In most cases, scoring points is a good thing. The demerit points that are added to your driver's license when you are convicted of certain driving offences, however, are a notable exception. While rules vary between provinces, accumulating a threshold of demerit points can result in the suspension of your driver’s license.
Here are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about demerit points in the majority of Canadian provinces. (If you’re in Quebec, please refer to the SAAQ website for details in French and in English.)
What are demerit points?
These are points that are added to your license when you are convicted of certain driving offences. If you are convicted of multiple offences and accrue a threshold amount of points, your license can be suspended. Different provinces have different penalty systems, but the number of demerit points for a given conviction usually increases with the severity of the infraction. In Ontario, for example, failing to leave one metre while passing a bicycle can add two demerit points while failing to remain at the scene of a collision will add seven. In Quebec, a conviction for tailgating is worth two points, while driving while using a portable electronic device or a display screen is worth five.
How do demerit points work?
The details vary between provinces, but the general idea is the same wherever you are in Canada. If you’re convicted of a traffic offence - from minor infractions like failing to lower headlamp beams to major ones like failing to stop for a school bus with its lights flashing - a certain amount of demerits will be added to your license. In most places, they will remain on your record for two years.
The threshold for license suspension also varies, depending on your jurisdiction, the type of license you have, and in some cases your age. For new drivers (anything less than a full license) in Ontario, nine demerits will result in a 60-day suspension. For fully-licensed drivers, 15 is the limit, after which your licence will be suspended for 30 days. After your suspension, you may also have to take your vision, written, and road tests again. If your license is reinstated, fully-licensed drivers will start again with seven demerits on their license, while new drivers will automatically get four. Reach the threshold again and your license could be suspended for six additional months.
Can passengers get demerit points?
Yes. In Quebec, a handful of infractions such as failure to wear a seat belt as a passenger and holding onto a vehicle in motion carry demerit points for non-drivers.
Are demerit points transferable between Canadian provinces or US states?
It depends on where the offence occurred and where you live. If you are convicted of demerit offence in Ontario, those points will carry over to a license issued in any province except B.C. or Nunavut. Likewise, if you are convicted of a demerit offence in an exempt province, the points will not be applied to your Ontario license. Quebec and Ontario, however, do have a reciprocal agreement for speeding convictions.
In terms of the United States, border states like New York, Michigan, and Maine have reciprocal agreements with Canadian provinces, so if you are convicted of a demerit offence in any of those states it may show up on your Canadian license.
Will demerit points cause my insurance rates to go up?
No. Demerit points in and of themselves don't affect your insurance rates, but convictions do, whether or not the conviction has any demerits added or not.
How do I find out how many demerit points I have?
The easiest way is to request a copy of your driving record from your province. For example, Service Ontario’s website offers an uncertified 3-year driver record for a small fee online, and Quebec offers a similar service from the SAAQ.
Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.
Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.