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Primary vs. secondary driver: How does it influence your rate?

March 14, 2023
5 mins
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When you share a car with a partner, family members, or even friends, you can split the expensive costs of owning a car, like gas and oil changes. But having more than one driver using the car adds complexity to your insurance policy.

Multiple drivers using one car often means that there is a “primary driver” and a “secondary driver.”

“A primary driver on a policy is the driver who drives the car primarily,” says Anne Marie Thomas, director of consumer and industry relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). “A secondary or occasional driver uses your vehicle, but less than the person who drives it primarily.”

A primary driver is often the person who owns the car. A secondary driver can be anyone using the car on a frequent basis, like a spouse, a teenage or adult child, a roommate, or a caregiver.

So, when you have a primary and secondary driver, how does it affect your insurance rate?

Determine your primary driver

The percentage of time each driver spends behind the wheels is the main determinant of who classifies as the primary and secondary driver, according to Thomas.

This will be a major factor for your insurance rate.

For example, if you and your partner share a car, your insurance company will ask what percentage of time each of you drive it. Let’s say you drive to work, and your partner only uses the car for running errands on the weekends. It’s accurate to say that you’re driving 80% of the time, and your partner as driving 20% of the time. As you use the car most of the time, this would make you the primary driver.

Though primary drivers often own the car, this isn’t always the case. It’s important to note that primary drivers are determined by how often they drive the car, not the ownership, Thomas adds.

What if we both use the car an equal amount of the time?

If you and the person you share a car with both use it 50% of the time, note that in your auto insurance quote.

Another factor that determines auto insurance rates is your driving record and the length of time that you’ve been a licensed driver. The primary drivers’ record and time as a licensed driver will factor more heavily into the insurance rate, Thomas says.

Only in a 50-50 use case does she recommend listing the person with a cleaner driving record and/or a longer driving history as the primary driver.

This could lower your rate slightly. It also a good idea to compare auto insurance rates for the secondary driver to ensure you are getting the lowest rates.

What happens if the secondary driver becomes the primary driver?

When the secondary driver starts using the car more and becomes the primary driver, your insurance rate could change. It all depends on the secondary driver’s driving record and the amount of time they will be driving.

For instance, if a woman gives her old car to her 18-year-old son, he will become the primary driver. While the mom is the owner of the car, she becomes the secondary driver now. The premium will likely increase because the son is a newly licensed driver, who are usually more expensive to insure, Thomas adds.

Small fibs on your insurance policy can cost you big

It may be tempting to fudge your insurance to get a better rate, like pretending that your secondary driver is the primary driver because they have a clean driving record or have a longer driving history.

But this fib is insurance fraud, according to Thomas.

This could hurt you if you wind up in an accident. She explains that when the police and insurance company investigate the accident, they will realize that you’ve lied on your policy, and you could wind up without coverage. You may even need to pay for the accident damages yourself.

“That’s an expensive proposition!” Thomas says. “If the person with the less-than-great driving record is the one that’s driving the majority of the time, come clean. You’re not doing yourself any favours in the long run.”

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Sabina Wex

Sabina Wex is a writer and podcast producer in Toronto.

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