Summer road trips can be good for the family – if you put your phone down

Conversations spark in the car when everyone shares music, sights and even silence

Want a way to instantly double the time you spend with the people you love?

Put down your phone when you’re with them.

If you drop your kids at school each day but spend the whole time on your Bluetooth taking calls, you’re not with them. The time doesn’t count. We send a clear message to our children – and our friends – each time we drop our attention away from them and check an update, send a text, or answer a call: you may be in front of me, but I’m choosing to devote my attention to something else.

I’ve had some of the best, and worst, conversations in a car. Especially with kids, there is something about the lack of eye contact that brings a different element to the fore. One time, my then 4 and 7-year-olds decided to ask where babies come from. I was trapped, which they knew, and we proceeded to have an enlightening, delicate ten minute conversation on the origins of life. Specifically, theirs.

But over the years, the technology that has given us so much has stolen so much more. Multitasking isn’t a thing; it just means you do a lot of things badly at the same time. Our brains are wired to do one thing at a time if we want to do it well. You may think you’re solving a crisis at the office while you drive the kids to school, but that’s three things: work, driving, kids. We all know the result of people ignoring the road when they engage their brain outside the car, but you’re also ignoring what many consider the most important thing in their lives: their families. So prove it.

Don’t get me wrong; screaming toddlers locked in child seats is a huge distraction, and a dangerous one. On trips, my mom used to be tasked with keeping us quiet so Dad could drive; it helped that she wasn’t scrolling through her Facebook feed when we went anywhere.

The interconnectivity of our vehicles has brought outside distraction into one of the last bastions of escape, solitude even. Where once you could count on some disconnect time to talk to your passengers, listen to music or think original things, now the slow drip feeding tube of 24-hour electronic attention has reached the saturation point. News, traffic and weather updates? Sure. How many people liked that last picture you posted? Nonsense.

Hang up and drive, indeed. Hang up and acknowledge your passengers.

A recent article in The Atlantic delves into the dangers of too much screen time – for parents. We’re right to worry about how much time all ages spend peering into some device – preschoolers are reportedly at about four hours a day – but I would gladly have watched four hours of television at that age (and there were days nobody would have stopped me, I’m sure), so that argument needs a large asterisk beside it.

I have no quarrel with how most parents adapt technology into their children’s lives; it’s not my business because I’m not a scientist nor am I their mother. Each generation has its thing, and it’s hypocritical to pretend the good old days were necessarily all that great. Cars are incredibly safer, you can shut howling kids up on a long trip by streaming a video and they can play things more engaging than the licence plate game.

No, the problem is increasingly becoming not just one of how much time our children spend enthralled in a device, neck bent (in what can only be a chiropractor’s dream/nightmare) and warp speed thumbs, but us. What are we taking from them when we consistently remove our attention?

Children are processing the world and you are the filter for that. What happens in front of our windshield has led to discussions as far ranging as homelessness, stunt driving, the aforementioned sex ed, and if a possum is an opossum. The thing is, you never know when the really important stuff will drop, because kids are like that. For every sulky, quiet ride, there has been an enlightening one – for one of us.

Your attention is really all they want. And the most historic non-verbals- the teens – need you more than ever. I know they have their noses buried in their own devices and their own games. But by maintaining a tether outside the car that keeps you from being engaged within it, you risk letting the opportunities be lost forever.

Ditch the non-essentials. Share playlists, share conversation, share silence.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments

Despite promises, Ontario’s car insurance won’t be an easy fix

If politicians really want to find a solution to rising auto insurance rates, they’ll need more than trigger words

While it could be argued that the Ontario Liberal party recently died on many hills, surely judging by years of headlines one of the biggest it sacrificed itself on would be auto insurance.

Not a day went by the other two parties weren’t holding their feet to fire over skyrocketing rates, gutted coverages and acres of fraud. Every jab, every headline, every election made auto insurance the feature.

So you’d figure if the Conservatives are now in the cozy seat, it must have been because they have a solution to the crisis, no? Remember those endless promises during the campaign about car insurance rates, the debates that centered around the issue?

No. You don’t. You heard crickets.

Maybe it was that there was an embarrassment of riches to pick from when slicing and dicing a party that had overstayed its welcome, but come on, if it was a big enough deal to dominate headlines for years and years, surely we still care enough to want reform, don’t we?

The Liberal’s much-vaunted fifteen per cent reduction in rates faltered and stumbled, some seeing reduction, most not. It was announced as a ransom demand for getting support from the NDP. This is like two kids having a food fight and their mother telling them they both have to clean it up. Nobody does a very good job, and there’s still crap all over the walls.

According to Anne Marie Thomas, an insurance expert with InsuranceHotline, the industry is taking a wait-and-see approach, and many companies were rather surprised when no mention of car insurance, which had previously dominated years of news cycles, even made a landing on the 2018 provincial election radar.

Oh, there were some early burblings from all three parties that will actually prove to be the most interesting in the months to come.

