|Photo Credit: Chris Nagy|
In the last days of 2015, many of us in Canada have spent a year negotiating various driving situations. Traffic, snowy winter roads, wet weather, fluctuating prices at the gas pumps and maintenance costs is just a sample of obstacles Canadian motorists have confronted over 12 months. As we prepare for 2016, new or changing driving-related laws and regulations are also a challenge climbing behind the wheel. While some governments have already rolled-out new rules or costs ahead of the upcoming year, 2016 will be the first time where the entire driving public will be impacted by new fees as well as different expectations.
The following is a snapshot of changes affecting Canadian motorists in relation to the province or territory they inhabit:
Distracted driving is a menace on today’s roadways. When motorists fail to consider the attention of driving a multi-ton vehicle at speeds far greater than any human can travel on-foot, the results have been fatal. In recent years, provinces have defined distracted driving and creating methods to deter this poor behaviour on roadways. Despite a $287 fine in Alberta, up to 30 percent of all roadway collisions in the province are linked to distracted operations of a motor vehicle.
In an effort to reduce distracted driving beyond monetary fine, Alberta motorists caught under the infraction will face demerit points starting in 2016. In addition the $287 under a distracted driving conviction, a penalty of three demerit points will appear on the driver’s record.
Starting in the early part of 2016, the province of British Columbia will roll out a variable speed limit system in sections on the Coquihalla, the Sea to Sky and Trans-Canada highways. Functioning as a pilot project, the variable speed limit initiative feature electronic signs deployed in stretches where weather changes rapidly. The speed limit posted on the digital signs will react to weather conditions such as heavy snowfall or icy roads. British Columbia follows Quebec who implemented a variable speed limit on two highways in late 2014.
Due to a reported increase in injury claims over a 12-month period, the ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) have proposed a cost adjustment from the government for their basic AutoPlan coverage for 2016. August of 2015, the ICBC was expected to file a 6.7 percent increase in basic insurance rates. Ultimately, the provincial insurance organization in British Columbia decided on a 5.5 percent increase equating as $3.70 per month for the average policyholder. Insurance customers adding the optional extended third-party liability coverage will pay an extra $1.30 more than 2015 rates in 2016.
At the beginning of December, the provincial government of Manitoba passed the Safe Roads Act featuring enhanced punishments for impaired driving. Along with recognizing alcohol as an impairment, Manitoba’s new law is extended to cover abuse of prescription medications and illegal drugs. For drivers caught with an alcohol content between 0.05 and 0.08, vehicles will be impounded for a longer period of time (three days up from the previous 24-hour period).
Drivers enlisted with Autopac Extension deductible package with the Manitoba Public Insurance plan will gain a $0 deductible in the case of vandalism claims. Taking effect on and after March 1 of 2016, the policy change will an additional $3 to $5 to annual premium payments.
New Brunswick waited for the last month of 2015 to announce a bill delivering tougher penalties to drunk or/and impaired drivers. The new bill will make ignition interlock devices mandatory for drivers with impaired driving convictions undergoing relicensing. 24-hour driving suspension and vehicle impoundment for drivers between 0.05 and 0.08 blood alcohol content are also part of the proposed new set of laws. Contingent on the New Brunswick provincial government making the changes law, the enhanced impaired driving penalties will work to lift the jurisdiction out of a tied last-place ranking by MADD Canada.
In September of 2015, New Brunswick carried out a fee increase to driver licenses and vehicle registration. For 2016, this will affect the province’s motorists through the entire year.
Newfoundland and Labrador
In the middle of 2015, drivers in Newfoundland and Labrador were levied with higher vehicle registration fees. For drivers proceeding to maintain the legality of their various personal or professional vehicles in the first half of a year, prepare to fork out a little extra in 2016. Passenger vehicle registration increases from $140 to $160 for adults under the age of 65 years old. Vehicles for individuals 65 years or older are being assessed a $104 fee (up $13 from the previous rate). Standard registration of antique automobiles climbed by $11 to $86 while motorcycles riders will face a $10 increase to $85.
