Auto Insurance

So you drove into the Queens Quay streetcar tunnel. Are you covered by insurance?

By: Lisa Coxon on December 3, 2018

If you Google the phrase “Queens Quay streetcar tunnel,” the top results include headlines like, “Is Queens Quay tunnel Toronto’s Bermuda Triangle?” and “Nine times drivers couldn't resist the pull of the Queens Quay streetcar tunnel,” and “Someone drove a car into the Queen’s Quay streetcar tunnel again.”

This tunnel, located at the intersection of Queens Quay and York St., is where many vehicles go to be abandoned and severely damaged.

Despite the do-not-enter signs, bright-yellow bollards, red paint on the road, and rumble strips, a striking number of people — the latest tally is 26 vehicles since 2014 — have mistakenly driven into the tunnel.

Whether it’s the result of genuine confusion or impairment, many have wound up in the depths of the tunnel where they became stuck on the streetcar tracks, requiring removal by the TTC. Naturally, they’ve been the butt of many jokes.

This October, in an effort to make it next to impossible for motorists to enter the tunnel, the TTC installed drop-down gates that cost $61,000 and are designed to open only for streetcars, which have been equipped with transponders. Future crises averted, it would seem.

But the Queen’s Quay tunnel isn’t the only transit tunnel in Canada. There are still plenty of opportunities for drivers to take an oh-so-wrong turn into one of them. Then what? Would their insurance cover them? Here’s how driving into a transit tunnel and getting stuck would likely shake out.

What’s covered by insurance and what’s not?

Driving into the Queens Quay tunnel is sort of like accidentally stumbling into the opposite sex’s bathroom at a bar. It’s a mistake, sure, but is it a true “collision” if no other vehicle is involved?

The short answer is yes because you’ve hit something. Why does that matter? Because it means your collision coverage will kick in.

“Every accident is a mistake by someone,” says Gerry Martineau, national director of claims for The Co-operators. “Either by the individual or someone driving around them. That’s the reason for insurance, to protect you when things go wrong or when you make mistakes.” Like when you go the wrong way down a one-way street. It’s not the brightest move, but these things happen, especially in unfamiliar places.

So, whether you missed the do-not-enter signs (or not), collision coverage will protect you. This type of coverage will likely cover any damage done to the vehicle as well as the cost of having it removed from the tunnel.

That said, because this would be considered an at-fault accident, you would likely have to pay a deductible.

In single-vehicle accidents, unless there are extenuating circumstances, the fault rests with the driver

As for the damage done to the tracks or other TTC property, that’s where your liability coverage would come into play. “If the TTC wanted to collect back from the person who went down the tunnel,” says Martineau, “then the liability section of the driver’s policy would pay for those damages up to the limits that they have.”

Of course, none of the above applies if you’re convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or any other intoxicating substances. In such a case, your insurer doesn’t have to pay your claim.

Would this be considered an “at-fault” accident?

Um, yeah. It's basically guaranteed. “In single-vehicle accidents, unless there are extenuating circumstances, the fault rests with the driver,” says Martineau. “In this particular case, you had to miss the do-not-enter signs, you had to miss the danger signs, and you didn’t notice the painting on the road. That’s a real miss on the driver’s part.”

Are you still at fault even if you accidentally made a wrong turn? Yes. Even if you swear you didn’t see all the do-not-enter signs? Yep. Even if you have collision and liability coverage on your policy? Yes again.

“You need to be driving for the conditions,” says Martineau.

Your premiums would likely take a hit, too. While it depends on the insurer and their underwriting policies, says Martineau, “an at-fault accident will impact your rates at your next renewal.”

That fact alone is sometimes enough to discourage people from simply asking their insurer whether or not they should make a claim — for fear of reprisal.

“There’s this view that as soon as you tell your insurer, they’re going to impact your policy regardless of whether or not you make a claim,” says Martineau, who adds that some insurers do operate on that ideology. “It’s really a disservice to the consumer.”

Can the TTC come after me and my insurance?

The TTC is self-insured for up to $5 million in damages by something called the TTC Insurance Company Limited (TTCICL). For damages that exceed that threshold, it will use a third-party adjuster.

Of all the Queens Quay kerfuffles, no individual claim has resulted in over $5 million in damages, so the TTC has never had to use a third-party insurer to recoup the costs typically associated with these cases, which can include overtime paid to TTC employees and the equipment used to remove the vehicle and repair damaged tracks.

Depending on the severity of the incident, these costs can range anywhere from very little to a few thousand dollars. “If there are costs incurred,” explains Stuart Green, the TTC’s senior communications specialist, “the TTC generally attempts to recover any damages from the driver/their insurance.” This would be done by the TTCICL.

That said if the vehicle removal was done by the TTC's regular workforce, and no overtime or additional costs had to be paid, and there was no damage to TTC infrastructure, then the TTC probably wouldn’t pursue you or your insurer for costs. In any case, the TTC won’t pay for damage done to your vehicle; that’s up to your insurer.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Sort of.

You can mistakenly drive your vehicle into the Queens Quay streetcar tunnel and still be covered by your insurance. And, save for your deductible, you might not pay for the mishap upfront.

But you’ll likely pay for it come renewal time. Because just as you found your way into that mysterious tunnel, so, too, will higher premiums find their way to you.