ICBC “Principal Operator”: All Car Owners and Drivers Need to Know This

By Paul Mitchell, Q.C.
Categories: Blog, Personal Injury

This article deals with the issues surrounding the definition of “Principal Operator” under an ICBC insurance policy, and the risks involved by not naming the correct person.

When you insure your car with ICBC, the Autoplan agent requires you to designate or name who the “ principal operator” of the car will be. There are potentially serious ramifications if the incorrect person is named. Here is what every driver and registered owner needs to know about this issue.

What is a “principal operator”?

The principal operator is the person who will be operating the vehicle the majority of the time during the term of the ICBC policy. In most cases, this will be the registered owner of the vehicle. In other cases it may be someone else, such a spouse, child, other family member, or employee.

Why does ICBC want to know who the “principal operator “ is?

ICBC determines your insurance premiums using a number of factors, including age, and history of safe driving. Younger or less experienced drivers, and those with a previous history of causing accidents, will not get the same discounts as long-term safe drivers with no history of causing accidents, or being charged with few driving offences. Correctly identifying the principal operator each time there is an insurance renewal allows ICBC to be more accurate in assessing the potential risk of accidents with each vehicle, and be able to charge the correct premium accordingly.

When do I have to Declare Who the Principal Operator Is?

You must declare the principal operator every time you renew your insurance.

Do I have to notify ICBC of a change in principal operator during the term of my insurance policy, before my next insurance renewal?

If a change occurs during the term of your insurance policy you are not required to notify ICBC, or re-declare a change. The change is principal operator does not have to be done until the next time you renew your insurance. When you renew your insurance, you will need to declare who will be driving your vehicle the majority of time.

What happens if I name someone who is not in fact the correct principal operator?

This is where it can get tricky, and potentially very risky, for a car owner. If you declare the wrong principal operator (for example, if you’re a parent who doesn’t declare that your son or daughter is now driving a vehicle registered in your name the majority of the time), you may be in breach of your insurance. This often happens when a parent buys a small or inexpensive car exclusively for the use , or majority of use, for their child. They register a car in their own name, and do not name the child as the principal operator, “ to save insurance premiums”. This should not be done. It can cause the parent/owner potentially catastrophic financial consequences (as well as the child). If there is a breach of the policy (by naming the wrong principal operator), and your son or daughter causes an accident that injures someone, both you and your child could be held personally responsible and liable for the injuries or property damage. If the injuries are serious, you, as registered owner of the vehicle, could be personally responsible to pay potentially millions of dollars in damages. You may lose your house, your business. Everything you own. So always declare your child as the principal operator, if he or she actually is. Do not take a chance of losing everything. The premiums will be more, but better to be honest, and pay a bit more in premiums, than potentially lose your house. Another preferred method is to register the vehicle in the child’s name, so you as parent are not the registered owner. This would avoid parental owner responsibility for serious damages that may be in excess of your insurance third party limits coverage.

Will my premium change if I change the principal operator?

It possibly could, depending on the change. It all depends on the experience and crash histories of the old principal operator, compared to the new principal operator.

How do I change the Principal Operator at a Renewal?

To change the designated principal operator at a renewal, bring that person’s driver’s licence number with you when you renew your policy. This will allow the Autoplan broker to search their claims history, and age, so they can asses the risk of this new driver, and price your policy correctly. You won’t be able to insure the vehicle without the driver’s licence number of your vehicle’s principal operator.

Does this impact a company car?

You will need to declare the name of the driver who will be driving the company vehicle the majority of the time, unless your vehicle is part of a fleet plan,

What if my vehicle doesn’t have a principal operator?

If there isn’t a person who operates your vehicle the majority of the time (for example, if your vehicle is a work vehicle and is operated by different people) you will have to declare that your vehicle has no principal operator. Your vehicle will then be rated at base rate on the claim-rated scale (with no discount or surcharge) because it’s not possible to assess its crash risk.

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Paul Mitchell, Q.C. is a BC personal injury lawyer who has extensive experience with severe injury claims, including brain injury claims, spinal injury claims, death claims, ICBC claims, and other catastrophic injury claims. He acts for injured clients all over BC and Alberta, and will not act for ICBC or any other insurance company. For more information on this article, or for a confidential discussion of your personal injury claim, contact Paul Mitchell, Q.C. at 250-869-1115 (direct line), or send him a confidential email at mitchell@pushormitchell.com