Sunday, June 17, 2012

Traffic Violations and Insurance Rates

Traffic violations in Ontario can be major, minor or criminal offences.  The severity of the infraction can make a significant difference in how your insurance rates are affected, as well as in the legal consequences.  Minor offences are the less serious ones and usually result in a fine. Major offences can be much more serious, resulting in heavy fines, license suspensions and possible jail sentences.

Minor violations

Minor violations are the most frequent kind of traffic offences, and have less impact both legally and on the driver’s insurance rates.  They are chargeable on your insurance for three years from the date you are convicted (not from the date you are ticketed), and some carry a sizeable fine, too.

The most frequent minor infractions are speeding—though when exceeding the speed limit by over 50 kph, it becomes major--running red lights or stop signs, failure to obey traffic signs, and tailgating.  Others include improper turning, improper passing, obstruction of traffic, unnecessarily slow driving and driving with your view obstructed.

Minor offences differ in their impact on your insurance premiums. Not all will result in a rate hike, but that varies from insurer to insurer. It’s useful to contact your insurance agent after you’ve been ticketed to find out what to expect on your premiums. But if you are hit with an increase, it won’t take effect until you renew your coverage.

Parking violations and driving with a broken taillight are minor offences that are unlikely to affect insurance rates, as they are not usually regarded as moving violations and therefore do not concern the insurer.

Major violations

Major violations are considered to be more serious, as they are more likely to result in an injury to another driver or a pedestrian.  They include speeding (when driving above 50 km/h), speeding in a school zone, passing a school bus, failing to report an accident and driving without auto insurance coverage.

Insurers take a dim view of major violations.  They show that a driver is a higher claims risk and should, accordingly, pay higher premiums.  A major offence remains on a driver’s record just as long--three years--as a minor one when it comes to insurance premiums.   However, the premium rise is generally higher in the case of a major violation.

Major offences also have more severe legal repercussions. The offender could be hit with heavier fines and in some cases may even face a possible jail sentence.  Offences that carry a criminal record include driving with a blood alcohol level over .08, careless driving, criminal negligence, dangerous driving, driving with a suspended license, racing and motor manslaughter.  

For these types of convictions, the Facility Association of Ontario, which provides coverage to drivers who can’t qualify in the voluntary insurance market, will increase premiums by 100%.

Avoiding rate hikes

Keep in mind that being cited for more than one violation is a sure way to have your auto insurance rates rise.  Two minor violations can be more damaging than one major violation.  Statistically, if you have received a speeding ticket, there is a 20% chance that you will receive another ticket within the three year period. If you’re hit with three speeding tickets, you will be charged "high risk insurance rates" of thousands of dollars per year, for at least three years.  So it’s best to learn from the error and not repeat it.

To check which offences are considered major, minor and criminal, consult

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Driving Safely in Summer

Summer is the season for taking your car on the road.  But you’ll find increased traffic on those roads, including both locals and tourists. Taking extra care to drive safely will help you get through the summer accident-free.  Here are some tips on how to do that.

Have your vehicle checked

Summer driving conditions are often hot and stressful on equipment. So, preventive maintenance for the mechanical systems of your car or light truck is definitely a good idea.  The to-do list should include:

● Check your tire pressure before a long trip -- including the spare -- and keep it at the level recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Check tire tread depth for excessive and uneven wear.
● In extreme summer heat, it may be necessary to change the grade of the engine oil.
● Check the cooling system, both hoses and radiator, for leaks. Check the coolant recovery reservoir under the car’s hood when the engine is cold. Add the coolant recommended in the owner's manual,
● Check the air conditioning system.

Don’t overload

When packing up the car for a road trip, keep safety in mind. Don’t sacrifice your field of vision to squeeze in extra items. If you really do need extra space for supplies, consider using additional space on your car’s exterior or even towing a small utility trailer.  Both are safe options, provided all items are properly secured.

Buckle Up

The best way to increase your chances of survival in a road accident is to wear your seat belt. This applies not only to the driver, but to every passenger in your car, too.  Not wearing a seat belt leaves you more exposed for severe injuries or even death in the event of an accident.  Remember that any passenger below 16 years of age who isn’t properly buckled up is your responsibility, too.

Construction ahead

Summer is construction season, so heavier traffic flows are being squeezed onto roads that are being narrowed due to maintenance and construction. Watch out for road workers and stay alert in construction zones.  Speed limits often are reduced, and traffic can come to a halt without much notice.

Bikers are back

Watch for cyclists and motorcyclists, too.  As a motorist you may not be expecting these smaller vehicles, and their drivers may be rusty on the roads if they’ve had their bikes parked all winter.

Weekend warning

Unlike other seasons (when rush hour is the busiest time on the roads), summer brings traffic congestion on the weekends, as families drive to the cottage and back. These leisure drivers may actually be more of a danger: they’re revved up to reach their destination, and often are carrying more passengers and more stuff than a regular commuter. It’s best to stay calm and be polite to other drivers in order not to trigger road rage and put everyone at risk.

Carry emergency gear

Winter isn't the only season when car trouble can happen, so  carry emergency gear all year round.  In summer, along with the usual emergency items of a blanket, flashlight, rags, a red cloth or flag and reflective warning signs, you also should bring bottled water, extra coolant and oil and, of course, a cell phone.

Follow the above safety tips and you should have a safe summer on the road.

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