe, flower-based pothole activism, a weird blip in Alberta distracted driving stats and much, much more.
Two Vancouver Island men are in custody after two police vehicles were destroyed by a Dodge pickup that drove over the cars as the officers approached. The police were investigating a stolen truck. The people driving the pickup clearly did not want to be questioned in the investigation. First the truck drove over an unmarked police car. It kept on driving, and then drove over a second police vehicle. The chase came to an end when the truck became lodged on the hood and windshield of the second car. The two occupants tried to flee on foot, but were caught by the RCMP. According to a press report both police vehicles were destroyed and two officers suffered minor injuries. One of the suspects was treated for dog bites. They should have used a larger customized truck. Everyone knows a stock pickup is never going to win a car crushing contest.
Canadian insurer Aviva has just released data on distracted driving incidents. According to the report claims for distracted driving accidents have jumped by an astounding 58 percent in Alberta in the just two years. Distracted driving incidents are up in general across Canada – the national increase was 23 percent. Ontario came in at 12 percent. But for some reason Alberta is way out in front in terms of rising rates of collisions caused by distracted driving. Why such an increase is occurring now is anyone’s guess. The Aviva report notes that the number of distracted driving convictions in Alberta fell from 27,281 in 2016 to 24,665 in 2017. So it could be a case of reduced policing. It seems that a general trend toward higher penalties for distracted driving is not deterring offenders. According to Aviva distracted driving is largely due to the use of smart phones in vehicles. Phil Gibson, chief underwriting officer, Aviva Canada, was reportedly at a loss to explain the increase. A news report quoted him as saying that, “We’re as perplexed as anyone. Maybe it’s the long stretches of open road and you’re looking at your phone.” He went on to speculate that Alberta’s relatively young population may skew the numbers. Younger drivers are more likely to be continually attached to their electronic devices. Gibson also noted that the habit is driving up insurance rates in the province. Quebec was second in terms of increased incidences of distracted driving. That province realized an increase of 34 percent over the study period. On January 1, 2016, Alberta increased the fine for distracted driving from $172 to $287, with three demerit points. An office with the Calgary Police Service Traffic Section also expressed bafflement with the increase. He was quoted as saying, “It’s still an epidemic. People really are attached to their phones – when a notification goes off, they feel compelled to answer or respond right away.”
According to a news report from the UK the country is suffering from a “pothole epidemic.” Recent nasty weather – the country suffered a storm that came to be known as the Beast from the East – has apparently left the roads littered with cavities that have caused a boom in insurance claims. “According to the [U.K.] AA, there were about 4,200 pothole-related insurance claims between January and April, a 171 percent increase on the same period last year. The number of pothole-related callouts to AA patrols has doubled in the same period.” The director of insurance at AA was quoted as saying, “The pothole epidemic has become nothing short of a national disgrace. Drivers are hitting potholes and ruining their suspension, steering, underbody of the car, breaking axles and occasionally being knocked off course and hitting other vehicles, curbs or lampposts. This year we are seeing a growing number of pothole claims described as ‘car severely damaged and undrivable’ which didn’t happen at all last year.”
In other pothole-related news, “In Belgium, people have recently taken to planting flowers in potholes as a political statement, of sorts, to highlight a lack of action from city officials in terms of repairing roads.” One of the road florists is quoted as saying his flower power protest has already had some success. “At least one pothole has been repaired two days after I planted the flower in it,” he is quoted as saying.
Cars in the EU will soon be required by law to carry what is the equivalent of the ‘black box recorder’ required in aircraft. The black box carried on planes records information about the aircraft so that details of a crash can be reconstructed. In the case of European cars the gadgets will be in the form of a SIM card that will add £100 to the cost of cars. The car will track drivers' movements and will help emergency services find vehicles in the event of crash, according to media reports. If airbags are deployed the device will, “automatically send a text message to emergency services with the car’s location – as well as its unique vehicle ID number.” Critics complain the chips, “could be used by police or insurance companies to monitor motorists’ every move.” Motorists will be unable to switch it off. A source from a civil liberties group called Big Brother Watch, is quoted as saying, “Motorists will not be comfortable forcibly having a black box installed which is capable of recording and transmitting their exact location when they are driving.”
An article published this past week discusses the details of an ad on a used car sales website that offers a two-year lease on a BMW for $54 a month. According to the story, “The eye-popping discount wasn’t a fluke. It’s a sign of the daunting economics facing carmakers during the slow shift to electric vehicles.” The vehicle in question is a BMW i3, which has, “struggled to lure American buyers since its 2013 debut. Part of the problem was timing: BMW brought out the compact city car just as gas prices tumbled, luring Americans back to the gas-guzzling SUVs they know and love. The limited driving range –originally 80 miles per charge – and unusual design only narrowed its appeal. The latest version, with a $44,450 price tag, can go up to 114 miles on a single charge, still less than half the 275-mile range of Tesla’s Model S.” It’s no surprise Americans are not loving the car. “The German carmaker sold 6,276 i3s in the U.S. last year, a 17 percent drop from 2016. The seller is offering the lease after buying a Tesla. [The] electric vehicle enthusiast went out to buy the original BMW i3 back in 2014, and then he added a Tesla to his garage. He now feels he took a bath on the first i3, paying about $500 a month for inferior battery technology. This time around, he vowed to be more frugal.” The story goes on to say that, “Americans are abandoning compact cars at a stunning pace, and that's contributed to the i3's lagging U.S. performance. Expensive battery technology has turned the electric future into a money-losing present. The profitable sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks sold by General Motors help cover the loss of about $9,000 every time someone drives an electric Chevrolet Bolt off a dealer lot. The electric version of the Fiat 500 subcompact sells at a staggering $20,000 loss in the U.S.” More so, “When you lease a car, automakers will often low-ball the depreciation estimate to lower your payments and close the deal, but they do so at their own peril, since they'll be stuck trying to sell the car at true market value after you're done. That's a particularly risky game with electric cars, since they depreciate so steeply. Of six different 2018 EV and plug-in hybrid models sold in March, the i3 had the lowest forecast residual value, at 27 percent of its original price after three years.” Factoring in American tastes and the low range of the vehicle, perhaps the low lease rate is no surprise. A source in the story is quoted as saying, “The car’s $50,000. How are you getting it for $50? iPhones aren’t even $50 a month!”
The British Columbia minister in charge of ICBC has just published an editorial in the Vancouver Sun. The minister explains the need to cap medical bills attached to auto accidents, stating, “We will no longer permit endless growth in ‘pain and suffering’ awards for minor injuries that have increased more than 260 percent in the last 10 years.” The minister goes on to call out lawyers who he claims have long abused the existing claims system. “While these changes may be controversial for those who have benefited from the existing broken system, they’re not new. Every province in Canada has taken steps like this to get minor injury costs under control,” according to the editorial. The minister also touched on the increasing repair costs hurting the ICBC. According to a media report, “ICBC’s material damage cost reached $1.7 billion in 2017 – collision repair makes up most of that cost. Also last year, ICBC paid over $700 million to collision repair suppliers – up 50 percent since 2012.” The editorial states, “In more than half of windshield replacement claims, ICBC policy means ICBC pays more for a replacement windshield than the original manufacturer charged for the part.” The piece goes on to suggest that the “government has plans to change the specific policy that requires the ICBC to pay to replace the moulding of a windshield in each claim, even if the moulding does not need replacing.”