Why you should get a Class 5 licence in BC

Novice or Class 7 drivers in BC are given a very short leash from ICBC and RoadSafetyBC to receive traffic violations. It can take as little as one violation ticket for a Novice driver to receive a prohibition.  The intention of this blog post is to discuss the importance of getting your Class 5 licence as soon as possible and to warn Novice drivers of how bad it can be if you prolong your time as a Novice driver.

Why Wait?

There seems to be a number of drivers in BC today who can go for their full licence, but do not, or hold off doing so. This would seem counter-intuitive. Why put off something so important? The answer appears to be found in the nature of the current licence and insurance system as it is set out by ICBC. This system as it currently stands simply does not provide incentive for drivers to pursue their full licence.  In particular, there is no financial incentive. Drivers are required to pay for a road test, which they might have to do more than once. A driver might also have to take a day off work to be available or pay for driving lessons in order to be prepared to pass the test.

At the same time, there is no financial benefit gained by a driver for passing this test. Insurance rates are tied to the number of years experience a driver has, and not their class of licence.

With little incentive, drivers in BC simply put off taking their Class 5 road tests. Road tests can be stressful and people are happy to put that stress off, especially if they do not see the benefit in doing so.

In other jurisdictions, there are better systems that create incentives to get rid of your Class 7. In Ontario for example, the equivalent of a Class 7 licence is called a G2. If a driver wishes to renew their G2 licence after five years, instead of attempting to pursue their full licence, they have to take the G2 road test again. This is a simple difference that essentially forces a driver to go for their full licence since they will have to complete a road test regardless. They might as well try and get their full licence.

Currently in BC, you can keep renewing your Class 7 licence every five years. Many drivers are happy to do this, as they still get the same discount on their insurance after 10 years of safe driving. The downside is the restrictions on a Class 7 licence. Many people are happy to continue to drive with these restrictions and are not that bothered by it during their everyday commute.

The Downside Is All Down

The real downside is one that most drivers are not that aware of. It is the danger of a driving prohibition. When you have a Class 7 licence a driver can be issued a prohibition for having as little as one violation ticket on their driving record. Many people will drive for years with a Class 7 licence, however, all Novice drivers will be prohibited in the same way, regardless of whether they have been driving for two years or 20.

I had planned to discuss these driving prohibitions and how common they are, and why Novice drivers should try to get their Class 5 as soon as possible. However, a recent development in BC Supreme Court has altered the legal landscape.  

This recent development comes from the decision of Justice Giaschi in McEachern v British Columbia (Superintendent of Motor Vehicles).This was a case I argued where the Appellant, Ms. McEachern had received a driving prohibition after receiving one violation ticket for using a cell phone while driving. The relevant facts are simple and reflect what has been a very common occurrence over the past few years: Novice driver receives one ticket for use of an electronic device while driving, and is subsequently issued a significant driving prohibition from the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.  

A driver can apply for a review of this prohibition (which Ms. McEachern did) and request that the prohibition be reduced or revoked. The review is conducted by a delegate of the Superintendent and a decision is made. In this case, the prohibition was only reduced by one month, and Ms. McEachern appealed the decision of the Superintendent to BC Supreme Court.

In his decision, Justice Giaschi says the following: “a single infraction cannot reasonably be said to justify a prohibition under s.93(1)(a)(ii) of the MVA.” Under the section which the Superintendent uses to prohibit drivers, Justice Giaschi determined that there needs to be a pattern of driving that justifies a prohibition in the circumstances.

This decision means that it is no longer reasonable for the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles to prohibit a Class 7 driver on the basis of one traffic ticket. However, this does not mean we can return to the idea that there is once again little incentive for Novice drivers to go for their road test.

Drivers can still be prohibited based on as little as two violations. These violations can also occur at the same time, as officers will often issue multiple traffic violations during one traffic stop. It remains to be seen whether this can be considered a pattern because the violations would still stem from the same singular incident, but for now, this remains the case.

It is still important for Novice drivers to try for their Class 5 as soon as they are able. It does not take much for an otherwise careful and experienced driver to lose their licence and face significant hardship as a result. If a Novice driver does receive a prohibition, they then have to wait two years to once again be eligible for a Class 5. During this time, the driver will be on a probationary period, where a single traffic violation, even an insignificant one, can lead to a further prohibition, and a reset of the two-year period.

Furthermore, the Mceachern decision is headed to the Court of Appeal. It is conceivable that the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles will disregard the lower court decision while the issue remains unsettled.

The underlying message is abundantly clear: Get rid of you N as soon as you can.

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