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Motor Vehicle Renewal Notice Changes, Self-Driving Cars, Crazy Laws

Posted By Thom. C. Young (Full first name: Thomas Clifford John), April 12, 2016

Changes in the Way the Government Communicates with Us

It’s funny how bureaucrats think. The resolution of a problem often seems to ignore the effect of the action that resolves it. Political considerations seem to be reviewed with a self-induced euphoria about the positive effects the action will have. When the change turns out to be unpopular or unworkable, it’s rare for anyone to own the reason for it.The changes to motor vehicle license renewal seem to be a case in point.

The folks who make the policy at Service Alberta (that’s the department that manages things like motor vehicle license registrations and renewals) have determined that they will save postage and handling costs if they stop mailing renewal notices to the public for their license plate renewals, and the public will be so much happier to receive their renewal notice via email instead of by mail. Now, if I was introducing a service like this to my customers, I think I’d have a plan in place to advise them of this change on their last renewal, give them the opportunity to update an email contact listing, and require them to visit an interactive website in order to open such an account with me. Then I’d send out a confirmation reminder via email perhaps 90 days or so before the expiry requesting confirmation of the new arrangement. If I didn’t get a reply, I’d send them the old paper-style renewal again and remind them of the need to register their email address before the next renewal. After several cycles that way, then I’d actually call them to get things organized or determine that they don’t have the capability of communicating this way and put them in a special category for paper communication on the next renewal. In our business, we’re interested in keeping these people happy with the way we are dealing with them so they don’t seek better service from our competitors. The government doesn’t really have any competitors, so the incentive to care isn’t so great.

Failing to care is a sure-fire recipe for annoying everyone. There’s really no one to complain to about this change in service either. You can go yell at your registry agents, but they don’t have anything to do with setting the policy and, in fact, have already fought with the bureaucrats to get a workable system in place for these renewals. Those in charge think it’s all going to work out fine. I have my doubts.

As insurance brokers, our services to our customers often do not coincide with the motor vehicle license renewal cycle. People who move to our province need to get insurance before they can register their vehicles. Their policies are effective on their first registration. Since the motor vehicle license renewal cycle is based on alphabetized names, it will not likely coincide with the insurance renewal. Nonetheless, we could provide a helpful service to our clients by letting them know about this new government policy. Here’s the nuts and bolts of it:

Effective April 1, 2016 (no joke here), renewal notices will no longer be processed by regular mail. If you haven’t registered for an email advisory with the government directly or with one of the registry agents that offer this service (not all do), then you’d better make a calendar reminder somewhere to ensure that you renew your vehicle registration prior to its expiry. There is an exception: if you are over 70 years of age or have a disability, you will receive a mailed renewal notice until next April when everyone will be treated the same. I’m not sure how they are tracking disabled people, but they do have a way to track age. If you don’t fall into either of the aforementioned categories and don’t feel a calendar reminder will be effective, sign up for an email reminder using one of the following three methods.

The latter allows you to choose email, text, or both email and text messages.

Time will tell if this new “service” brought to you by the Government of Alberta is a success or if it fails to meet the needs of the Alberta public. No doubt the government will save a substantial amount on postage, but those who fail to renew their registration on time will produce additional general revenues for the government. The fine for driving a vehicle with an expired license plate tag is $230 dollars. Worse still, the officer has discretion to impound your car until you produce the valid registration for it. In addition to being stranded on the side of the road, the cost does not stop at the fine. Depending on where you are, about $200 more could be added to the cost for the tow and impound fees plus the taxi ride to the registry and the impound lot. It’s not small potatoes when you add it all up. If you are caught with expired registration while getting a ticket for something else, you can find yourself quickly having a $1000-day with zero entertainment value.

One of my favourite quotations is “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you!” Good luck with that!

Self-Driving Cars

I keep hearing all these reports about the challenges of insuring self-driving automobiles. What’s the fuss about? The owner of the automobile is responsible to ensure the vehicle and its operation regardless of who the driver is. The SPF 1 anticipates that the driver will hold a “license,” or specifically, that the owner believes the driver does when care and custody of the vehicle is given over. The driver is also expected to have a “legal capacity” and not be impaired. The only challenges to insure vehicles driven by computers, then, seem to be that the computer must have a license and the insurer must be willing to assume the risk. Licensing is mostly a regulatory issue. The experience of the computer programs that will be driving these cars could be easily determined from the computer records of these programs in operation. In general, I think that experience will show the computers are much safer drivers with reduced losses, but I might be having a bout of wishful thinking here.

If the computers produce the substantially better loss experience they are predicted to, then the end result will be much lower payouts for insured losses that will have a positive effect on the business, won’t it? If overall claims decline, then everyone benefits.

Still I’m confused about all the hype about how to insure these risks. I’m quite certain that insurers will lineup to participate in that pool.

