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By Jordan W. Charness

How about that? My insurance company wrote to me that they were going to give me a present! They had unilaterally decided to change my coverage to give me an extra bonus that I’d never had with them before. They didn’t ask me if I wanted it and then they went ahead and charged me for this gift.

They wrote to me to say that “Good driving deserves to be rewarded.” That is why they were proud to introduce their new Accident Forgiveness protection. It was new coverage that would protect — not my car or my body — but my driving record, should I ever have an at-fault or partially at-fault accident.

The insurance pamphlet was proud to add that it was just like getting a second chance! The advertising blurb said that all I had to do in order to get this great coverage was to have maintained a clean driving record for the past six years. Oh yeah, they also said that I needed to purchase this gift because it wasn’t exactly free, but the premium was just a measly 14 bucks! How could I say no?

It’s an odd thing about insurance contracts: when you insure your car, you are essentially betting the insurance company that you will have an accident, and they are betting that you won’t. You pay them the premium and if you do not have an accident they get to keep the premium and give you nothing at all in return. On the other hand, if you do have an accident, they will pay your claim according to the terms of the contract but will then very often raise your premiums the following year.

It’s kind of like they decided that they didn’t like the odds on the bet from last year and wanted to raise the stakes if they were going to repeat their accident/no accident bet with you again this year.

But the fact of the matter is that most people do everything they can to avoid having an accident. Many people go through their entire lives never filing an insurance claim. Most provinces do require that you have at least minimal insurance for damage that you cause to another party, and with the price of repairing a car these days it makes perfectly good sense to have a decent insurance policy that will pay for those very expensive repairs in the unlikely event that you do get into an accident.

Even in jurisdictions where they claim to have “no-fault” insurance, it usually means that you will be paid according to the terms of your insurance policy whether or not the accident was your fault. But if the accident is deemed by your insurance company to be your fault they will likely jack up your rates the following year.

Consumer backlash has led to many insurance companies offering some sort of accident forgiveness protection where essentially they promise not to raise your rates if you have one at-fault accident. If you have more than one accident that is deemed to be your fault, your rates will rise once again.

When I read the fine print I found that in order to be eligible for this type of coverage I would have to be sure that I had, a) not been convicted of any offence under the criminal code of Canada in relation to that accident (presumably this would include driving a getaway car from a bank heist); b) not been convicted of any offence involving reckless driving, racing, stunt driving or driving while my licence was under suspension; and c) the accident is the only at-fault or partially at-fault accident within the preceding six years.

Fortunately, I passed all three criteria, so I paid the 14 bucks but asked them to give me a discount of 15 dollars because I was such a good customer. They did, but I still have no intention of getting into an accident either at-fault or because someone else drove into me.

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