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In the driver's hot seat

Number of bad motorists is growing

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In the last two years, according to data provided by Manitoba Public Insurance, there has been a 424 per cent increase in drivers holding a -20 driver safety rating (DSR), the worst possible rating in the new system.

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In the last two years, according to data provided by Manitoba Public Insurance, there has been a 424 per cent increase in drivers holding a -20 driver safety rating (DSR), the worst possible rating in the new system.

The number of bad drivers in Manitoba is growing, but they're helping the good ones reap huge savings on their licences.

In the last two years, according to data provided by Manitoba Public Insurance, there has been a 424 per cent increase in drivers holding a -20 driver safety rating (DSR), the worst possible rating in the new system. Drivers holding a -20 rating pay a $2,500 premium yearly to hold onto their licences. As of October, 921 drivers on the road in this province were stuck at -20.

Every driver's licence in Manitoba costs $20, but drivers are charged premiums on top of that depending on their rating. The premiums the worst drivers in the province pay bring in almost as much revenue for Manitoba Public Insurance as those with the highest rating of +15 pay, even though there are almost 200 times more terrific drivers than terrible ones.

"When it was implemented in 2010, the maximum discount was 30 per cent. It is now 33 per cent," said MPI spokesman Brian Smiley. "It was felt that the high-risk drivers that pay additional driver premiums would cover off the additional discount at the top."

For drivers buried deep in the minus side of the DSR, the system allows them to move up more quickly if they display safe driving behaviour. A driver who holds a -20 rating will be moved back up to zero on the scale in five years if they are safe drivers in that time.

"There are certain incentives to try to allow them to move up the scale a little bit quicker. You don't want them to have the feeling that they will never get out of the minus side," said Smiley.

"That will also give them a bit of a positive mindset knowing that they aren't going to be buried on the minus side for the next 10 to 15 years if they adjust their driving accordingly."

The reason for the huge increase in the number of -20 drivers is hard to pinpoint. Smiley says a formula initially determined each driver's spot on the rating scale. As the new system evolves, it will get more accurate, offering a more up-to-date reflection of each driver's patterns, especially the high-risk behaviours such as speeding.

Andrea McCann has been in two accidents in the past year. Because of that, she has been bumped from the plus side to the minuses and seen the cost of her driver's licence rise to $150.

She says MPI should account for different factors when penalizing drivers. Denting a bumper is different from injuring people or forcing MPI to write off a car. And she said it's unfair good drivers top out at a +15 rating.

"There should be more rewards and more protection for those years behind you that have been good," said McCann. "There should be some form of accountability when you've been free for 10 or 15 years. That should matter."

It was a witness who helped driver Katherine Pfeiffer avoid big demerits a few years ago, "I was T-boned and they were saying I did something I didn't do," said Pfeiffer.

The physical evidence in a T-bone or a side-swiped collision can sometimes be inconclusive, and it can often be hard to determine who is at fault without a picture or a third-person witness. Pfeiffer was lucky to have a witness who backed up her version of the accident. She said it's very important for drivers to remember to ask for witnesses, "because everyone is out for themselves."

"They are going to spin the story so the other person sounds bad," she said.

brendanmac30@hotmail.com, rymr66@yahoo.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 26, 2013 A4

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