Some Crazy Laws

In Florida, if you tie your elephant up at a parking meter, you have to put money in the meter or you’ll be fined. Here are some other crazy rules and regulations that actually are laws on the books:

16 crazy rules
  1. In England all Hackney vehicles (taxi cabs) must have a bale of hay and a bag of oats with them at all times.
  2. All Danish vehicle operators must check under the car before they start it to be sure there’s no one underneath.
  3. Eating or drinking anything while driving a motor vehicle in Cyprus is against the law!
  4. In Luxembourg all vehicles must have windshield wipers even if they don’t have a windshield.
  5. In Russia you can be fined for driving a dirty car!
  6. In Germany it is illegal to run out of gas while driving on an autobahn!
  7. In Spain you are required to have an extra pair of glasses in your car if you wear glasses!
  8. In some cities in Spain you can only park on the odd numbered side of the road on odd days and the even side of the road on even days. Failure to comply will see your car towed.
  9. In Scandinavian countries you are required to have headlights on at all times.
  10. In Estonia it is required that you have two wheel chocks in your automobile at all times.
  11. In Turkey you are required to have a safety kit in your car that has a fire extinguisher, reflective triangle and first aid kit, you must show this to the police when stopped or you will be fined.
  12. In France all vehicle have to have a Breathalyzer in them and there is a fine of 11 euros if you can’t show it to the police when asked.
  13. All cars on the road in Serbia must have a tow bar and a 3 meter tow rope.
  14. In Manilla you are not allowed to drive on Mondays if your license plate ends in 1 or 2.
  15. In Japan if you splash a pedestrian driving through a puddle you will be fined $65.
  16. In Singapore it’s against the law for a driver to come within 50 meters of a pedestrian but pedestrians aren’t allowed to walk on the roads either.

Never underestimate the ability of legislators to come up with silly rules and regulations to “protect” you. Remember my favourite quotation, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.”

In Closing

I trust everyone is enjoying this unseasonal weather. It seems too early to declare that spring has sprung, but tell that to the trees that are budding out and tulips pushing through the garden. All the same, don’t count Mother Nature out. She’s sure to toss another winter storm at us before summer comes. As you’re out enjoying this balmy weather, please look twice for motorcycles. The life you save may be mine!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.


Tags:  autonomous cars  motor vehicle license renewal  motorcycle  self-driving cars  Service Alberta  SPF 1  vehicle registration 

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Cyber Security, Direct-Line Changes in the Industry, Optical-Recognition Vehicle Registration

Posted By Thom Young, February 2, 2016

The Evolution of Cyber Security

Logging into a work station hasn’t really changed much in the last 20 years. Some IT managers have tried to improve the locks at the gate but, no matter their efforts, people still seem to find a way to defeat the safeguards put in place. If you’re like me, you likely keep a file somewhere with all the passwords for the various places you need to access on your computer. While the practice isn’t recommended, it’s sort of necessary, isn’t it? My file is four pages long. I have a good memory, but not that good. Most of my passwords also contain minor deviances from each other. The similarity helps me remember them without needing to go look in this file. That practice too is not recommended, but I’ve been using that system to manage my passwords since I studied cryptology as a young soldier nearly 45 years ago. Back then, we learned that any password could be cracked with enough time. The effectiveness of a password then as now is determined by the time necessary to crack it. No matter how complicated a password you use for any application, the improvement in computing power and speed are constantly reducing the time needed to break the code. Recently, I’ve been using a password-management program to remember a number of my logins. This program claims to use an algorithm to store my password, and this filter changes routinely to provide a very secure storage site. I’ll stick with the story I’m telling though: all passwords can be cracked with enough time and effort, no matter how you calculate them.

The amount of effort invested in trying to access a password has to be valuable relative to what you get out of it. I’m quite sure that no one is going to invest much time trying to access my account with the American Philatelic Society, but maybe they’d be willing to put supercomputer power to work on my banking or business logins. I’m flattering myself with my own importance here, but I think you’ll understand my point.

I’ve been following a number of articles on cyber security recently and noted one in Canadian Broker magazine citing the most common passwords in use today. Despite all the warnings, few of us seem to take heed or even care. Here’s the latest list of the top 20 most-used passwords:

Change from 2014
Up 1
Up 1
Down 2
Up 3
Down 1
Up 2
Down 2
Up 1
Up 1
Down 7
Up 2
Down 6
Down 6

A programmer friend of mine advises me that he has a simple little application on a thumb drive that will try all of these (and some not listed) on any login in less than 10 seconds. Apparently, you can download this app off the internet. If you’re using these passwords for any application login, I think you should immediately consider changing them to something more secure.

A strong password needs to be at least eight characters long and should contain both upper and lowercase letters, at least one number, and at least one non-numeric or alphabetical character. It should be a random group and not contain a complete name in letters. The longer the password following the same principles, the more secure it is. As I stated at the outset of this discussion, all passwords are breakable, but the stronger it is, the longer it takes to break it and, therefore, the better protected the data past the password becomes. Microsoft has some good advice on this subject.

