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driving concerns

I got a distracted driving ticket because I was checking something on my phone while stopped at a red light. How long does it take before this affects my insurance rates? Will they go up immediately? – Rich, Ottawa

If you get a ticket for distracted driving and are convicted, there are serious consequences for your insurance rates – but it could take as long as a year or two to see them.

That’s because, depending on the province, it could take that long for your insurance company to find out about the conviction, insurance experts said.

“If you get a ticket today, it won’t affect your rates tomorrow; it will be when your policy is renewed [for the next year],” said Traci Boland, a London, Ont.-based insurance broker and president of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada. “But that only happens when they [get a copy] of your driving record and find out about the ticket.”

In most provinces with private insurance, including Ontario, all tickets stay on your record for three years after the date you were convicted - for example, if you paid the ticket, if you didn’t pay it before the deadline or if you fought it and lost.

During that time, companies can use them to set your rates – or, for serious tickets, even to cancel your policy.

In provinces with private insurance, insurance companies don’t get notified every time you get a ticket.

Instead, they have to pay for a copy of your driver’s abstract – the province’s record of any traffic tickets you may have. The cost varies by province – in Ontario, it’s $12.

Companies check new customers’ abstracts when they apply for an insurance policy, but for existing customers, the company may check only once a year – or even once every two years, Boland said.

So if your insurance company finds out about a two-year-old ticket now, they will raise your rates the next time they renew your policy.

The rate increase isn’t usually retroactive – so you likely won’t have to pay for the time before they knew about the ticket, Boland said.

“So if they find out about your ticket in the second year, you will get charged for that ticket for the third year,” Boland said. “But let’s say you renew in January and you got the ticket in July. [The rate won’t come back down] in July when the ticket actually comes off your record, but it will stay on there until your insurance policy is renewed for the next year.”

Your insurance company may also find out about a ticket if you were involved in a collision.

“The ticket details can be on the police report,” Rob de Pruis, national director of consumer and industry relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), said in an email.

If your insurance company doesn’t know that you’ve been handed a ticket, should you tell them?

Insurance policies don’t specifically say you have to tell them about tickets, but they do say you have to let them know of any “material risks or changes,” Boland said.

“Let’s say you got in an accident and your insurance company didn’t know you had a [previous] distracted driving conviction,” Boland said. “They would have the right to deny your claim and cancel the policy because it’s a change to your material risk.”

What are the consequences?

In most provinces, distracted driving laws ban holding or touching a hand-held electronic device. In Ontario, that comes with a $615 to $1,000 fine, three demerit points and a three-day licence suspension for the first conviction.

So how much more could you end up paying for insurance if you get one and are convicted? Companies generally rank offences as minor, major or criminal, de Pruis said.

Minor tickets include running a red light and, in Ontario, speeding less than 49 kilometres an hour over the speed limit. Distracted driving is considered a major ticket. Criminal tickets include impaired driving and dangerous driving causing injury or death under the Criminal Code of Canada.

According to, a financial comparison site, minor offences generally deliver a 10 per cent increase. For major offences, it’s a 25 per cent increase and for criminal offences, you could see your rates double or more. But it varies by province and company.

Those increases can be even higher if you have multiple convictions in that three-year window, Boland said.

Also, some companies may cancel your policy if you have a major offence, including distracted driving, on your record, she said.

If that happens, most other insurance companies won’t insure you if you have a distracted driving conviction – so you’ll have to go to companies that handle higher-risk policies, and they charge more, Boland said.

That would last for the three years that the charges stay on your record.

“Distracted driving is serious now,” Boland said.

In British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – the three provinces with public car insurance – the provincial insurers also manage driver abstracts.

So they know when you get a ticket and any penalties would automatically be applied when you renew your policy.

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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