Everybody wants to go after something called “postal code discrimination.” Liberals and NDPs both rolled it out as a vote-grab, and the PCs went further – Caroline Mulroney wants a designated fraud office, something the Liberals dragged their feet on.

But let’s get back to the postal code thing. Right now in Ontario, your auto insurance premium is based on many things, including where you live. Insurance is a numbers game; they go by statistics. They determine where they pay out the most money, and charge that statistical group more. Ask any 18-year-old boy with his own car how fair that feels, but actuary tables are a real thing.

Likewise, if I live Kenora, it seems absurd I would pay the same as someone who lives in a crowded urban core. Unless maybe I was an 18-year-old boy. As Anne Marie Thomas explains, “if you live near a large intersection that sees a lot of collisions, that is material information.” Also factored in, of course, is your driving record, the kilometres you drive each year, the type of car you drive and its safety systems, as well as who lives in your household. There are so many inputs, cherry-picking just one, like postal code, sends a muddled message to consumers.

“Postal code discrimination” sounds ominous, because trigger words usually do. It’s math. It’s not hard to dig up stories of people who have moved a kilometre and discovered their car insurance rates have jacked. I tell people to check first, much as I recommend asking about insurance rates when they go to buy a new car. There are many things that can impact that rate.

There is cheering from the places that famously pay the highest rates, like Brampton. Eliminate this dastardly discrimination, and the rates there will plummet, right? Not so fast. All those other things are still going to be factors. Insurance companies will spread the pain around which will probably not make people in far-flung places all that happy. Pain relieved in one place means pain delivered in another.

An insurance executive shared with me a far bigger factor in all of this: outdated information. Some neighbourhoods are transforming and chasing out crime, which should bring rates more in line. Much as insurance companies struggle to keep up with the modern technology in cars and the impact that has on reducing injury, input into other areas of their rate-factoring is similarly lagging.

Where you live is certainly an important factor in determining how much you pay for car insurance. But maybe politicians should dig a little deeper into how the industry could operate more fairly instead of throwing around terms like postal code discrimination.

Posted in Drive She Said | 2 Comments

Reckless use of the word ‘autonomous’ causes confusion – and even death

Recent JD Power study highlights the misconceptions between autonomous features and a fully fledged autonomous car

I’ve spent years being a stickler for language when I believe it is vital to get it right. I won’t use the word “accident” because collisions and crashes are no such beast. “No fault” insurance is a misnomer, because there is always fault. And now we’re facing a new menace in the automotive world, when using the correct wording will have far-reaching implications both legally, and in casual use.

A car that sports autonomous features is not an autonomous car. The concepts cannot be used interchangeably, and to do so will cloud consumer knowledge and produce dangerous consequences – to the point that a few people have died in the past couple of months trusting Tesla’s Autopilot feature a little too much. Who’s to blame? Carmakers, advertising agencies, journalists and media. Everybody. Carmakers for wanting you to believe you’re getting more than you are, advertising that needs to lead with the shiniest bait, and media that is too often either fooled by both or too lazy to call them out. We are blurring a very dangerous line.

How easy is it to stumble? JD Powers released a study recently, exploring what impact drivers expect current automated safety features to have on their insurance rates. It’s a good question; if I splash out a lot of money for adaptive cruise control, front collision avoidance, pedestrian protection technology and all the cameras and sensors that should help avert crashes altogether, I should see a break on my insurance rates. 70 per cent of respondents agree, and want to see insurance companies respond accordingly. 40 per cent said they were willing to switch providers to chase discounts, which of course is the takeaway for a study like this.

The rest of the survey bullet points were standard fare, exploring why people opt for the features they do in a new car. But the last highlighted section stopped me.

“Personal Liability – Who’s at Fault in an Automated Vehicle Crash: Consumers are holding themselves to a high standard. Nearly 40% say that drivers have some responsibility when an accident does occur in an automated vehicle, compared to just 22% who say the OEMs or the manufactures of the autonomous sensor technology are to blame.”

I grabbed the phone and called study researcher Tom Super. I asked him exactly how they worded that last question. He told me JD Power has an internal standard regarding the wording of partially automated and highly automated features. I told him that last question was asking drivers about fault in an automated vehicle – which is neither of those things – in a survey about automated features. The question before that one asked respondents why they’d bought an automated car. More erosion.

“You’re right,” he said. We had a good conversation, and if he thought I was being pedantic, he didn’t show it. He admitted those who hold sway in the industry – like JD Power – have to be transparent and accurate in their wordings.

There is a strict guideline by SAE International (Society of Automotive Engineers) that defines the six levels of on-road motor vehicle automated driving systems. We’re seeing it referred to more and more as automotive technology rockets ahead, but it’s important.