Recently, much talk has circulated on the future use of biometrics as the new standard for a secure login. Essentially, some indicator unique to you, such as your fingerprints, retinal scans, heartbeat, palm print, voice analysis, or facial features, can’t be easily duplicated by a computer hacker or thief. This biometric identifier can be read by your computer, often without the need to install a special piece of hardware. Almost all laptops and notepads now come with a built-in camera. All that is needed is the correct facial-recognition software to provide only you with access without having to input anything on the keyboard. Likewise, audio filters and touch pads determine fingerprints and such.

Facial-recognition software is advancing at such a tremendous pace that retail establishments commonly use it to track customers in their stores. A computer program tags their images with data on when they come, what they purchase, and what their preferences are. The information is available for analysis and target marketing later.  I’ve seen this kind of software demonstrated in conjunction with an office data-management system similar to that used by many brokers in their offices now. When clients walk in the door, the program notifies reception with their names and CSR. Depending on the program’s configuration, the CSR can be automatically advised that the clients are in the waiting area, and either a computerized reception station informs the clients that the CSR will be out to meet them momentarily or the receptionist is prompted to say the same thing. All this information is integrated on the CRS’s workstation or tablet with the production records in the clients’ records and files. This is quite an efficient process compared to that just a few years ago. A number of American banks are also using this technology to increase safety and security for their customers and the business.

I wonder what new developments we’ll see in the future. I also wonder what inroads will be made into personal privacy when customers’ movements are tracked by facial-recognition software and the retailers share the information among themselves. Will we walk into the grocery store to find a basket already containing all our usual items and a few special ones being promoted by the store? I don’t know how I’d feel about that marketing. I also don’t know if a negative view would make any difference because the change seems to be inevitable.

Direct-Line Changes in the Industry

Last week, we were all a little surprised to learn that the Royal Bank of Canada decided that its general-insurance returns weren’t adequate to its needs and reached an agreement with Aviva Insurance for RBC’s P&C purchase. This acquisition initially sounded to me like a good deal for our industry—another major bank admitted it had been unable to compete on a level playing field and was vacating the business. In fact, the reality seems to be that Aviva has purchased RBC General Insurance Company’s general-insurance book of business and appointed the company to represent its products in the same manner as any other broker. While I’m now not so sure anymore that this transaction is a win for our business, I am sure that it’s not a loss.

We compete in a competitive marketplace. As brokers, we have better choices for our customers than most of our competitors. Direct writers, whether they be offshoots of company players on the broker side of the game or agents for a stand-alone business, cannot effectively compete with the brokerage channel on price or product. This difference has always been the case and continues to be the reality of the insurance marketplace in North America. Aviva partnering with RBC Insurance isn’t going to change that reality. Neither will Intact expanding its direct channels in the marketplace nor, as I read today, Economical introducing a direct channel, affect that difference. These efforts by any insurers are doomed to lack-luster returns and short-lived efforts just so long as we as brokers get out there and compete for our market share. We excel at giving the best service to our customers and finding the best insurance solutions for them in price and product, so we don’t need to fear anyone in our market. Time will tell if this new venture between Aviva and RBC will be a success.  However, as brokers, we should all continue with excellent customer service so that we continue to beat RBC in competition.

Manitoba Gets Rid of License-Plate Stickers

When talking about technological advances, the simple process of eliminating license-plate stickers for registration renewal, as Manitoba has done, doesn’t at first seem like much of a big deal. So what if, in Alberta, it would eliminate the annual ritual of obtaining a new expiration sticker and putting it on your license? However, the reason these stickers have become redundant is just a small sample of how the technical advancements of optical recognition have progressed. The dash camera that is becoming standard on all police cars is connected to the provincial database through the computer in the police car and can read any license plate from quite extraordinary distances and instantly determine the registration status. The sticker, on the other hand, relies on the human eye’s limited vision and can determine only its validity. Wired cars are the new norm. Soon the digital repository of information relative to the owner and operators of the car will become part of the digital record available to law enforcement. Tracking stolen vehicles and citing drivers for infractions will become an automated process. Photo-radar tickets will contain the identity of the drivers, an automatic adjustment to their driving records, and a link to the insurer’s databases. Immediate adjustments in premium can be determined and the real function of UBI will come into play. Customers will be charged for the true underwriting risk immediately. Talk about an incentive to change behaviour! The duties of traffic police will be not much different than those of the parking authority—digitally recording infractions and violators. The world is going to continue to change.

In Closing

I’m hoping the take up of people following my column continues to increase. The new format allows IBAA members to make comments directly on the blog and share thoughts not only with me but also with other readers. If you prefer, you can email me instead with any comments you’d like to make. Just remember to subscribe to the blog (under Your Network in so you receive notice of its publication. Looking forward to hearing from you!

The opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of IBAA.
Comment on this post below or email Thom Young privately. Thom also encourages suggestions for topics.


Tags:  Aviva  banks  biometrics  broker channel  cyber security  direct writer channel  IT  license plate  optical recognition  passwords  RBC  telematics  UBI  vehicle registration  Young's Stuff subscription 

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