By: Matt Hands, Ratehub.ca
Cannabis became legal in Canada in October 2018. Shortly after that, new federal legislation introduced roadside screening for THC and increased charges for impaired driving. Driving while high is illegal and if convicted may result in increased auto insurance premiums. But did you know that cannabis can affect your car insurance even if you don't consume it? Here is how legalization might affect the price you pay for car insurance.
Factors that affect your car insurance premium
When shopping for car insurance quotes keep in mind that many factors will influence the price of you see, like your age and gender. For example, there is evidence young males get into more accidents than both their female counterparts and older male drivers. So, younger males will usually pay more for car insurance. Insurance providers will look at historical data to determine, over time, if you are a higher risk to insure.
Other factors include the make and model of your vehicle, your location, and your driving history, just to name a few. How then, could cannabis’ legalization affect your premium?
How cannabis affects your car insurance, even if you don’t consume it
Let’s look at a factor like location, and how it might affect which insurance provider you choose to do business with when you compare car insurance rates from different providers.
The historical data we have, predating Canada’s legalization, is from Colorado. They legalized in late 2012 and since then, Colorado has seen a 147% increase in fatal car accidents where drivers tested positive for cannabis. By 2016, drivers using cannabis represented 20% of fatal crashes, according to The Denver Post.
After studying these stats, auto insurers in Colorado responded by increasing their premiums by over 50%. Of course, other reasons such as distracted driving and rising repair costs to newer gadget-infused cars also played a role, but the only other states where rates have gone up by this much are where cannabis has been legalized.
As you can see, even if you don’t use cannabis, there are factors beyond your control that affect how your car insurance premiums are calculated.
How cannabis affects your car insurance if you do consume it
Another factor used in determining your car insurance rate is your driving history. A clean driving record will help keep your car insurance rate more affordable. This is a factor which you can, for the most part, control.
It’s important to note that a major conviction on your driving history can raise your insurance premiums dramatically. A stain on your driving record from a DUI could increase your premiums by 300%-400%, according to MADD Canada. Also, depending on a few factors, a DUI could stay with you for up to six years. While cannabis is now legal, impaired driving is not.
The costs don’t stop there either. Canada also implemented stiffer fines for impaired driving shortly after legalization.
For a first-time offender, cannabis-impaired driving is defined as having at least 2ng (nanograms) of THC per ml of blood within 2 hours of driving and faces a maximum $1,000 fine. But, having 5ng or more of THC per ml of blood within 2 hours of driving the mandatory minimum fine is $1,000, while the maximum is ten years imprisonment. If you have multiple offences the penalties increase; e.g. the minimum for a second offence is 30 days behind bars.
How much cannabis consumption is 2ng of THC per ml of blood? Unfortunately, it’s not clear. There is some uncertainty around roadside testing devices and whether they can accurately measure impairment. But while toxicologists point out THC levels in the blood don’t necessarily mean impairment, even a small amount of cannabis can cause your THC level to spike. According to one justice official speaking with the National Post, the low blood concentration offence is meant to “send the message that you don’t mix marijuana and driving.”
The final puff
Regardless of your feelings or actions around cannabis, its legalization could affect the price you pay for car insurance. Staying safe on the roads and coordinating a designated driver ahead of time, or hailing a taxi afterwards, should help keep you safe and your insurance premiums in check. Be sure to speak with your insurer about potential ways to avoid or limit a car insurance rate increase.