Level 0 No Automation: the full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems

Level 1 Driver Assistance: the driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task

Level 2 Partial Automation: the driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task

Level 3 Conditional Automation: the driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene

Level 4 High Automation: the driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene

Level 5 Full Automation: the full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver

“If I’m in a Level 5 fully autonomous vehicle and it crashes,” I told Super, “I’m going to go with 100 per cent not my fault.” Right now, most of us drive cars that are in the Level 1 to 2 range. Some features are reaching up to Level 3, but we are nowhere close to walking into a showroom and buying a Level 5 car. If fully 40 per cent of people think they have liability in a car that might not even have a steering wheel (we’ve seen concept cars that will be Level 5, and no wheel is not news), but 22 per cent are comfortable placing all the blame on the technology, that tells me respondents were not interpreting that question the same way.

The insurance industry is usually playing catch up. It took years for them to figure out how to develop coverage for drivers using their personal vehicle for commercial use (Uber, Lyft). Cars are safer than ever but my rates are higher than ever. Nobody, including JD Power, knows how the insurance industry will have to evolve as OEMs remove more and more control from the driver.

But until then, we have to maintain rigid boundaries around words that shouldn’t be tossed around. Accident is one of them; autonomous is another.

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The rules to follow when getting your kid a car

It used to be the bigger the better, but nowadays safety features and fuel economy are key features to look for

When you write about the auto industry for enough years, you learn there are a handful of perennial questions you will get from readers, the same ones that pop up over and over again. Sure, there are more queries around hybrids lately, and some people demanding more round-a-bouts and some demanding fewer, but my top three have remained: should I use regular oil or synthetic, why do idiots hog the passing lane, and what’s the best used car to buy for my kid who is going away to college?

The first question can be answered in your owner’s manual, not even Kreskin knows why those idiots can’t get out of the passing lane, but the used car question? That one is fun.

There are still some tendrils of old school thinking that show through, especially when it’s a grandparent asking the question. Bigger must be safer, right? I mean, my parents sent me off to school in a 1976 flaming orange AMC Matador wagon, and despite the hole in the passenger side floor and the fact I had to call for a boost most nights, it was perfect. My parents imagined me safely ensconced in a tank. They didn’t know it essentially made me a taxi service, as I happily ferried all of my friends around. I’m sure my parents didn’t realized they were creating a clown car, but there is nobody as inventive as university kids when it comes to doing dumb things with cars.

Which brings me to my first rule of Which Car Should I Get My Kid. No matter how hard you think you’ve covered all the bases, they will come up with new ways to make you crazy. The condition of that vehicle is about to test your patience. Here are a few more rules:

Bigger is not necessarily better You may be anticipating your student on the highway traipsing back home for holidays, but in reality, that car is probably going to be used in a more urban setting. Think packed parking lots, jaunts for groceries, or half the residence floor cramming in to head out for the evening. With the versatility provided by even compact cars these days, your student can maximize cargo space without having to wedge a barge into tight parking spaces. If your student is commuting daily, fuel economy will be important. Having said that, understand no matter what size vehicle you get, it will come home with door dings on the outside and garbage up to the windows on the inside.

You’re probably gonna need a bigger budget Today’s cars are built better and last longer. You are not going to get a three-year-old car for a few thousand dollars. The upside is there are some great cars out there that are eight-years-old and have lots of life left in them. Consider using a Certified Used Car seller for added protection, but if you buy privately, make sure any purchase you’re considering has the okay of a good mechanic as well as a seller’s package.

Determine true need If you’re only thinking about slogging a roomful of furniture into student housing, you might be overlooking the fact it’s easier, safer and cheaper to do that trip twice a year with a rental. Instead, consider the true day to day needs of your student. That smaller car will make more sense.

Get good information This may seem like a no-brainer, but the used car world can be overwhelming. Check places like Driving.ca for reviews, and plenty of classifieds for a general guide on prices. I also wouldn’t buy anything without checking online with sites such as Consumer Reports or an actual copy of the Lemon-Aid Car Guide, put out annually by the Automobile Protection Association (APA) (full disclosure: I work with the APA, and they produce my TV show, the Lemon Aid Car Show). You may be sidling up to a great deal for your kid, but these guides will tell you how the vehicle has fared over its lifespan and if the mileage means it’s time to ask about the timing belt.

Maintaining a long distance relationship This is how you will now be dealing with that vehicle. You’re probably used to have a hands-on approach to things like tire rotations, oil changes and sorting out that funny grinding noise. Accept that your student, busily immersed in school away from home, will be less fastidious about upkeep. Make sure it has decent tires, switch them to winters at Thanksgiving, and put an extra washer fluid jug in the trunk. I’m aware if a kid is old enough to be away at school they’re old enough to maintain a vehicle. I’m also aware if this is a first car, there will be a learning curve and it will take place in a new city. If the oil change interval is close, let your student know that a quickie oil change at a franchise is fine, but not to okay any of the upsells that will inevitably be tried. Make an appointment with your own mechanic when you know the car will be home.

Check insurance first Check with your broker to ascertain how the vehicle will be insured because this will have implications on what car fits your price bracket. If your kid has successfully talked you out of a ten year old Caravan (lovely tanks, those, in spite of having to replace so many brakes), don’t let them lead you into a two-seater slingshot. Newer cars are often cheaper to insure because they have so many safety features. Where we were once conditioned to see size as being the relevant safety feature in a crash, now we know its airbags and collision avoidance. Weigh those things carefully.

