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Your auto insurance pink slip goes digital

Auto insurance is looking to the future as it seeks new ways to become more accessible in a digital age. Not only can you get your pink slips online, you can shop for the best car insurance rates online too - it's that easy.

Those small auto insurance pink slips have always been a cute quirk of the Canadian auto industry. But, that’s set to change. Starting September 2020, Ontario becomes the fourth province to allow drivers to exclusively carry digital auto insurance.

Proof of insurance on phone is now good enough

Ontario Minister of Finance Rod Philips announced the change last month saying the industry can now issue electronic slips. But, drivers must still carry a backup paper copy for one year. Its just the first of a series of steps intended to modernize the auto insurance industry. The Ontario government called the province’s insurance system “broken”, as drivers now face some of the highest auto insurance quotes in the country. For example, it’s 45% more expensive here in Ontario than what a driver out west would pay for Alberta car insurance. Making cheap Ontario car insurance available through discounts and innovative product solutions, like pay-as-you go insurance or other usage based insurance options, is a priority. But for now, an easy win is making carrying insurance more convenient.

Is pink slip insurance old-fashioned?

On the surface it sounds like a pretty good idea. Those paper copies have always been easy to lose, crumple or spill coffee on. It’s awkward and stressful to hunt for it when a cop is staring at you through your window. The Insurance Bureau of Canada called the ability to provide proof of insurance on your cellphone or tablet  “innovative,” “a baseline expectation of service” and a way to cut red tape. But have we really thought through the ramifications of handing a police officer your phone?

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The major problem with saying goodbye to the auto insurance pink slip

Our phones and tablets hold our entire lives today. Emails, photos, banking information, blood pressure trackers, our kid’s schedules and a history of all our movements thanks to location trackers and GPS.

There’s no law on the books that states a police officer must only check for proof of insurance and hand back your device. Rather, the onus is on the driver to ensure his or her privacy.

Theoretically, a cop can’t search your vehicle without arresting you, unless they have probable grounds to believe you have drugs, alcohol or an illegal  weapon or one used to commit a crime. But what if they claim something they see on your phone gives them probable cause? It’s not a paranoid thought — in some cases cops have overstepped their boundaries.

Another thing to consider  is that if you give a cop your phone you have likely taken away your ability to record the interaction (something that’s perfectly legal in Canada).

The insurance industry recommends protecting yourself by keeping proof of insurance on the lock screen and setting up a password to access the rest your phone or tablet. As long as consumers follow this advice, they should feel fairly comfortable handing a police officer their device.

Proof of auto insurance in Canada undergoing major changes

Ontario (Sept 2020) drivers are joining their neighbours in Nova Scotia (Jan 2019), Alberta (July 2019), Newfoundland and Labrador (July 2019), and Quebec (July 2019) who have been able to display digital proof of insurance since 2019. But it’s unclear if an electronic version of the pink slip can ever replace a paper copy. As of February 2023, New Brunswick drivers were now able to use a digital pink slip as proof of insurance.

The Bottom Line

Electronic devices are simply not reliable enough. They die, crash and it’s easy to forget them at home. Furthermore, drivers may be travelling through provinces which don’t allow electronic copies. For these reasons, it looks like the pink slip isn’t going in the recycling bin anytime soon — the best option for now is to always stash it in your car as a backup.