Why our kids need to drive, and drive often

How old were you when you got your licence? Most of us were champing at the bit within days of our 16th birthdays. Your kids might be handling the issue much differently. Technology lets them stay connected with friends from the next city – and across the world – in ways we never could have imagined. Government-sanctioned driver’s education programs can get pricey.

But if a car is available for practice and they/you can scratch up the money, there’s a reason I think you should push them to get licensed.

Forget the call of the open road: the truth is as long as we live in a country that mandates all drivers have insurance, this is a numbers game. If you’ve been a car owner for decades, driving costs are usually based on purchase price and upkeep; if you’re among the newly licensed, these costs are likely eclipsed by the big one: insurance.

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I have one car. I have three young drivers in my household. From the moment each got their G2 – their full licence – their driving record has been ticking. Though each is listed as an occasional driver on my policy, they are accumulating valuable driving histories for the time they will have their own. My insurance cost is based on the least experienced driver in the household, my 19-year-old son. I am effectively depositing my pristine rating into the hands of a member of the group insurance companies consider road demons.

Insurance companies use statistics to set their rates. In Ontario, anyone under 25 owning their own vehicle – especially males – pays an exorbitant amount for insurance. After that, it’s the high rollers who get hit hardest, and if you’ve been a demonstrably bad driver, you’ll pay. But new drivers, regardless of age, show up next. The best way not to be a new driver? Get your licence as soon as you can and stop being a freshman. An upside even if you’re not driving is you’re not accumulating any blemishes on your record.

Some Canadian provinces – Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and partially in Quebec – have government owned auto insurance; the rest have standardized wordings and government oversight. While there are arguments for and against, Ontario continues to pay the highest premiums. Recent provincial government efforts to bring rates down is helping in some instances, but “lower” is relative when the rates were insanely high to begin with.

It's important that you notify your insurance company as soon as your son or daughter gets their G1 or beginner’s licence.

It’s important that you notify your insurance company as soon as your son or daughter gets their G1 or beginner’s licence.
Handout, Young Drivers of Canada

Are there any breaks? If your kid is in school residence, some companies give a discount: my company says my son has to be 100 kilometres away from home to qualify, but he’s only 50 km. He could probably avoid residence fees and just drive, if he could afford the insurance. See how that works?

Pete Karageorgos of the Insurance Bureau of Canada helped me explore the other ways people try to end-run the system. Why not just put Junior’s car in Grandma’s name as principal driver, and Junior can keep his reduced rates as an occasional driver?

“Two problems with that,” says Karageorgos. “You are materially misrepresenting the facts, and the obvious dodges are easy to pick up. Also, we often hear from ex spouses, family members and neighbours. Even if you think you’ve got around it, in the event of a crash, your coverage could be denied.”

I asked Karageorgos what would happen if my son, while away at school, drove a friend’s car. Would he be covered? “If he had permission and was properly licensed, that car’s insurance would be in effect. As long as that car was covered properly.”

What if you swear up and down that your darling girl will never touch your new convertible? “Well, you can sign an endorsement and have coverage removed for that one driver. But think that through; if she takes the car, damages it, or causes bodily injury, there is no coverage on it. You would have to report it stolen – by your own child – to have the company cover it. And don’t forget the times you say, ‘I’m running late, go pick up your brother, just this once.’”

When your son or daughter gets their G1 or beginner’s licence, notify your insurance company. You won’t pay more. When they get their full licence, notify your company again and they can be added as an occasional driver. If your kid starts delivering pizzas with your car (or his own), damages won’t be covered unless you’ve notified your company of this business use of the vehicle. If two people own three vehicles and one licensed child, you will likely be considered as having three principal drivers, regardless of who owns the cars.

If you live in a province with crippling auto insurance rates, there are few workarounds. But a driving record develops very much like a credit rating, and even if a driver isn’t currently named on a policy, their driving record is still forming. I’ve seen people suddenly need a licence as a job requirement or to get to a job. It’s costing me a little extra now, but it might save my kids a lot of money down the road.

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About Lorraine Sommerfeld