CARELESS DRIVING: BEWARE OF SERIOUS INSURANCE CONSEQUENCES

A Careless Driving conviction in Ontario can strike a damaging blow to both your driving record and your insurance premiums. It’s one of the most serious charges available in the province’s Highway Traffic Act and one of the most frequently doled out by police officers.

HOW WILL A CONVICTION IMPACT ME?

Careless Driving convictions automatically involve six demerit points and a $400 fine, however penalties can reach up to $2,000, six months imprisonment and licence suspension in severe cases.

What is perhaps even worse, though, is motorists with Careless Driving convictions will see their insurance premiums rise by 100% to 250%. Insurance companies rank traffic violations using three categories: Minor, Major and Serious. Careless Driving convictions are considered “serious”—the worst possible, on par with drunk driving and failing to remain at the scene of an accident.

Drivers with a “serious” conviction on their record are immediately labeled as “high-risk” and insurance companies routinely drop them from regular coverage plans, forcing them into the more expensive high-risk market.

SHOULD I FIGHT A CARELESS DRIVING CHARGE IN PROVINCIAL COURT?

Considering the consequences involved, there’s no reason to plead guilty to a Careless Driving charge, says veteran traffic lawyer Bruce Daley.

“It’s just a dumb thing to do,” says Mr. Daley, who’s practiced for 30 years and estimates to have been retained on 2,000 Careless Driving cases. “Almost invariably, if you contest the charge you’re going to be in a better situation.”

The Highway Traffic Act defines careless driving as operating a vehicle “without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway.” The broadness of this definition often leads to what Mr. Daley calls “overcharging.”

“Quite often when a police officer lays a charge, he or she does it realizing the great bulk of charges under the highway traffic act will go to court and get a plea bargain,” he said. “There’s a lot of guess work involved.

“You could be speeding, and the officer could charge with speeding or careless driving,” he said. “You could be weaving in and out of traffic without signaling, and the officer could charge you with failing to signal, or careless driving.”

But if you plead “not guilty” to the charge, it’s likely that a crown prosecutor will agree to a plea bargain—reducing careless driving to a lighter charge that won’t bring the same damage to your driving record and insurance premiums.

Considering the financial implications of a conviction, retaining legal counsel to help you through the court process could prove to be a major money-saving venture.

If a lawyer believes the careless driving charge is grossly inappropriate, he or she will suggest the client go to trial, “because it’s likely the client won’t be found guilty of anything,” Mr. Daley said.

Car Insurance Policy Cancellation?

CAR INSURANCE POLICY CANCELLATION?
YOU’VE GOT OPTIONS

There’s an office in your insurance company worth knowing about. Federal legislation requires insurance companies to employ someone solely for fielding complaints from consumers. They’re usually called Complaints Liaison Officers or Ombudspersons. If you’ve got a complaint about a policy cancellation or underwriting decision, contacting the company ombudsperson can be the next step.

As brokers who specialize in high risk auto insurance, we speak with a lot of consumers who have been cancelled by their insurance companies. The majority of the time, it’s for legitimate reasons. But in some circumstances, we’ll advise that the consumer call their insurance company’s ombudsperson to request a review of the situation.

HOW DO I USE MY INSURANCE COMPANY’S OMBUDSPERSON?

All insurance companies are obligated to develop and promote procedures for dealing with complaints. You can find these documents on the company’s website. If the procedure requires you to discuss your complaint with the section manager, then do so. Barring any satisfactory resolution with the manager, call the ombudsperson. You can find an up-to-date directory for the ombudspersons in Ontario here

WHAT CAN THE OMBUDSPERSON DO FOR ME?

It’s the ombudsperson’s job to listen to your complaint. Although they are employed by your insurance company, ombudspersons inhabit a unique niche—acting as a liaison between you and the company. If they find a discrepancy with the company’s decision, they’ll work to fix it. But if they side with the company, they’ll give you a letter outlining the rationale behind the company’s decision.

WHAT IF I’M STILL UNSATISFIED AFTER SPEAKING WITH THE OMBUDSPERSON?

You’ve still got options. There are a slew of independent agencies focused on resolving complaints between consumers and insurance companies. In Canada, the Financial Services OmbudsNetwork is a good place to start. The network is separated into the General Insurance OmbudService (for home, auto and business insurance) and the OmbudService for Life and Health Insurance. These services will help you understand the insurance company’s decision. They’ll want to see the decision letter from your company’s ombudsperson. If they believe your complaint is legitimate, they’ll host conciliation or mediation meetings with company’s ombudsperson in an attempt to reach a resolution.

SOURCE: Brian Maltman, Executive Director of the General Insurance Ombudservice as well as the Financial Services Commission of Ontario.