In an article written several months ago titled “A Brief Summary of Evolution of Casualty Insurance,” the author suggested the old adage of “necessity being the mother of invention” as being a driving force in the development of a societal response to the heavy financial loss incurred by those who lost their homes to the Great Fire of London 1666. People realized this kind of communal loss could cause real financial loss to everyone due to its disruptive impact on the economic cycle of society. If resources were going to be diverted to restore damages done, those resources would not be available for use in the normal economic cycle. It was obvious such a loss could occur again, and if it did society needed to be prepared for it.
By 1681, the economist Nicholas Barbon and some of his financial associates formed a fire insurance company called “Insurance Office for Houses” with the intent of covering brick and frame structures in the event of fire. Fire markers were given to people who enrolled, which they could display prominently on their houses so firemen would know which house they were to save in the event of a fire. Other private ventures sprouted with memberships of their own, creating a hodge podge of competing enterprises.
Seeing what was occurring, public government and private businesses determined a better way to approach the dilemma would be having the insurance companies provide money and equipment while the municipality would provide other fire prevention assets and firefighters. This arrangement has evolved now to the insurance industry providing funds to compensate for a loss while municipalities take care of all other hardware and manpower needed for fire prevention and suppression.
Where societal contact was scarce, people could come and go as they chose with no one imposing rules or regulations which would impede their freedom of movement. Turn your cattle loose to roam freely, shoot your gun in any direction, let your kids frolick uninhibited, dump your garbage and refuse in any water source, burn grass and stubble when the wind would carry smoke away from your property, bury your dead on any given grassy knoll or forest glade, blaze a new trail whenever or wherever, gallop your team of horses as recklessly as you desired, get cold stone drunk and yell obscenities any time night or day. Those were the days, but one man to many got gored by a mean bull, wife killed by a stray bullet, community ill from drinking contaminated water, cattle eaten by pack of marauding dogs, or children embarrassed when drunken man went off on an obscene tirade caused society to realized some freedoms end where another man’s nose begins. Something had to be done so it wasn’t just the fittest surviving in these social and naturally occurring encounters.
Having seen how the concept of pooling resources to solve the problem of fires had worked, the insurance industry began identifying other perils which could be incorporated into coverages provided by this pooling of resources and spreading the risk among large numbers of people. Consequently, all the perils insured against now by insurance companies slowly gained public interest and were included. It was also determined that issues of personal negligence or carelessness of one to another could be actuarially underwritten.
Perils too far
However, there are now in our society forces at work which stretch the ethical and moral notion of spreading the risk too far.
A case in point, as reported by the Associated Press, 2018: January 24, 2016, Interstate 80 in Coralville, Iowa, a young 22 year old woman was texting when her car collided with a SUV, pushing it into the path of a semi trailer and killing the SUV driver, a 54 year old lady who never saw the accident coming. The 22 year old driver was fined $625 and sentenced to prison for two years. Her insurance company paid for the damages to the SUV, the semitrailer, and her vehicle. If the rest of the story were published, we would also find punitive damages were awarded to the surviving descendants of the deceased. The policyholders in the insurance company who insured the 22 year old now have to bear the burden of her conscious choice. One can argue that she didn’t intend to cause any harm, but can anyone deny that the damages caused by her conscious choice could have been avoided? Perhaps an argument could also say she just had a lapse in good judgement and now will pay the price of guilt and sorrow the rest of her life. This might make some individuals accept the consequences as something she could not have avoided, but I don’t buy that. There is an appropriate time and a place for all activities to be conducted; and simply stating it is so convenient to quickly use the cell phone that we should allow it to happen, bears no credence. In addition to this lack of good judgment is the judgment of the complicit person who answers a call on his/her cellphone while driving. You could be considered partially responsible if an accident occurs.
Alarming statistics regarding texting while driving
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, you are 23% more likely to have an accident while texting. Texting is more dangerous than driving with a blood alcohol level of .08, the percentage most states use to determine intoxication. The NHTSA also reported 30% of all car crashes in the USA results from drivers who admit to texting right before accident occurred.
It is also alarming to know the minimum amount of time a driver is texting is 5 seconds, and at 60 mph you have traveled 100 yards from the spot you began texting. It goes without saying much can change during that 5 second interval.
States and Insurance Industry Response
As of this date, 46 States have some ban on texting while driving with some form of penalty or fines associated with breaking the law. California has a base fine of $20 while New York for first offense ranges from $50 to $200 plus a fee of $93.
Insurance companies operating in Idaho, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington can’t even raise your rates.
The only state with any real teeth in their dealing with texting while driving is Alaska. It has with the first offense of texting while driving a penalty of up to $10,000 and one year in prison. It is considered a misdemeanor while if someone is injured it becomes a felony with a penalty up to $50,000 and 5 years imprisonment. If the victim is killed, up to $250,000 penalty and up to 20 years in prison.
One would think with texting while driving and drinking/drug under the influence having such an impact on the privilege of driving there would be a public outcry to putting a stop to turning a blind eye. Where is the outrage like that of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) getting lip service, yet government legislatively doing virtually nothing and insurance companies hesitating to write contracts which would not provide any legal or monetary assistance to someone who is involved in those activities.
It may be the same reason people are getting annoyed at speed cameras and red light cameras as reported in Reuters in an article with lead line of “States and cities are making a U-turn on despised red-light and speed camera” dated October 3, 2018. This well written article addresses the use of these devices to help with safety, and the public feeling they were being used simply as another revenue source. Statistics were given showing accidents in areas where cameras were being used as having reduced fatal red light running crashes by 24 percent and the rate of all types of fatal crashes at signalized intersections by 17 percent. (2011 IIHS report).
On the other side, State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, a New Jersey Republican, said that lawmakers in his state “heard from constituents all over the place” opposing the traffic cameras before scrapping the program. O’Scanlon contends that communities deliberately set speed limits lower than the “sound engineering criteria” of a road would dictate just so they can collect fines for speeding. “If you are balancing your budget by randomly stealing from people behaving ‘reasonably,’ you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
It seems rather obvious to this author that it’s okay to attempt to legislate something which won’t encumber my actions but you better think twice before you try modifying my actions with regulations or fines. We just don’t like to be told what we can or cannot do. Prohibition legislation should have taught us that. So many of us imbibe now, it would be impossible to legislate against its use even though none of us would argue against its unconstrained use.
Our fake outcry of disgust over someone texting while driving hits the windshield of our cars and bounces off our foreheads as we check our own cell phones to see if someone has invited us to “happy hour” where we can get a “cold one” before braving the afternoon rush.
Can we stand on ethical and moral ground when we require an industry to compensate someone else because of our inability to govern ourselves? It sure seems to make us feel better about ourselves since we do. However, this question will go unanswered because we have already passed the point of no return. The proverbial horse has left the barn.
(Glen B. Marks, CLU–opinions expressed are his own.)