As for the actual cars? I’m frequently surprised at which cars turn out to be the workhorses in some households. I had a ’94 Chrysler Intrepid from my late mother and that thing ran forever. I’m a Hyundai fan in recent years, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if my first new vehicle, a 1984 Dodge minivan, is still on the road somewhere, that thing performed so well.

Readers? Your turn. What’s the best low-maintenance, sturdy vehicle you’ve ever owned?

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Rally shows its heart with Moroccan medical work

Finishing the gruelling race is rewarding, but not as much as seeing the work done by the Coeur de Gazelles

Women participate in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelle – the Gazelle Rally – for many reasons. Some are looking for something that tests them at the highest levels of their mental and physical capacity; some are celebrating milestones, battling demons, seeking redemption from a previous year, or simply trying something new. But for whatever brings them here, the Rally itself has very important reasons for existing.

Unlike some sporting events that show up, put on a show and leave the tattered arenas behind them in their wake, the Gazelle Rally has formed long term partnerships in the most remote areas of Morocco to bring in medical care, education and job creation. The infrastructure is year round, meaning the work goes on long after the last 4X4s have packed up and headed home.

The Rallye des Gazelle is the brainchild of Dominique Serra, a force of nature, who, 28 years ago, sought to create a rally that would be world class, environmentally innovative and deliver a key message: women can compete at the most extreme levels of motorsport. There is nothing watered down about this event. Women are tested for eight days to the limits of their physical, emotional, mental and intellectual capabilities. Serra tossed aside the traditional rule book of most rallies: the Gazelle Rally is about the shortest distance between two points, not the fastest one. Without the aid of GPS and navigational systems, it is an old-school test of your abilities with maps and compasses, rulers and coordinates. It is insanely difficult, both to navigate and to drive.

I was initially going to cover the rally solely as a report, but some brainstorming eventually put me in the driver’s seat of a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, with my sister in the navigator seat. We are both new to this, but how better to understand what goes on in the mind – and heart – of a Gazelle, than to become one? Competing and reporting simultaneously immediately presented problems I hadn’t foreseen: I underestimated the toll the rally would take on me while overestimating my ability to wear two hats. The cost was getting unranked in the early goings, but Serra has thought that through, too.

Unranked (a breakdown or call for help that falls outside the acceptable on-course fixes) may mean you’re out of the points contention, but you can still drive every day and continue. It’s a brilliant consolation prize, because once you start competing, a bad day simply makes you impatient for the next one to begin – at 4am.

Being unranked also allows you to delve a little deeper into the work the organization does in the area. Missing a checkpoint one day wasn’t a complete wash; I spent time at the day’s location of the medical caravan that is the hub of the Coeur de Gazelles. Serra’s daughter, Marina Vrillacq, is the president of the Coeur de Gazelles, created 17 years ago to bring teams of medical experts to those living in the most unreachable parts of this country. They use existing infrastructure in these communities – on-the-ground people who identify those who need assistance and help create conduits between the population and the medical help.

Backed by European Volkswagen Véhicules Utilitaires, Aicha (A Moroccan food company) and ATOL Opticians, the Coeur de Gazelle partners with the Moroccan Ministry for Health and 50 volunteers in a large and growing range of medical specialties, including pediatrics, gynecology, general practitioners, dentistry, ophthalmology pharmacology, dermatology and screening for diabetes, cataracts and trachoma. In 2017, the organization reported:

3,912 people received medical care
3,795 prescriptions were provided
9,610 medical services, including 4812 consultations and 16 surgeries
1,787 general medical consultations
690 pediatric consultations
283 gynecological consultations and 128 ultrasounds
417 diabetes tests
465 dental consultations

During the two weeks the Rally is in the area, the medical caravan moves daily, usually operating out of schools or public buildings. Doctors set up shop and see hundreds of people who often walk hours just to receive medical attention. Staff tell me some of the highlights: seeing someone have a pair of glasses put on for the first time, and truly seeing clearly. Kids receiving toothbrushes and toothpaste for the first time; parents learning how to spot and treat fever in children; how to cope with diarrhea, a constant threat in parts of the world without clean water; women receiving help with nursing their babies; all patients receiving instruction in preventative medicine. Organizers know who to expect – that fabulous local network again – and beyond medical care, clothing and things like wheelchairs are delivered, too.

When you actually see this happening, the crowds of people politely queuing as they wait to see a doctor, it’s hard to ever see the Gazelle Rally as just an off-road motorsports event. The tendrils of what the rally means to competitors – the tears, the exhilaration, the sweat, the anguish, the triumphs and the setbacks – reveal the heart of those who pay to play. Learning the Coeur de Gazelles provides ongoing medical support – transporting patients to city centres for more intense care, year round – reveals the heart of the organization.

The Gazelle Rally is fiercely proud of its ISO 14001 certification, acquired in 2010 and the only motorsport event in the world to have it. The bivouacs sort waste to recycle, compost and incinerate, water and waste is filtered, and nothing is left behind. Water bottles are collected – a new project here creates buildings by filling the bottles with sand to form walls. There are no scars left behind on the landscape, and those who participate sign up to respect that ethos.

