They were few in numbers, but the small size of a protest outside ICBC’s head office in North Vancouver drew plenty of honks of support.
Austin Kovacs, a 19-year-old Thompson Rivers University student from Kamloops, made the drive to Metro Vancouver where he was joined by two others in order to highlight what they say are punitive new rates that put driving out of reach for most young people.
“There’s so many personal stories of people getting screwed over, so we’re out here to protest,” Kovacs told Global News.
Kovacs says his last insurance bill was in the ballpark of $3,000, but pointed to reports of other students getting insurance bills in the range of $6,000.
The hikes are a part of the NDP government’s new ICBC rate structure, designed to reduce fees for drivers with long histories of safe driving, while boosting rates for motorists deemed to be at higher risk.
But Kovacs argues that the new structure makes driving an impossible luxury for many young drivers, along with people new to B.C. or with no driving experience.
“It’s impossible to drive. How are new drivers supposed to afford insurance?” he asked.
“As a university student I don’t have the biggest income, and driving, insurance, most of my money goes to insurance, even when I have no accidents and a clean record… This isn’t just for me, this is for everyone involved.”
Kovacs said he wanted to see the insurance market opened up to competition, so young drivers had more choice.
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The Ministry of Attorney General, which oversees ICBC, admitted insurance costs are too high for drivers and said it is continuing to work to bring those rates down.
“We know it can be tough for young drivers who are trying to gain driving experience,” the ministry said. “That’s why we’ve made changes so that Learners won’t be penalized for crashes they have during that time.”
The ministry reminded young drivers they can be subsidized by more experienced drivers as they add years to their driving record.
It also noted the cost of basic insurance for inexperienced drivers living in Kamloops is $1,495 per year.
Attorney General David Eby has also acknowledged the burden of high insurance rates for new drivers in past interviews.
But he said insurance rates should reflect the risk that younger drivers represent, and argued that low-risk drivers have been subsidizing high-risk drivers for years.
“If you have somebody who is a relatively inexperienced driver driving in a very heavily urban area with lots of cars and lots of accidents, they’re going to be paying more for their insurance,” Eby said in September.
ICBC president Nicolas Jimenez told Global News in a previous interview that private auto insurance for new drivers outside B.C. can be as high as $10,000 to $12,000.
The public insurer has also defended the rate structure, noting that young drivers are three-and-a-half times more likely to cause a crash.
Individual drivers’ rates can vary significantly depending on where they live, what type of vehicle they’re insuring, what they plan to use it for, and what level of coverage they purchase, says ICBC.
Dropping optional insurance features such as collision or comprehensive coverage on a low-value vehicle, for example, can reduce a bill, according to ICBC.
Kovacs created an event on Facebook for the protest and even paid to make it a “promoted post” in hopes of drawing a bigger crowd.
While more than 70 people indicated they’d attend, it was just the trio of young people when Global News cameras arrived.
Despite the low turnout, Kovacs said he was happy to get his message out.
“I wasn’t expecting much, I just wanted to keep my word that I would come out here,” he said.
“It’s going to take a lot more than just a protest for change, but it’s a start in the right direction hopefully.”