Back in December, the York regional police decided they were going to try a new strategy for dealing with the growing number of intoxicated drivers they kept finding on the road: public shaming.
Every Monday, the force announced, a list of drivers who had been charged with driving under the influence (DUI) in the past week would be posted on the force’s website. The threat was one of humiliation: if you decide to put yourself and other drivers in danger, you would be exposed.
The policy was announced on Dec. 3 and put into place immediately, but it’s still too early to say whether it’s been effective. Whether it affects your auto insurance, on the other hand, is something that can be answered right away — and definitely something that you need to know if you’re a driver in the region.
Do DUIs affect your auto insurance in the first place?
“Oh, for sure,” says David Waserman, manager at DMW Insurance Ltd. “I can only speak for Ontario, but the majority [of auto insurers] won’t take on a new client or even renew an existing client if they have a conviction for driving while impaired.”
If you find yourself in this situation, Waserman says, there are only two options available to you. (Keep in mind, you need to be insured in order to legally drive at all in Canada.)
Unfortunately, the first and more preferable option requires you to act before you’re convicted. In Canada, there are a handful of companies that will merely raise their rates if they find out you’ve received a DUI charge, instead of refusing to renew your policy altogether — Economical Insurance (based in Waterloo, Ont.) is one example. If you had a policy with this type of company before you get a DUI, you won’t be cut off from your policy once it’s time for a renewal.
“This is a fairly new option, just within the last few months,” Waserman explains. The catch? The company may start calculating your rate using a rating system reserved for people with DUIs, which will most definitely result in higher rates.
The second option is even less desirable, but it’s probably what you’ll have to turn to if you didn’t have the foresight to buy from Economical (or, I guess, to drive sober): apply for a policy at what Waserman calls “non-standard auto” companies. These companies, like Jevco or Coachman Insurance, cater to higher-risk drivers, but they’ll add a significant surcharge on top of your regular premiums. While surcharges will vary from company to company, Waserman says that 50% of your rate used to be standard in the industry — just to give you an idea. So, if you typically pay $1,400 each year in insurance premiums (which is fairly average in Ontario), imagine tacking on an extra $700. That would bring your total up to a $2,100.
Of course, both of these options rest on the assumption that your insurance company will find out about your DUI — and they might not.
How do insurance companies find out if you have a DUI?
“Someone could get an impaired driving charge but there could be no accident,” Waserman explains. “When you’re pulled over on a roadside stop, there’s no accident, the insurance company may not necessarily be notified.”
In order for your insurance company to find out about your non-accident related DUI charges, the company needs to order a report of your driving record from the Ministry of Transportation, which is typically something that it’ll do when it’s time to renew your policy. And even then, it’s not always guaranteed that this will happen every single year — especially if you have an otherwise clean record.
“Specifically where you’ve had someone who’s been a client of the same insurance company for a number of years and hasn’t had any accidents or claims, and hasn’t done anything to draw attention to themselves, the insurance company may not be ordering a report on that driver,” says Waserman.
Of course, if you get into an accident and need to make a claim, that’s an entirely different situation. A claims adjuster will ask about the accident, and seek out details — and you can’t lie.
If the police publicly displays your name, will this up the chances that your insurance company will find out about your DUI?
At the moment, the York police force posts the first and last names of drivers that have been charged with impaired driving, along with their age, location, and crime.
Waserman doubts that this is enough information for insurance companies to work with.
“I’m just going to suggest a common name like John Smith or Patrick Brown,” he said. “Unless there’s a driver’s license number associated with it, there’s nothing the insurance company can do with it. They may have a lot of drivers named Patrick Brown or John Smith. How would they know which one is theirs?”
Unless the police starts releasing more information, or they make a concerted effort to work directly with auto insurers, it’s not likely that your insurance company would be able to connect you with the name displayed on the police website.
So you have a DUI, and your insurance company finds out about it. How do you make them trust you (and lower your premium) again?
Sadly, there isn’t anything you can really do, Waserman says. You’ll just have to wait.
“The impaired conviction remains on your Ontario driving record for at least three years, and the licence suspension that accompanies the conviction remains on your record for up to six years,” he explains. “The Ontario car insurance application requires drivers to disclose any licence suspensions within the last six years, which will require you to notify the insurer of the impaired driving conviction.
“To return to paying ‘normal car insurance rates,’” he adds, “You’re going to have to wait up to six years after the impaired conviction.”