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Does the car owner have to be the primary driver?

By SmartCoverage Team on October 18th, 2017

If you’re going to share a vehicle with someone else, your insurance provider will need to know who the primary driver of the vehicle will be. It’s an important distinction because the cost of insurance greatly depends on who the primary driver is.

So if primary driver is not synonymous with the vehicle owner, how is the status determined?  

Who is the primary driver?

Usually, the car owner will be the primary driver of the vehicle. This makes sense – if you purchased the car and pay the insurance, logically you would be the driver. But it’s not always the case.

People with poor credit, or those who are low on funds might not be able to purchase their own vehicle. Or if a person already owns a vehicle and finds they aren’t driving it frequently, it might make sense to let someone else benefit from use of the vehicle without going through the hassle of selling it. This situation is particularly common in families where a parent lets his teenager drive an older car.

So the primary driver isn’t necessarily the owner of the car. That distinction falls to the person who uses it the majority of the time.

Why your insurance company needs to know

Although your insurance rates might increase if you change primary drivers, you are obligated to inform your insurer when a new primary driver takes over a vehicle. If you don’t tell your insurance company that the car owner is not the primary driver, you could be found in breach of contract and end up responsible for any liability or damages that result from an accident.

Sound unfair? Imagine the situation from an insurer’s point of view. A married mom applies for insurance. She has 35 years of good driving history, no tickets or accidents and no claims. You offer a quote based on her perceived riskiness. Two months later, she files a claim saying that, at 2 a.m. one night, the car was speeding down the highway and crashed into another vehicle injuring the passengers.

Turns out, the mother insured the car with herself as the primary driver to save money but secretly gave it to her newly licensed teenage son. The mother lied to the insurance company and will likely need to pay for medical bills and the cost of damages to both vehicles, a far greater expense than simply paying more insurance to have her son registered as primary driver in the first place.

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