Driving with pets and car insurance: what you should know
If your pet loves being close to you, think twice before letting them join you in the driver’s seat. You could face a hefty fine and demerit points, which may lead to an auto insurance increase.
This article has been updated from a previous version.
It’s not unusual to see a dog’s head or nose sticking out of the rear window of a passing car — embracing the rush of fresh air and taking in the different scents. Some dog owners may even describe the car as one of their pet’s favourite places to be.
A driver caught with a dog in their lap, on the other hand, might be in for a costly surprise. According to Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Sergeant Kerry Schmidt, “there is no specific charge for a dog in your lap,” but, he states in an email, “the likely potential charge could be ‘crowding driver’s seat’.”
Crowding the driver’s seat: what are the penalties?
In Ontario, the charge for “crowding driver’s seat” falls under section 162 of the Highway Traffic Act: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle with persons or property in the front or driver’s seat so placed as to interfere with the proper management or control of the motor vehicle.”
If convicted, drivers could receive three demerit points on their driving record, an $85 fine, and a $20 victim surcharge, plus any court costs. If found crowding the driver’s seat in a community safety zone, an area designated by the province with signage, the fine could increase to $120, plus fees.
In one case, the OPP Central Region issued a driver in Caledon, Ontario a $110 traffic ticket and three demerit points for driving with a poodle-mix on their lap.
A few years earlier, a woman in Perth, Ontario was ticketed for committing the same offence after driving with a parrot on her shoulder.
Many of the provinces have similar traffic laws, although the fines vary. In fact, in Quebec, section 422 of the Highway Safety Code extends the law beyond vehicles to bicycles, too.
Should you worry about demerit points?
A person charged with a traffic violation such as “crowding driver’s seat” will also receive demerit points, which stay on your driving record for two years. While demerit points do not directly affect auto insurance rates, earning too many can result in a licence suspension, and in turn, your auto insurance provider may cancel your policy. Any gaps in coverage can increase your auto insurance rate in the future.
If you are a fully licensed driver, your licence will be suspended for 30 days if you get 15 or more demerit points on your driving record. A new driver has to receive only nine points before their licence is suspended for 60 days.
According to the Government of Ontario, if you do not surrender your licence, you could lose it for up to two years. While this is the worst-case scenario, it illustrates the importance of following the rules of the road.
Pets are your passengers, so it’s best to keep them in the backseat and your steering wheel unobstructed to avoid a fine. Not only is driving with your pet in your lap (or on your shoulder) unsafe, but it can lead to a higher auto insurance premium.
How driving with your pet could increase your auto insurance rate
While having a pet in the car won’t directly increase your car insurance rate, a “crowding driver’s seat” traffic conviction could.
When you receive any traffic ticket, you have 15 days to dispute the charge. If you do not, you will likely get a conviction for the violation, which can increase your auto insurance rate upon renewal. It will depend on the severity of the traffic conviction(s), whether minor, major, serious, or criminal, and the number of tickets you have on your driving record already.
Depending on the insurance company, even a minor infraction may result in a 10% increase, and drivers with a major violation could pay 25% more for their premium.
That said, some drivers who get a single minor conviction won’t see a rate increase. This may be for two reasons: the insurance company is more lenient, or the driver has minor conviction protection coverage. Either way, the conviction would void any conviction-free discount the insurance company offers.
Repeat offenders will usually see their rate spike, which can have long-term consequences. Traffic convictions stay on your driving record for three years; however, it could be longer if the conviction leads to a licence suspension.
Drivers with multiple infractions or serious convictions may get classified as high-risk and find it challenging to find affordable auto insurance rates.
If your insurance premium rises after a conviction, shop around to see if you can get a lower auto insurance rate.
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About the author
Hayley Vesh is an editor/writer in the personal finance space. Her work has also appeared in Global News. She is passionate about financial literacy and the pursuit of knowledge through lifelong learning.