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How does driving with a pet affect your auto insurance?

If you drive with your pet in your lap, you could face a hefty fine and demerit points, which could lead to an auto insurance increase

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It’s not unusual to see a dog’s head or nose sticking out of the rear window of a passing car — embracing the rush of fresh air and taking in the different scents. Some dog owners may even describe the car as one of their pet’s favorite places to be.

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A driver caught with a dog in their lap, on the other hand, might be in for a costly surprise. According to OPP Sergeant Kerry Schmidt, “there is no specific charge for a dog in your lap,” but, he writes in an email, “the likely potential charge could be ‘crowding driver’s seat.’”

Crowding the driver’s seat: what are the penalties?

In Ontario, a crowding driver’s seat charge falls under section 162 of the Highway Traffic Act: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle with persons or property in the front or driver’s seat so placed as to interfere with the proper management or control of the motor vehicle.”

If convicted, drivers could receive three demerit points on their driving record, plus an $85 fine and an additional $25 in fees, including a victim surcharge and court costs. If found crowding the driver’s seat in a community safety zone, an area designated by the province with signage, the fine could increase to $120, plus fees.

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In one case, the OPP Central Region issued a Caledon, Ont. driver a $110 traffic ticket and three demerit points for driving with a poodle-mix on their lap.

A few years earlier, a woman in Perth, Ont. she was ticketed for committing the same offense after driving with a parrot on her shoulder.

Many of the provinces have similar traffic laws, although the fines vary. In fact, in Quebec, the law extends beyond vehicles to bicycles, too.

Should you worry about demerit points?

A person charged with a traffic violation such as “crowding driver’s seat” will also receive demerit points, which stay on your driving record for two years. While demerit points do not directly affect auto insurance rates, earning too many can result in a license suspension, and in turn, your auto insurance provider may cancel your policy. Any gaps in coverage can increase your auto insurance rate in the future.

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If you are a fully licensed driver, your license will be suspended for 30 days if you get 15 or more points on your driving record. A new driver has to receive only nine points before their license is suspended.

According to the Government of Ontario, if you do not surrender your license, you could lose it for up to two years. While this is the worst-case scenario, it illustrates the importance of following the rules of the road.

Pets are your passengers, so it’s best to keep them in the backseat and your steering wheel unobstructed to avoid fine. Not only is driving with your pet in your lap (or on your shoulder) unsafe, but it can lead to a higher auto insurance premium.

How driving with your pet could increase your auto insurance rate

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While owning pets won’t increase your car insurance rate, a “crowding driver’s seat” traffic conviction could.

When you receive any traffic ticket, you have 15 days to dispute the charge. If you do not, you will likely get a conviction for the violation, which can increase your auto insurance rate upon renewal, depending on the severity of the traffic conviction(s), whether minor, major, serious or criminal, and the number of tickets you have on your driving record already. Depending on the insurance company, even a minor infraction may result in a 10% increase, and drivers with a major violation could pay 25% more for their premiums.

That said, some drivers who get a single minor conviction won’t see a rate increase. This may be for two reasons: the insurance company is more lenient, or the driver has minor conviction protection coverage. Either way, the conviction would void any conviction-free discount the insurance company offers.

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Repeat offenders will usually see their rates spike, which can have long-term consequences. Traffic convictions stay on your driving record for three years; however, it could be longer if the conviction leads to a license suspension.

Drivers with multiple infractions or serious convictions may get classified as high-risk and find it challenging to find affordable auto insurance rates.

If your insurance premium rises after a conviction, shop around to see if you can get a lower auto insurance rate.

LowestRates.ca is a free and independent rate comparison website that allows Canadians to compare rates from 75+ providers for various financial products, such as auto and home insurance, mortgages, and credit cards.

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