I had my own reasons for wanting to participate in this exceptional rally. It’s touted as the adventure of a lifetime – and it is – but is also fundamentally alters your thinking about more than just yourself.

You may show up here uncertain of what to expect, but you cannot leave here unchanged.

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Lincoln, Genesis pick-up services could do more than just save time

Time is valuable for customers, but also for dealerships who might want to get fixes right the first time

Starting March 1, Lincoln dealers will pick up a client’s 2018 vehicle when it is time for service and drop it off when finished.”

Lincoln, you have just said the magic words.

The best way to make my vehicle service experience fantastic is by removing me from the equation. Let me avoid the faux ficus and the leather-like couches; let me not drink a partial cup of lukewarm pod coffee while I read the promotional material perched on the pile of tires for the umpteenth time because the Macleans is a year old and the declared Sexiest Man Alive, well, isn’t.

Oh, for sure there have always been secret lists for premium brands, customers who never have to bump shoulders at the service desk with mere mortals, but this announcement from Lincoln is definitely throwing down the gauntlet. For the cost of anything sporting the Lincoln badge, you can be special, too.

Genesis offers a similar service, but that was mostly due to not having stand-alone dealerships, and a need for Hyundai to widen the perception gap between the little Elantra sitting in my driveway and the G90 I would buy if I could. But though there will be brick-and-mortar Genesis dealerships soon, the service will still continue. Ford/Lincoln has plenty of dealerships on the ground; they’re just letting you know you don’t have to go to them for service.

When Lincoln comes to get your 2018 car for service, they’ll leave you a loaner behind. To be honest, if more manufacturers did even just this, consumers would be less frothy about the service experience. I own a car because I need a car. If I’m driving a ten-year-old car that requires more care and feeding than a new one, I get that I can’t expect a dealer or manufacturer to accept blame for the fact my car is simply aging; what would be nice is if they stepped up more when things go beyond anticipated, reasonable maintenance. Especially when it’s a build fault, and not an owner fault.

And this is where the Lincoln Proclamation could truly steer the automotive industry in a whole new owner-friendly direction. For car owners, the number one time suck begins with the sentence, “We’re sorry, we were unable to replicate the problem you’ve described.” I’m not saying a dealer, and by extension the manufacturer, would work harder or differently if they were the ones traipsing back and forth trying to solve a mystery issue.

Oh wait. Yes, I am.

The Lincoln program will see the manufacturer and the dealer coordinating for its execution. To minimize waste in that program, they will no doubt not just be addressing needed service, but anticipating other things. If this car is in my shop’s bay right now, I’m going to check on recalls, remember any other hiccups that have occurred with similar vehicles and do whatever I can to make sure I’m not heading off to pick it up again next week. If I have a pricey loaner car out there (and it will be a Lincoln-for-Lincoln), I want it back.

For anyone who doesn’t like letting their car out of their sight, it’s been a long time since you could go past the garage gates and see anything anyway. When a tech comes out to announce they’d like to do a brake service, that information is just as quickly transmitted to you via your phone. You can easily look up service that is recommended by the manufacturer, make sure it lines up with service being recommended by the dealer (another huge point of contention between car owners and car sellers), and make your choice.

As this program rolls out into the next year or two, Lincoln is also smart to put their brand-satisfied customers behind the wheel of a new car a couple of times a year. What better way to show off the new product than by letting someone pilot it around for a day? These will prove to be invaluable test drives with zero pressure from a salesperson yakking away in the back seat.

Most new vehicles require very little maintenance. As more and more technology comes on board, however, it’s reflashes and reboots of computer systems that send cars back to the mothership long before the new car smell has faded. While more and more updates can be sent directly to the car, there are still growing pains and glitches in every brand, no matter how much you pay. To a consumer, taking the car to the garage is taking the car to the garage, regardless of the reason, and it throws a wrench into most people’s work day.

Lincoln wins with this program.

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Car insurance looks to ditch pink slips, but it’s not as easy as it sounds

Survey shows most Canadians want it on their phones, but there are still a few regulatory hurdles to jump

Are car insurance pink slips finally on the way out?

They are if consumers have anything to say about it. Like rotary phones and letters in the mail, the inconvenient tiny documents are often misplaced, expired or forgotten after their annual glovebox shuffle. A new survey from the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) asked Ontarians what they’d like to see insurance companies institute in the future.

The report, aptly named an “Innovation Agenda” captures where the insurance industry needs to head, and more importantly, where government needs to let them go. At this time, Nova Scotia is the only Canadian province that gives its drivers the choice of receiving their proof of insurance electronically. There are currently 46 American states that do so.

According to the study, 74 per cent of Ontarians want that option. No doubt because 37 per cent have discovered they were driving with expired slips, and 21 per cent have discovered this only when pulled over by police. The laws on the books state that insurance documents, including those pink slips, have to be updated annually and have to be mailed, couriered, or picked up in person and are only valid in paper form. As we increasingly graduate to carrying out more and more of our transactions online, and carry more of our information on smart phones, it makes sense to overhaul the insurance industry standards to reflect what consumers want.

