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driving concerns

Do any insurance companies [offer discounts to] professional drivers? If professional drivers are known to be the safest drivers on the roads, why don’t all insurance companies give us a break on insurance rates? I drive school buses and limos, and have a clean [driving record]. If we carry [more advanced classes of driving] licences, should we not be rewarded for a clean driving record? We continually take courses on defensive driving, practise what we are taught and act defensively on the road. – Gerald, Middlesex, Ont.

This may come as a surprise, but being a professional driver likely won’t save you money on your personal car insurance anywhere in Canada. All drivers get discounts for keeping a clean driving record. What matters is how you drive, not how much training you have.

“No company that we’re aware of offers a discount if you have more than a G licence [standard driver’s licence],” said Adam Mitchell, chief executive officer of Mitchell & Whale, a Whitby, Ont.-based insurance broker. “They’ll look instead at how long you’ve been driving without a [conviction] or at-fault accident.”

When it comes to your driving record, companies typically rate you based on how many driving convictions – for instance, speeding tickets – and at-fault collisions you’ve had in the past six years. But, depending on the insurance company, you may get even bigger discounts the longer you keep a clean record.

“There’s one company with literally a 25-year rating,” Mitchell said.

Unless your insurance policy forgives your first accident, a single at-fault accident could set your rating back to zero, he said.

But don’t professional drivers get extra training? While the rules vary by province, most training requirements are similar. The amount of extra training you need varies by the type or class of licence. To get a school bus driver’s licence in Ontario, you need at least 6.25 hours of classroom instruction – and you can’t have had your licence suspended in the last year.

Proven records?

While some insurance companies give discounts to brand new drivers who have completed a driver training course – for instance, a new driver with a G1 licence in Ontario may move from a zero to a three-star rating if they’ve completed driver training – insurers don’t award discounts to drivers with professional training, Mitchell said.

“Driver training programs provide new drivers with a better driving rating – often equivalent to a few years of driving experience from a rating perspective,” the Insurance Bureau of Canada said in an e-mail statement. “[But] it is uncommon for an insurer to offer an additional discount for a driver having multiple licences, being a professional driver or taking advanced defensive driving courses. These ‘professional’ drivers would already, potentially, qualify for the best rates – provided they have an excellent driving record.”

The provinces with government-owned insurance – British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba – don’t offer additional discounts for personal insurance for professional drivers.

“Insurance discounts under the safe driver recognition program are based on someone’s actual record of traffic convictions and at-fault collisions, not on an assumption that their level of training and experience makes them a safer driver,” Tyler McMurchy, a spokesman for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, said in an e-mail.

Pros and cons

There are no government regulations barring companies from offering discounts to professional drivers, as long as they can show that professional drivers are at lower risk for accidents, the insurance broker Adam Mitchell said.

For example, the statistics would have to show that ambulance or school bus drivers with 10 years of clean driving are safer drivers than any other driver with a 10-year clean driving record.

“The regulator does not dissuade them from giving discounts, but they’d better be ready to statistically support it,” Mitchell said. “We couldn’t get any [companies] on the record to say why, but we can hypothesize that it’s either that they don’t have enough data or the numbers don’t prove it.”

Not only that, even professional drivers can still get tickets and get into crashes.

Last month, an Ottawa-area school bus driver was caught going more than 40 kilometres an hour above the speed limit in a bus – with kids on board.

He was charged with stunt driving and his licence was suspended for 30 days. That’s the same penalty a driver with an ordinary licence would receive.

As for extra penalties, in Ontario, for instance, all drivers may get their licences suspended after they receive 15 demerit points. But drivers with school bus licences may have their licence downgraded to the next-highest class if they get eight demerit points, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation said in an email statement.

But if you really are a safe driver, whether you’re a professional driver or not, you may want to consider usage-based insurance, Mitchell said.

It’s a little like having your insurance company in the car with you.

It uses either an app on your phone or a device that plus into your car to track nearly everything you’re doing on the road, including how hard you brake, how fast you accelerate, whether you break the speed limit and even whether you use your phone.

Several companies, including Desjardins, Intact, Travelers Canada, and TD Insurance offer programs that score how you drive and offer a discount for safe driving – on top of the discounts you already get.

“If you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is, they will track you and reward you. It can be up to a 30-per-cent discount [depending on the company],” Mitchell said.

But in some provinces, including Alberta, Quebec and Ontario, if the device shows driving habits that your insurance company thinks are unsafe, they’re allowed to charge you more than you’re paying now.

“It cuts both ways,” Mitchell said. “You could end up paying between 5 and 10 per cent more.”

One usage-based program, Ajusto from Desjardins, gives good drivers up to a 25-per-cent discount for safe driving. But drivers who “tend to be less attentive behind the wheel” could see rates go up by up to 20 per cent, Desjardins said.

“It is important to remember this is a voluntary program for people who are open to demonstrating that they’re careful drivers or are ready to improve their driving habits based on the feedback from the app,” Desjardins spokeswoman Jessica Spina said in an email.

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.