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driving concerns

If you’re in an at-fault crash, you can’t use bad advice as an excuse.CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

I was driving with my cousin and I asked him to check in the passenger-side mirror to make sure it was clear for me to turn. I couldn’t see the lane in the mirror. He said it was fine, so I started to switch lanes and stopped after frantic honking from a car in that lane. My cousin said the car hadn’t been there when he looked. If I had hit it, would my cousin have been responsible, insurance-wise? I wouldn’t have tried to switch lanes if he hadn’t told me it was clear. – Rick, Ottawa

Driving isn’t a team sport. If you cause a crash, your insurance company likely won’t care that your passenger gave you bad intel.

“From their perspective, you’re putting yourself at risk in trusting someone else,” said Matt Hands, director of insurance at Ratehub, a financial comparison site.

If you’re in an at-fault crash, you can’t use bad advice – from a passenger, GPS or a driver-safety system like blind spot detection – as an excuse.

So, if you made an unsafe lane change, for instance, it doesn’t matter to your insurance company that a passenger told you it was safe.

Your rates would go up – not theirs.

That’s because it’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure it’s safe to go.

“At the end of the day, the driver is ultimately the one who is responsible if they’re choosing not to look,” said Rob de Pruis, director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

While a passenger’s insurance policy wouldn’t cover your crash, you could try to sue them for liability if they did something that directly caused it – for instance, “if you’re driving and they grabbed the steering wheel and caused your car to roll into the ditch,” de Pruis said.

But bad advice likely wouldn’t count, de Pruis said.

Shifting fault lines?

Why would you care who’s at fault?

The rules around determining fault in a crash vary by province. But, generally, your insurance company determines fault after an investigation, Ratehub’s Hands said.

Ontario, for example, has a set of rules to determine who’s at fault.

Generally, if you’re at fault in a crash, your rates can go up in most provinces.

Plus, if you’re at fault and don’t have collision insurance, your repairs won’t be covered. If you’re not at fault, your repairs will be covered even if you don’t have collision insurance.

Fault can be shared in a crash. For instance, if you make an unsafe lane change and move into the way of a car that’s speeding, fault might be split.

That means both sides could see rate increases.

“It’s not as cut and dried as ‘this person hit me so they’re a hundred per cent at fault,’” Hands said. “Sometimes, they can find that you’re 40 per cent at fault and the other person is 60 per cent.”

Passenger-side mirror not for passengers

Bad advice from a passenger likely won’t work as an excuse if you get pulled over by police, either.

While rules vary by province, they all say that a driver has to make sure it’s safe before switching lanes or turning.

The rules don’t mention passengers acting as lookouts or blind spot warning, which is supposed to let you know if there’s a car beside you when you’re about to turn.

But you shouldn’t need a passenger to let you know it’s safe to turn or pass. On most cars, all you need is your mirrors – as long as they’re set properly.

When you look in your mirrors while you’re driving, you should see the lanes beside you, not the sides of your car.

To adjust your side mirrors, park the car, lean your head against the left window and adjust the left mirror so you just barely see the left side of your car.

Next, lean to the right, to about the middle of your dash, and adjust the right mirror just until you can barely see the right side.

If you’ve done it properly, a car passing to your left or right should start to appear in your side view mirror just as it starts to move out of your rear-view mirror.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com 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.