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Column: Roger's Soapbox

Perspective | In England, Insurance Is Above the Law

By: | July 30, 2018 • 3 min read
Roger Crombie is a United Kingdom-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®. He can be reached at [email protected]

I was quite old when I was sent to the government re-education center. This being England, not Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China, there was a fair chance I’d emerge from detention alive. The force driving my punishment was not ideological dissidence — if it were, I’d have been shot years ago.

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This also not being Hitler’s Germany, my accuser was not a neighbor or a family member, but a robot. First law of robotics: You cannot argue with a mechanical device. When a robot categorizes you as criminal, that’s what you are. No due process required.

The robot in question was a speed camera. Ever vigilant, it photographed me driving at 39 miles an hour along a street where the limit was 30. The police documents explained that no excuse was possible, no circumstance mitigating. I didn’t fight the law, and the law won.

Britain operates a points system for drivers. Twelve points bring automatic license suspension. The three points my speeding would earn didn’t much faze me. I don’t own a car but rent one for special occasions. I do that rarely, so my chances of obtaining nine more points are tiny. Why, then, did I subject myself to four hours of accusation, condemnation and condescension?

It wasn’t fear of the law; it was fear of insurance. The greater the points, the greater the premium.

Why did I subject myself to four hours of accusation, condemnation and condescension? It wasn’t fear of the law; it was fear of insurance.

Re-education erases the potential three points as if nothing happened. One becomes, once again, in the eyes of the law, a person who has never committed a crime. It’s a valuable status in case one ever does want to commit a crime. Previous good behavior is currency when you give the swine downstairs exactly what they deserve.

Re-education means I could be named a Justice of the Peace or run for high office without fear of the skeleton in my closet. I will enjoy no such status, however, with the company that insures the next vehicle I rent. One of the questions asked when you rent a car, or renew insurance on your own vehicle, is, ‘Have you recently been caught speeding?’

Lying is not advised.

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Insurance is, therefore, above the law, and that ain’t right. If it’s good enough for the police and the state to treat me as blemish-free, why can’t insurance companies?

Wait, I hear something. Ah, it’s readers explaining that their business is based on experience, period.

It must be their experience that informs the decision to refuse to insure me when I reach 71 years of age. Not worth the risk, the companies say.

I’ll have to buy a car instead. If I buy a car at that age, every insurance company in Britain would be delighted to insure me — at an increased premium because of a crime police records show me not to have committed. They might just as well load the premium for my part in the Valentine’s Day Massacre. No, wait, forget I said that, and don’t go getting ideas.

Should I reach 71, the notion of a life sentence won’t mean very much. It will be time to start being very nice to me. Motor insurers, kindly take note. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Black Swans

Black Swans: Yes, It Can Happen Here

In this year's Black Swan coverage, we focus on two events: An Atlantic mega-tsunami which would wipe out the East Coast and a killer global pandemic.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 2 min read

One of the most difficult phrases to digest without becoming frustrated or judgmental is the oft-repeated, “I never thought that could happen here.”

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Most painfully, we hear it time and time again in the aftermath of the mass school shootings that terrorize this country. Shocked parents and neighbors, viewing the carnage, voice that they can’t believe this happened in their neighborhood.

Not to be mean, but why couldn’t it happen in your neighborhood?

So it is with Black Swans, a phrase describing unforeseen events, made famous by the former trader and acerbic critic of academia Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We at Risk & Insurance® define these events in insurance terms by saying that they are highly infrequent, yet could cause massive damages. This year, for our annual Black Swan issue, we present two very different scenarios, both of which would leave mass devastation in their wake.

A Mega-Tsunami Is Coming; Can the East Coast Even Prepare?, written by staff writer Autumn Heisler, profiles an Atlantic mega-tsunami, which would wipe out lives and commerce along the East Coast.

On the topic of whether the volcanic island of La Palma, the most northwestern of the Canary Islands, could erupt, split and trigger an Atlantic mega-tsunami, scientists are divided.

Researchers Steven Ward, a geophysicist at UC Santa Cruz, and Simon Day of University College London, say such a thing could happen. Other scientists say Day and Ward are dead wrong; it’s an impossibility.

One of the counter-arguments is backed up by the statement that there has never been an Atlantic mega-tsunami. It’s never happened before and thus, could never happen here. See exhibit “A” above, re: mass school shootings.

Viral Fear: How a Global Pandemic Kills an Economy, written by associate editor Katie Dwyer, depicts a killer global pandemic the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century.

Tens of millions of people died during the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918.

Why it could happen again includes the fact that it’s happened before. The science on influenzas, which are constantly mutating, also supports just how dangerous a threat they pose to millions of people beyond the reach of antibiotics.

Should a mutating avian flu, for example, spread widely, we could see a 10 percent drop in GDP, mostly from non-physical business interruption.

As always here, the purpose is to do exactly what insurance modelers and underwriters do; no matter how massive the event, we create scenarios, quantify possible losses and discuss risk mitigation strategies. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]