When the rates increased in June of 2015 for licensing and registration, Newfoundland did add a discount option. On-line registration of passenger cars, motorcycles, taxis and lighter commercial vehicles provide a $10 discount.
The third component of Nova Scotia graduated license program comes into effect in April. The learner stage of the licensing program is expanded to 12 months (up from 6 months). Three months will be subtracted from that period if the driver in the learning phase if a person completes an approved driver’s training course.
Drivers in the province of Ontario will enter 2016 with a number of new or changing rules for the road.
A major traffic designed to protect pedestrians in school zones or crossovers will require an extra area of awareness from drivers in 2016. At schools and pedestrian crossovers, drivers must wait for pedestrians to cross the whole street before proceeding. Failure to do so will result in a fine from $150 to $500 and a penalty of 3 demerit points. A component of Ontario's Highway Traffic Act, rules for pedestrian crossovers also prohibit overtaking other vehicles and maintains pedestrians cannot enter a crossover when a vehicle is unable to stop safely. Other changes to the Highway Traffic Act will also include granting municipalities the authority to mail some traffic tickets attached to out-of-province vehicles and pursue payment.
Fee increases implemented on September 1st of this year will affect all Ontario motorists in 2016. The cost for new or for renewing a driver’s license in the province is now $81.50 (a $1.50 increase compared to the previous amount). Vehicle license registration in northern Ontario climbs $5 to $54 while drivers in the south part of the province are paying $10 more totalling $108 in the new year.
Billed as a pilot project, the province of Ontario will experiment in the use of high-occupancy (HOV) lanes on highways into paid toll roads. The QEW (Queen Elizabeth Way) section between Trafalgar Road and Guelph Line (roughly a 15-kilometer stretch of the highway) will function with the first of the province’s High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. While vehicles with two or more occupants can continue using the HOT at no cost, permits will be available for drivers travelling in single occupant vehicles. The measure is being billed as the first of several HOT lanes that will be added to Ontario highways designed as a traffic relief solution. The HOT system is set to go into operation for the summer of 2016.
Finally, on January 1st of 2016, Ontario will become the first province in Canada to permit the testing of self-driving or autonomous vehicles on roadways.
Prince Edward Island
Strengthened laws against distracted driving were introduced in Prince Edward Island during the summer of 2015. The new distracted driving law attached five demerit points to the offence matching Manitoba as one of the strictest jurisdictions in Canada for the motoring offence.
Thanks to a surplus reported by Quebec’s auto insurance company Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), motorists in the province will notice a drop in rates for the new year. Driver’s total license fees for conventional passenger cars will drop from $91.46 to $82.24 providing a motorist has no demerit points on their driving record. Drivers in Quebec with demerit points will also notice lower license fees but are still going to pay significantly more than motorists with a clean record. Other fees related to driver licenses for passenger, heavy and commercial vehicles as well as motorcycles will receive minor increases ranging up to $1.00.
Effective in the middle of 2016, Saskatchewan drivers will notice changes to the province’s auto insurance plan assessment system. Through the Safe Driver Recognition program, alterations will result in more of a discount for safer drivers while motorists with a murkier record may find themselves lighter in the pocketbook. The Safe Driver Recognition is extended to 25 points for 2016 providing motorists in Saskatchewan the potential of earning up to a 25 percent discount on their insurance. Conversely, drivers in the penalty zone on the Safety Rating Scale will have to pay double the rate for each point with the price per point growing from $25 to $50. It may also be more difficult to maintain a high score on the safety scale with all at-fault collisions and manually-enforced speeding convictions falling under increased scrutiny.
Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut
There will be no major changes for drivers in Canada’s territories for 2016. Nunavut remains the only place in Canada without dedicated laws against distracted driving.