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driving concerns

My Tesla Model 3 has Smart Summon, a feature that lets the car drive itself to me from where it’s parked when I’m not in it. I’ve been afraid to try it, but my son’s urging me to. If it hits something, who’s responsible – me or Tesla? Will my insurance rates go up? For how long? – Ted, Toronto

Right now, you’re at fault if your car hits something – even when your car is the driver.

So, if your Tesla drives itself into another car while you’re standing at the mall entrance waiting for it, you could see higher insurance rates for years, insurance experts said.

“At-fault collisions will never leave your permanent record,” said Adam Mitchell, chief executive officer of Whitby, Ont.-based Mitchell & Whale Insurance Brokers Ltd., which operates as Mitch. “[Depending on the insurance company], it could affect your rate for 20 years.”

Let’s back up. There’s a difference between your provincial driver’s abstract, which shows traffic ticket convictions, and the permanent record of your insurance claims history.

Generally, in the provinces with private insurance, traffic ticket convictions stay on your record for a set number of years – in Ontario and most other provinces, it’s three – “and then they disappear into the ether,” Mitchell said.

During those three years, those convictions can affect your insurance rate.

But your insurance company will always know that you had an at-fault claim. How long they punish you for it depends on the company, Mitchell said. Some now require you to have had a clean driving record for 20 years to get their best discount.

Smart Summon not so smart?

You can’t buy an autonomous car in Canada. You can buy cars with semi-autonomous driver-assist features – but they can’t drive themselves reliably and safely. That hasn’t stopped companies from using names like Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability (both Tesla) to describe these features.

According to SAE International, which sets voluntary engineering standards for the automotive and aerospace industries, there are five levels of automated driving.

For the first three levels, a driver must be behind the wheel and ready to take control at all times. Right now, you can only buy cars in Canada with Level 1 or 2 driver-assist capabilities. These include features like adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. The driver is still legally in control and responsible for what the car does – and liable if the systems cause a crash, the Insurance Bureau of Canada said.

Cars with Level 1 and 2 systems are allowed on the road in every province. But generally, any levels beyond that – where your car can drive itself even briefly without requiring you to watch the road, aren’t. There are exceptions in some provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, if you’re part of a pilot program for autonomous vehicles.

So what about Tesla’s Smart Summon? The system claims to be able to turn your car into a valet; it uses your phone’s GPS as its target destination and drives itself to you.

But in most provinces, including British Columbia and Quebec, you can only use it on private property that’s not used by the public. So, no using it to fetch your car in a mall parking lot. In Ontario, the Highway Traffic Act doesn’t apply on private property, including mall parking lots. Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation didn’t immediately answer questions about whether it is allowed there.

In April, a Montreal man used Smart Summon in a mall parking lot and his car side-swiped the car parked next to him, causing thousands in damage to both cars. He contacted Tesla and the auto maker told him he and his insurance company were responsible.

“In Quebec, it is not legal to put into circulation on public roads a vehicle that can be driven alone or remotely without the presence of a driver on board,” Nicolas Vigneault, a spokesman for Quebec’s Transport Ministry, said in an e-mail. “If ‘Tesla summon’ is used on the grounds of a shopping centre or other grounds where the public is allowed to circulate, then it is an offence punishable by a [$1,000 to $3,000 fine].

In Ontario and B.C., if you get into a crash while using any self-driving feature, you could be charged with careless driving. In an e-mail statement Transport Canada said to direct any questions about Tesla’s summoning features to Tesla.

Tesla didn’t respond to our questions for this story. The Model 3 owner’s manual says that the feature is “designed and intended for use only on parking lots and driveways located on private property where the surrounding area is familiar and predictable. … It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with the limitations of Smart Summon.”

Right now, there are no regulations or safety standards in Canada for semi-autonomous or autonomous features.

Canada is one of six countries that will work with a United Nations group to develop regulations for autonomous systems by the fall of 2026, Transport Canada said.

New fault lines?

When you get into a crash, several provinces, including Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Alberta and Quebec have fault determination rules that decide which driver is at fault, the Insurance Bureau of Canada said.

As cars gain the ability to drive themselves, those rules will need to be changed so that, potentially, the car manufacturer is at fault, instead of the driver, when the car is driving itself, Mitchell said.

“If a valet actually sent a 20-year-old kid to go get my car and he drives it too fast around the corner and hit something, that company and that person is at fault – I clearly had nothing to do with it,” Mitchell said. But if [Smart Summon] causes an accident, now that’s on my record – but I had nothing to do with it.”

The Insurance Bureau of Canada wants the rules changed to allow insurance companies to go after an auto maker for claims caused by driverless technology.

“Insurance legislation will need to be updated as varying levels of automated vehicle technology become more common,” Rob de Pruis, national director of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said in an e-mail. “As new vehicle technologies develop, operating in a legal vacuum can create increased confusion and risk for drivers and potentially complex claims for innocent victims.”

Have a driving question? Send it to and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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