At least 88 per cent of Ontarians already receive at least one of their bank, utility, phone or credit card statements online; 90 per cent find this to be a convenient way to access their information and 79 per cent believe receiving their insurance documents this way is just as safe as paper.

The Innovation study seeks to require the government to go, in essence, where the consumer already is.

It sets out four main recommendations:

1. “Allowing all insurance communications and transactions to be completed and delivered electronically if the consumer provides the necessary consent

2. Allowing insurers to provide consumers with the option of selecting usage-based insurance (UBI) to help determine the cost of their auto insurance

3. Integrating the sharing economy – specifically, technology-enabled ride- and vehicle-sharing services – into the auto insurance system so that insurers can offer new products to cover the risks that individuals face while using sharing economy platforms

4. Granting both incumbent insurers and new market entrants access to the regulatory super sandbox to encourage new innovations that will benefit consumers”

The “super sandbox”, according to Steve Kee of IBC, is “a means of relaxing regulator rules to test new innovative products and services.”

Why is the insurance industry so far behind utility companies, the banks and phone companies? Part of the problem is the choreography required with several governing bodies behind the scenes. Though the provincial government committed to giving consumers more choice online when it came to insurance in its 2017 budget, it’s been crickets as far as any actual changes.

It’s Ontario’s Insurance Act that requires paper proof, despite the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000 that essentially freed up other entities to keep pace with technology. The latter does not cancel the former, outlining the first line of hurdles. Next up? The Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act authorizes the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) to determine what format proof of auto insurance will take. You guessed it: FSCO likes pink slips.

FSCO does have the authority to move online for proof of insurance, but here comes the next hurdle: “Ontario’s Privacy Commissioner advises that without additional privacy protections, an individual who gives his or her electronic device to a law enforcement officer to show proof of auto insurance could be vulnerable to that officer searching other content on the device.”

Those tiny slips of paper need the Insurance Act, the Compulsory Automobile Insurance Act, FSCO and the provincial Privacy Commissioner to all be on the same page. Before we can all just have our proof of insurance sent to our phone to be produced at a roadside stop, there has to be a law in place that the officer can’t snoop beyond that one item.

We’ve given up so much of our privacy in the name of innovation it’s almost like the frog taking a slow boil in the pot. Caution is good, yet it’s almost laughable how prehistoric this particular industry – auto insurance – is in relation to all the other business we now conduct online. California and Georgia have specific wordings in place that cover off notices of cancellation as well as wordings and proof of insurance. IBC recommends Ontario consider putting similar constructs in place.

The study is a broad attempt to push the insurance industry ahead, and in a direction that will find consumers receptive. Notable too is the push for better protection in the ride-share category, an entity that is changing almost as fast as it is growing. UBI – usage-based insurance – is increasingly seen as a way to more accurately assess not just risk, but to right-quote those who are willing to offer up their in-car privacy to a black box that reports back driving habits. So far it can only be used for rate reduction and not to set behavior-based higher rates, but I will forever be skeptical of where that will ultimately end up.

So save 31 million pieces of paper, say 80 per cent of Ontarians. Those same Ontarians are, for the most part, driving around in vehicles that are hardly environmentally friendly; but change starts somewhere, and the Insurance Bureau of Canada would like Canadians to have these long-overdue options.

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Are you comfortable with your car giving up your secrets?

Recent stats indicate people are becoming more aware of just how much data will be at risk

It’s been nearly five years since some Canadian car insurance companies followed their American counterparts lead and introduced telematics as a way for consumers to save on their insurance. Let us put a black box, or dongle, into your car, and we will reward you for driving like you’re taking a road test every time you get behind the wheel.

Some of us – yours truly – detested the idea. I am naturally suspicious of anything that begets a response that includes the phrase, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” That one dimensional thinking will never, ever put your personal benefit ahead of the corporate entity proposing it. Are we finally understanding just how much personal information we may be giving out, and how that information may be used or sold?

A recently released survey from Kanetix.ca, on on-line insurance marketplace comparison service, finds that people are indeed questioning the implications of constant monitoring. But the survey also tackles the question of our move to more autonomous cars; so much data is needed to advance how we drive, it can be a blurry line between the private and the practical. Where is the tipping point where a driver is surrendering more information than they perhaps intended, and who is doing what with that information?

Some of the results are expected. “Two-thirds of respondents said they are comfortable with voice assistance (e.g. Google Assistant or Siri)”. As this technology advances from muddled to very reliable, this makes sense. From a safety standpoint, it’s better to have a driver use voice assistance instead of stabbing away at a screen. Early voice activated systems were generally abysmal, but drivers have embraced this technology which has become generally good, and often excellent.

