Nfld. & Labrador

Uninsured and on the road: Drivers without insurance push premiums up for others

The provincial government is looking at some ways to track those who drive without insurance.

Police and the insurance industry say too many people in N.L. are driving without insurance.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada says Newfoundland and Labrador has the most claims per capita in Atlantic Canada for accidents involving uninsured drivers. (Getty Images)

You are running a risk if you drive without vehicle insurance, but it seems that's a risk some drivers are willing to take.

Police in Newfoundland and Labrador say they nab hundreds of drivers each year for operating vehicles without insurance, and that doesn't take into account how many more might just be not getting caught.

Doris Butt of Corner Brook says more needs to be done to crack down on uninsured drivers.

She ended up with a $1,700 repair bill in 2010 after her vehicle was in a collision with an uninsured driver.

"They do not have a right to be on the road unprotected when the rest of us are doing our utmost to drive carefully and pay our premiums to make sure that we're protected and those around us are protected," said Butt.

"And yet some people go out and they're so careless about those matters. It's just totally unfair to the rest of us." 

Doris Butt's former vehicle was damaged in a collision with an uninsured driver in 2010. (Cherie Wheeler/CBC)

Nothing accidental about it

Butt told the Corner Brook Morning Show that she tried to get the person responsible for that 2010 accident to pay for the damage to her car, but she didn't get any co-operation. 

So she instead went through her own insurance policy and had to pay a $300 deductible for an accident that wasn't her fault. She says it was a long process and a hassle she shouldn't have had.

Fortunately, in Butt's case, no one was injured.

Amanda Dean is Atlantic vice-president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada. (Insurance Bureau of Canada )

The part of a car owner's policy that kicks in when you're in an accident with an uninsured driver is called Section D, and all insured vehicles in Newfoundland and Labrador must carry that coverage. 

If you're a pedestrian or cyclist hit by an uninsured driver, it's still your own vehicle insurance that pays out.

There's clearly a problem out there.- Amanda Dean

Amanda Dean of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said there are more claims under Section D in Newfoundland and Labrador per capita than any other province in Atlantic Canada.

"That is concerning because what that tells us is there's a higher number of uninsured drivers creating claims, whether it's injuring other people, or running into a car and causing damage to that car, or even running into a home and causing damage."

We all pay more

Dean said that ends up costing all drivers more as they collectively pay out claims for accidents that weren't their fault, so all premiums go up.

In 2015, the total value of all insurance claims filed in this province was more than $266 million, which Dean said is a "pretty steep number" considering Newfoundland and Labrador's small population.

"When you consider that some of these claims are driven by folks who have no insurance, there's clearly a problem out there."

RNC says it ticketed 743 uninsured drivers in St. John's, Corner Brook and Labrador West in 2016. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Police agree that too many people are driving uninsured vehicles.

They pull over drivers all the time only to find that the vehicle doesn't have insurance and, in many cases, the motorist may be driving an unregistered vehicle, and sometimes driving without a licence.

Numbers provided to CBC by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary show that, in 2016, the police force caught 743 drivers operating a vehicle without insurance in areas of its jurisdiction (St. John's, Corner Brook and Labrador West).

In the rest of the province, the RCMP say they ticketed 296 drivers for not having their vehicles insured.

The RNC told CBC it seizes any uninsured vehicles it pulls over, and has them towed from the scene. The only way the owner is allowed to get back the vehicle is by producing a valid insurance policy and paying the tow bill and any other outstanding fines.

Cracking down

The Highway Traffic Act outlines fines for uninsured drivers that can range from $2,000 for a first offence up to a possible $5,000, or jail time.

Perry Trimper, minister of Service N.L., which is responsible for insurance legislation in the province, said fines for driving without insurance are hefty but not the complete solution, because someone still has to track down uninsured drivers.

Service NL Minister Perry Trimper says an upcoming review of vehicle insurance may consider ways to better track uninsured drivers. (Cal Tobin/CBC)

Trimper said one way to tackle that challenge is to have licence plates assigned to vehicle owners, instead of vehicles, so that when you sell your car, your plate goes with you, and this would allow the Motor Registration Division to better track drivers who've driven uninsured. 

The other is to require insurance companies to alert the Motor Registration Division when someone cancels a policy, so it can follow up to make sure the person is not driving without coverage.

Trimper said a detailed review of vehicle insurance is planned, and he told CBC that will be announced very soon.

In the meantime, Amanda Dean of the Insurance Bureau of Canada advises, "If you know of somebody who doesn't have insurance, report it. They are breaking the law and they are putting people's lives at risk."


Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.