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Understanding primary and secondary driver insurance

What you should know about adding another driver to your policy.

When it comes to auto insurance, having the right coverage is key to keeping you protected while paying the right amount of premiums.

If a friend or family member needs to borrow your vehicle and this doesn’t happen often, they will automatically be covered by your regular auto insurance policy – as long as they have a valid driver’s license and follow the law. No big deal.

However, if you own a vehicle that’s regularly used by another driver, it's critical to know about primary and secondary driver insurance and ensure you’re appropriately covered.

Key takeaways

  1. When a vehicle has more than one regular driver, insurance providers require coverage for a primary driver and secondary driver(s)

  2. The primary driver is the person who uses the vehicle more

  3. Certain factors impact the premiums for adding secondary drivers to a policy

  4. Lying about secondary driver usage of the vehicle is fraud and carries serious consequences

Primary vs. secondary driver insurance

If you own a vehicle that is regularly driven by another driver, chances are you’ve spoken to your insurance provider about primary and secondary driver insurance. 

If not, it’s time to give them a call.

In these cases, primary driver insurance is the insurance held by the person who uses the vehicle the most. This is usually the registered owner of the vehicle, but it doesn’t have to be.

If you have a partner, your insurance provider will add them as a secondary driver on your policy and your own coverage will extend to them. While they can operate the vehicle, they do not have the ability to file a claim or make changes to your coverage. 

If you and your partner share a car, your insurance provider will typically ask about the percentage of time each partner uses the vehicle. For example, let’s say you work 15 km from home but your partner walks to work and only uses the vehicle for errands and weekend outings. This could mean you are using the vehicle 70% of the time and your partner is using it 30% of the time. This would make you the primary driver. 

However, while your insurance provider will automatically add your partner or spouse as a secondary driver on your policy, it’s important to let them know if another person, like a child living in your home, gets their driver’s license and is given access to your vehicle so they can be added to the policy as well.

When a dependent gets their driver’s license and starts using their parent’s vehicle, the parent will usually remain the primary driver and the child will become a secondary driver, unless the child uses the vehicle more than the parent does. This is common in rural communities where young drivers have long commutes to work or school, or in families who have an additional vehicle for their children to use that is legally owned by the parent. 

How much does primary and secondary driver insurance cost?

Insurance premiums are based on a number of factors including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Driving history
  • Where you live
  • Where you work
  • Where you park
  • Payment history

Each of these factors impacts the level of risk an insurance provider takes on. When it comes to insurance premiums, more risk equals increased premiums.

When an additional person has access to operate a vehicle, the level of risk to the insurer increases, causing insurance premiums to increase as well. This increase is likely minimal if the additional person is your spouse with a good driving record, but it could be substantial if the additional person is your child who likely has limited experience behind the wheel.

Can I lie to my insurance company about the driver?

When purchasing an insurance policy, people often do whatever they can to save money on premiums. Yes, adding secondary drivers will increase premiums, but it’s very important that someone classified as a secondary driver never uses the vehicle more than 50% of the time. Lying about this is referred to as fronting, and it’s a form of insurance fraud. 

If there is an accident and the insurance company does an investigation exposing the policyholder has withheld the truth, not only will the claim likely be denied, but there could also be serious legal consequences.

Read: Lying to your insurance company – the consequences

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The bottom line

Motor vehicle insurance protects you from many things, including vehicle repair costs and third-party liability. The premiums paid for this protection are calculated based on the level of risk the insurance provider takes by insuring a particular vehicle and its particular driver(s). 

If you are the only person who regularly drives your vehicle, primary and secondary driver insurance isn’t something you need to worry about. However, if you have a partner, children, or others who have regular access to your vehicle, this is a conversation that’s important to have with your insurance provider. 

Any person using your vehicle regularly should be added to your policy as a secondary driver, provided you are driving the vehicle more than them. If that person ends up using the vehicle more than anticipated and ends up doing more than half of the driving, this means they have become a primary driver and it’s time to update your policy to let your insurer know. 

Being honest about your history, driving habits, and who has access to your vehicle is not only the right (and legally required) thing to do, but it also protects you in case there’s ever an accident and you need to use the policy. 

So to be safe, reach out to your auto insurance provider to review your policy and all the drivers included, and be confident you’re fully protected when you’re out on the road. 

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