The trade-off for excellent navigational systems is, obviously, the ability of the car to transmit and receive location data. Similarly, many cars are now sporting systems that not only store vehicle data (all those codes) but also transmit it; manufacturers know when your car needs service not from a mileage guesstimate, but because the car is actually sending them the information. The survey reveals that 60 per cent of us (63 per cent men, 57 per cent women) are comfortable with that.

What your car knows about itself is one thing; what it knows about you, and what it does with that information, is another. Perhaps it’s a growing realization of the far reaching implications of hacking and data breaches, but drivers are digging in their heels about the availability of some information.

Kanetix.ca’s president and CEO Andrew Lo says after initial support for drivers opting to be Big Brothered for insurance savings, now “less than half (46 per cent) of people said they were willing to share lifestyle habits and driving information.” I don’t care if I’m not doing anything wrong; I don’t want it reported back, and I don’t trust how that information will be used. We’ve been told since the inception of insurance companies using telematics that the information will only be used to reward good drivers, not to punish bad ones. Or, more correctly, those who refuse to surrender to monitoring. There is no way that argument will hold, and instead we will no doubt see drivers turned away from insurance companies if they don’t agree to some type of information gathering device or app.

“Previously, you had to physically install a device on your car to opt in,” Lo says. “Now, it can be done with a computer app.” Sounds great, but now, instead of it being your reckless teen who blows the stats on your squeal box attached to your actual car, unless you shut down the app, it could be anyone you’re driving with.

New vehicles are not just receiving information, they’re interacting with the driver. “58 per cent of the audience said they were comfortable with augmented reality or heads-up displays where speed and navigation, for example, appears on the driver’s windshield, with men being much more comfortable than women by a factor of 10 percentage points.” Heads-up displays are still most prominent on higher end vehicles, at the higher trim levels. This statistic could reflect men purchasing more in this segment.

The survey finds a further gender split on the topic of autonomous vehicles, with an overall 59 per cent of respondents being uncomfortable with them – females at 65 per cent, males at 52 per cent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “the most accepting of autonomous vehicles is the 18 to 34 demographic at 55 per cent, versus 30 per cent of middle aged (45+) respondents.” That’s a huge gap, though not a surprising one.

Andrew Lo spoke to me from the Consumers Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. He noted a key trend in thinking surrounding how manufacturers and insurance companies will tackle driver behaviour as the car takes over more and more control.

“There will be a shift from personal to commercial, with the risk shifting away from the driver and onto software developers and car manufacturers,” he explained. He cites Tesla teaming with specific insurance companies (in Canada, Aviva) and sees it as a sign of things to come.

If someone got hold of your personal computer or accessed what it held, you’d have no secrets left. Your vehicle is getting close to acquiring the same level of information.

Maybe in the name of safety. But maybe not.

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Double drive-thrus bring out the selfish in society

Idling for minutes, racing ahead of the next person, taking too long to order: is it all worth it for that double-double?

In Burlington, ON, the city I live in, with a population just under 200,000, local government aims to keep business drive-thrus out of sensitive areas and downtown cores. Most jurisdictions are following suit, because we know the denigration of our air quality is a real thing with real repercussions.

Having said that, I’m also seeing a proliferation of double drive-thru lanes in those places that have been allowed to install them, or have had them grandfathered in. But back to that air quality thing for a moment: even though many parts of Canada began introducing idling bylaws beginning as early as 2005, drive-thrus are exempt. You may get ticketed for idling your car in your driveway for over a minute (or three; the timing may vary even if the mileage doesn’t), but you can sit for ten minutes trudging along in a lineup for your double-double or Big Mac with nary a concern.

Nuts, eh?

I’d make this column just about idling, but it doesn’t make any difference. Idling bylaws are one of those feel good/look good things that city councils do that is a hollow declaration that they’re doing anything at all. The law is rarely enforced because they hope smart, decent people will do the right thing and not let their vehicle sit there belching out particulate while grinding their teeth as their neighbour starts his truck half an hour before he pulls away. It’s bad for your car, it’s bad for the environment, but selfish is as selfish does.

I’m far more intrigued (and entertained) by the behaviour that takes place at drive-thrus. Especially those double lane ones that seem to be carved out of spaces tighter than a snail’s shell. For the uninitiated, they sport two entry lanes with two order consoles. From there, you merge to funnel to the usual pay and pick-up windows. In theory.

Queue management, as the technique is known, is hardly new. It’s why years ago banks started making you serpentine in line until the next available teller was open. It’s why everywhere from grocery stores to airports, planners have long debated the optics versus the science of individual lines. For every time you show me a shorter line, I’ll show you someone price matching or returning a sweater with no receipt.

The dual-lined drive-thru is a sort of halfway option, but the introduction of people being ensconced in their vehicles instead of afoot changes all the rules. I’ve often seen people exasperated when a line is plugged in a store, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone come to near-blows. Not so in a drive-thru when there is a cruller on the line.

I’ve written before that zipper merging on a roadway when a lane is ending has been proven repeatedly to be the most expedient way to carry out a merge. Some argue because they think science is dumb, but it matters little: people refuse to do it, and because driving is a team sport, if one person screws it up, we all pay. The double drive-thru is zipper merging slowed down. Or at least it should be.

