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I was suspended for blowing .05 – will my insurance rates go up?

Does the province notify my insurance company if I get a three-day suspension for having a blood-alcohol concentration over .05? It's not a conviction for an impaired, so why should my insurance rates go up because I had a couple of drinks with dinner? – Blair, Ottawa

If you had your licence suspended for blowing over .05, the province won't rat you out to your insurer. But your driver's abstract might.

"MTO does not actively notify insurance companies," says Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokesman Ajay Woozageer in an e-mail statement. "But as authorized requesters, insurance companies have access to obtain a three-year driver's abstract."

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First, let's talk about administrative suspensions. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, you can be charged with impaired driving if you have a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or above .08. But every province except Quebec has administrative laws that allow police to suspend your licence on the spot if your BAC is over .05 but under .08 (.04 in Saskatchewan and .06 in the Yukon).

In Ontario, the roadside suspension starts at three days the first time you're caught with a BAC in the warning range. It's an administrative penalty — so you can get one even if you haven't been charged with anything.

Will it cost you more?

Insurance companies don't routinely look at your driver's abstract unless you're a new customer. But, if your insurer does find out about your suspension, can they boost your rates?

As it turns out, there's not an easy answer. We checked first with the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO), which regulates insurance. It told us to check with insurance companies.

State Farm Canada said insurance companies can raise rates based on anything that appears on a driver's abstract.

"An administrative suspension would appear on your driving record and some insurers may look at that when determining your rate, or that of someone listed on your policy living in the same residence" said State Farm spokesman John Bordignon in an e-mail. "Each insurance company has a different way of underwriting, reviewing and determining risk so it's best to check with your provider for clarity."

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But Aviva Canada spokesman Glenn Cooper said insurance companies aren't allowed to use administrative suspensions of less than a year to raise rates.

So which is it? We checked back with the FSCO. Your insurer can hike your rates if it can show that a roadside suspension means you're a risk.

"To determine a rating, an insurer can use any information within its risk classification system; however, the information has to be considered 'predictive of risk' in accordance to the Insurance Act and Regulation 664," said FSCO spokesman Malon Edwards in an e-mail statement. "FSCO has communicated that insurers should not use administrative lapses for rating or underwriting, unless there is some actuarial support to do so."

How much they could increase would be up to your insurance company.

Between May 2009 and May 2015, there were nearly 83,500 warning range suspensions in Ontario.

"I have not heard one single story of person getting an insurance increase because they have an administrative sanction," said MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie. "It's not like when you've had an impaired conviction and insurance is no longer affordable for most people."

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Generally, the only provinces where roadside suspensions are guaranteed to affect your insurance are B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which all have government-run insurance, Murie says. Those provinces have set rules on how much your rates will increase.

For example, if you've had two roadside suspensions in the last three years in B.C., you'd have to pay a $340 driver risk premium, said the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.

In Saskatchewan, a roadside administrative suspension gets you four demerit points under SGI's Safe Driver Recognition program. That could mean a set rate increase or a cash penalty.

"Not social drinking any more"

Roadside suspensions aren't targeting drivers who've had just a drink with dinner, Murie says.

"If you look at a 200-pound male, you have to have four standard drinks in two hours on empty stomach to go over 0.5 range," Murie says. "That's not social drinking any more."

Murie thinks all the provinces should introduce a set financial penalty for drivers who get roadside suspensions.

"We believe there should be an insurance premium for these suspensions," Murie said. "Nothing extreme, but some acknowledgement."

In Ontario, the number of fatalities in drinking and driving crashes dropped 34 per cent over 10 years – from 217 in 2003 to 143 in 2012, the MTO says. Injuries in drinking and driving crashes dropped by 43 per cent in the same period – from 4,443 to 2,515.

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