Winter tires are an important part of safe winter driving. The tire rubber is more flexible and contacts cold, icy roads in a way that all season and summer tires simply can’t. Shorter stopping distances and greater vehicle control translate to a lower risk of collision and, accordingly, decreased chance of an insurance claim.
In April’s provincial budget, the Ontario government promised to make insurance companies pass the savings associated with winter tires along to Ontarians who use them. The initiative was touted as being part of the government’s ongoing effort to make automobile insurance more affordable.
The implementation of this new policy, however, has been anything but straightforward.
Despite announcing the initiative in April 2015, the law doesn’t formally come into effect until January 1, 2016 – a good two months after Ontarians face winter driving conditions. In the interim, the majority of policy holders will have renewed their annual insurance and won’t have the opportunity to take advantage of the savings.
Already, there are consumer complaints regarding the program. At issue are the definition of “winter tire”, the length of time the tires have to be on the car, the amount of the discount and the timing of the discount.
Barrie resident Julie Dunaiskis hoped to take advantage of the savings. Her policy renews December 17, 2015 and, in advance, she contacted her insurer, RBC Insurance. Her agent told her that she wasn’t eligible for a reduction until her next policy renewal in December 2016 and that the decrease would be about 2 per cent. Subsequent information from RBC suggested the discount would be 5 per cent but there seemed to be no flexibility to allow Julie’s insurance premium to reflect her investment in winter tires for this winter. This is surprising, given that automobile insurers frequently change policies during the contract term (such as when new vehicles are purchased or leased or the authorized drivers change).
Different insurers also seem to have conflicting definitions of a winter tire. RBC Insurance and TD Insurance will not recognize all-season tires for the discount. Intact and Desjardins, however, will.
Like many things in Ontario automobile insurance, the winter tire initiative seems to be causing confusion. Ontarians looking to take advantage of the legislation should do the following:
- Find out what type of tires their insurer considers to be “winter tires”
- Make sure that all four tires on the car meet the requirements;
- Find out what months the insurer requires the tires to be on the car;
- Find out if the insurer will pro-rate the discount for the policy period; and
- Find out what percentage discount the insurer is offering.