The “I was here first” concept is hard at work even when it makes no sense. I had a man in a pickup truck order after I did at a dual drive-thru. He’d arrived first, but unbeknownst to me, my little squawk box went off first. I just ordered and pulled ahead, figuring he must have a laundry list of an order or something, until I realized he was climbing the curb in his truck and mowing down a decorative shrub because he was gonna be first, goddamit.

The cashier shrugged tiredly, telling me it happens constantly. They’re forever double-checking who ordered what because people like the dude in the pickup believe an Egg McMuffin is capable of doing time travel and be handed out the window before he orders it.

I use drive-thrus occasionally, and I won’t argue they were life savers when I had two kids belted into car seats and the weather was horrible. But any able-bodied person who will sit in a lineup idling for ten minutes instead of parking and going in is lazy. And anyone who orders a thirty buck laundry list of “One poppy seed bagel, light cream cheese on half, three chocolate TimBits, is there pulp in the orange juice? Four cranberry muffins, oh wait, you only have three? One sec I have to make a call, and can you do that thing where you mix half coffee with half hot chocolate?” needs to get their arse out of that drive-thru line.

If you can’t idle your car in your driveway for two minutes you shouldn’t be able to willingly take part in a drive-thru gridlock for many times that long.

Or take out innocent shrubbery.

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How can we stop impaired, distracted drivers once and for all?

Perhaps the best way to fight impairment and curtail distractions is through a completely zero-tolerance policy

Proponents of an all-autonomous driving world usually cite safety, with a corresponding plunge in death and injury, as a leading reason drivers need to be done away with. I may hate the idea in principle, but they have a point: Drivers are idiots. So how do we stop the worst – the impaired and the distracted – once and for all?

Easy: Zero tolerance for booze and drugs, automatic surrender of any handheld device if you’re involved in a collision, and manufacturers must make infotainment systems that require severely limited physical interaction unless the vehicle is in park. Easy.

For decades, police and the courts, both the bricks-and-mortar kind and the public opinion kind, have struggled to punish, warn, scare, beg, plead and coerce people into not drinking if they intend to get behind the wheel. You’re allowed to have this many drinks, but not that many. You can blow this but not that. One set of rules if you’re 19, another if you’re 21. The resources that go into campaigns to serve as carrots and laws to serve as sticks continue to meet hard resistance.

According to Statistics Canada, one in six drivers charged with impaired driving has already been charged in the past decade. You’d think having a DUI on your record make you just a little ashamed; guess you’d be wrong. So, make it zero. Every jurisdiction has their point-oh-somethings for car seizure, for this charge, for that felony. Everybody argues how many beers it’s okay to have in your belly before you head for home; Ride Check officers debate your “just a glass of wine with dinner six hours ago” as they shine a light in your eyes. Remove the debate. Zero.

We call it impaired driving now, instead of drunk driving, because of the proliferation of both illegal (though, soon not) and legal drugs. We actually establish law on not whether you can drive while impaired, but how impaired you’re legally allowed to be. Scrap that. If you’re behind the wheel, you have to be clean.

The lawyers will have a field day, of course. They will argue that the cough syrup your mother gave you when you were seven-years-old has caused you to blow .02 when you’re 35; lawyers are good at that stuff if you pay them enough. So, the courts will get clogged and entrepreneurs will be mass-marketing boozefest morning-after pills that will mask the evidence better than the Russian Athletic Federation. But just like seatbelt usage, we will eventually move into a time when zero is the acceptable norm.

Distracted driving is actually a far bigger threat on our roads these days, and it’s only getting worse. The initial attack was on handheld devices, and rightly so. When having a phone in your car started becoming a thing in the early 1990s, nobody – well, at least not I – could have foreseen the total immersion of entire populations into a screen they held in their hand.

It doesn’t matter how large the fine, how high the demerits or how extreme the toll. People won’t put their phones down. So, cut to the chase: If you’re involved in a collision, wouldn’t you want to know that the other idiot was texting when it happened? Make everyone hand over their devices. We do this when there is a fatality; why wait?

Vehicle manufacturers have crammed so much technology into new cars, drivers now have more decisions than the Apollo astronauts – and they got to the moon. Many of those decisions can be activated by voice command, which should be perfected and all drivers should learn to use. But the only way to actually stop the fiddlers is to remove the ability: Navigation and similar systems should only be able to be set or changed when the car is in park. Not stopped at a red light. Parked.

I’ll go one step further. Heating, including seat and steering wheel, and volume controls should be tactile – a button or knob accessible without taking your eyes from the road. If you crash your car while reading your Twitter feed or trying to figure out if that’s Journey or REO Speedwagon playing, you’re merely being human and playing with all the cards the carmaker gave you. They should give you fewer cards.

None of these things will be implemented, of course. But just because we can’t make people do the right thing, including saving their own lives, using reason and law, doesn’t mean we should acknowledge the pinhead dancing taking place. We could do more to fight impairment, and we can do more to curtail the distractions.

If we want to.

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