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Edmonton auto body repair businesses see drop in business as collisions decline during pandemic | CBC News

As vehicle collisions have dropped significantly during the pandemic, Edmonton auto body shops are seeing a noticeable decline in business.

At Doug’s Place Collision Repairs in Old Strathcona, vehicles fill the heated bays as employees work on SUVs and cars while 50s rock ‘n’ roll music plays in the background.

It seems busy, but business has been inconsistent over the past eight months, down between 35 and 50 per cent.

“We’ve seen a lot of a lot less traffic [through the door], and a lot less insurance claims,” said Jack De Sena, director of fixed ops at Doug’s Place Collision Repairs.

CBC News spoke with a handful of other auto body shops in the city who have experienced similar slow downs in business. Many rely on collisions and insurance claims for repair work.

“The number that everyone in the industry keeps throwing at us is about 35 per cent down. Whether it’s distribution, it seems to all align at that 35 per cent number across North America, to be honest with you,” De Sena said.

“There’s obviously some industries that have grown, but the auto body industry is directly impacted by claims and accidents and with less traffic on the road, it’s been definitely impactful for sure. “

Collisions down in 2020

Collision statistics from the Edmonton Police Service during the pandemic show a noticeable decline. In 2019, there were 35,819 collisions in Edmonton when compared to 21,854 in 2020, up to Nov. 18.

From March 15 to Nov. 18, 2020, there were 3,155 collisions. In that same time frame of 2019 there were 21,262 collisions.

As many Edmontonians are working from home there’s less traffic during most times of the day, including the hours when people are commuting to and from their workplace.

Though the number of auto insurance claims in Alberta this year isn’t available yet, the Insurance Bureau of Canada expects to see a lower frequency of auto claims in 2020 in Alberta, but a potential increase in severity of claims made as a result of driving behaviours, based on data collected in the U.S. during the pandemic.

“We have heard some reports of some of that dangerous driving happening in Alberta, but also right across the country as less people are on the roads, less people looking at what you’re doing, a little bit more road and room for you to try some new things,” said Celyeste Power, western vice-president for the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“And that is leading to worst collisions than we would see in any normal year. So that’s a pretty worrying trend from a public safety perspective.

The frequency of how often a vehicle is used as a factor when calculating premiums, and less driving should lower the cost.

“Insurers actually gave back over $135 million back in Alberta and over a billion dollars right across the country, back to customers who weren’t driving as often, sort of crediting for that,” Power said.

Jack De Sena, director of fixed ops at Doug’s Place Collision Repair, says the auto body industry is dependent on weather, but doesn’t expect a big boost in business this winter while the pandemic continues. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

As snow is back on Edmonton streets, auto body shops do expect to see a boost in business for repairs due to icy road related collisions, but not a lot.

“With Alberta’s [COVID-19] numbers being up and closing certain areas down to the end of the month, some stuff is out of our control, but with the snowfall and whatnot, there’s been an increase in claims for now, but our business is reliant on weather,” said De Sena.

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