A Brief History of the SAAQ

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It all started with Q-01

The City of Montréal registered the first automobile in Québec. The licence plate, number Q-01, was painted directly onto the vehicle's body.

By the end of that year, 167 vehicles travelled through city streets among streetcars, horse-drawn vehicles and pedestrians. The legislature adopted the Loi concernant les véhicules moteurs. The sole purpose of a driver's licence was to identify motorists. Vehicle registration was mandatory, but no licence plate was provided—you had to make your own!


The first tickets

Motorists can be really hard-headed! Still, they should realize that horse-drawn vehicles have the right-of-way and that certain limits should not be exceeded. To get through to them, "speed officers" were appointed to issue the first tickets in Québec.


The first traffic law

There were already more than 100,000 vehicles on Québec roads! With its high stance and top speed of 80 km/h, the Ford Model T, also known as the "Tin Lizzie," was especially popular. The first Highway Traffic Act was therefore drafted to create a comprehensive and consistent set of road signs and traffic signals.


A sobering road safety record

In 1938, 455,000 vehicles were registered in Québec. Speed, alcohol, as well as risky and reckless driving were behind more than 10,000 accidents, resulting in 402 victims. Those were significant numbers given the number of vehicles in use on Québec roads. As a result, new chapters on impaired driving, hit-and-runs and high-risk driving were inserted into the Highway Traffic Act.


The first driver's licences

The government of Quebec created the Ministère des Transports et des Communications, whose first mission concerned the skills and training of drivers and mechanics who, until then, had been free to get behind the wheel and disregard road signs and basic safety rules. Starting in 1955, prospective drivers had to pass a road test to obtain their driver's licence. Some recall that you had to be particularly negligent to fail the test.


Passengers have to buckle up

Up until that year, belts were used exclusively to hold up one's pants. Fortunately, in 1959, an engineer working at Volvo, Mr. Nils Bohlin, had the brilliant idea of inventing the three-point seat belt, for the benefit of motorist safety. In 1976, a law made seat belt use mandatory for all front-seat passengers in Québec. In 1990, the law finally required rear-seat passengers to buckle-up as well.


Implementation of a one-of-a-kind automobile insurance plan

Québec's public automobile insurance plan came into force in 1978. The plan provided compensation for loss of earnings resulting from bodily injuries sustained by a driver, a passenger, a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorcyclist in a traffic accident, regardless of where the accident occurred or who was at fault.

Foundation of the Régie de l'assurance automobile du Québec

The implementation of Québec's public automobile insurance plan led to the foundation of the Régie de l'assurance automobile du Québec. At that time, the Régie had about 400 employees to serve the entire population of Québec, which already included more than 6 and a half million potential service users.

From "La belle province" to "Je me souviens"

"La belle province", the slogan that had adorned licence plates since 1963, was replaced by Québec's motto "Je me souviens,".


The Bureau des véhicules automobiles is transferred to the Régie

In December, the Québec National Assembly transferred the Bureau des véhicules automobiles (BVA), which had been under the jurisdiction of Transport Québec, to the Régie de l’assurance automobile du Québec. The BVA was responsible for driver's licence and vehicle registration services.


The new Highway Safety Code

Experts had been working tirelessly on this for several months, and the results were well worth the effort: a number of provisions were added to the new Highway Safety Code. The new Code provided for higher fines, driver's licence revocation and more severe measures and stiffer penalties for impaired driving offences.


Impaired driving now punishable under the Criminal Code

Since December 4, 1985, the Criminal Code has imposed stiff penalties on alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers. In addition to fines and a 3-year licence revocation, offenders lose a great deal of freedom as a result of a criminal record, not to mention that they could also receive a prison sentence.


The Régie de l'assurance automobile du Québec becomes... the SAAQ

The Régie de l'assurance automobile du Québec became the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ), an agent Crown corporation whose one-of-a-kind integrated model covered prevention, control, compensation and rehabilitation.

The new Automobile Insurance Act comes into force

While preserving the basic principles of the insurance plan, the new Automobile Insurance Act achieved better balance by eliminating over- and under-compensation of certain categories of traffic accident victims. The seriously injured were properly compensated, and the plan's management was streamlined.


Contrôle routier Québec joins the SAAQ

On January 23, 1991, the SAAQ officially took on the mandate to monitor and control road transportation of goods and passengers through its carrier enforcement agency Contrôle routier Québec.


The noose tightens for offenders

On December 1, 1997, the Highway Safety Code introduced tougher provisions for people driving while impaired or without holding the appropriate class of licence. In the case of drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol, these provisions included: immediate licence suspension, installation of an alcohol ignition interlock device, mandatory participation in a rehabilitation program and, last but not least, a fine. In other words, major consequences.


Turning right on a red light

The introduction of right turns on red lights allowed Québec to harmonize its traffic rules with those of the other North American jurisdictions. This manoeuvre, which remained a "privilege," came with a number of important responsibilities, obligations and prohibitions—such as not honking at a driver who decides not to turn right on a red light.


Creation of the Fonds d'assurance automobile du Québec

Since 1982, insurance contributions collected by the SAAQ had been insufficient, which led to an accumulated deficit that increased from year to year. To eliminate the deficit and ensure a financially sustainable automobile insurance plan, the government created the Fonds d'assurance automobile du Québec and made the SAAQ its trustee.


The SAAQ tackles road safety

The Québec National Assembly proclaimed 2007 as Road Safety Year. In preparation for that year, and in accordance with its strategic plan, the SAAQ organized a major campaign to accept nothing less than safe roads for everyone. To bolster its efforts, the SAAQ entered into an agreement with representatives from every police force in the province.


Road Safety Year

The Québec government proclaimed 2007 as Road Safety Year. Every year in Québec, approximately 50,000 people are injured and 700 others are killed in traffic accidents. In addition to human consequences, such a road safety record entails considerable social costs and compensation expenses. Concerted efforts on the part of all stakeholders and the continued presence of police forces have significantly decreased the number of persons killed or seriously injured.

And today...

The SAAQ is a government agency under the authority of Québec's Minister of Transport. The SAAQ is governed by a board of directors and is responsible for administering the Automobile Insurance Act and the Highway Safety Code.

The President and Chief Executive Officer of the SAAQ, Mr. Denis Marsolais, ensures that the SAAQ's activities and mandates are consistent with its mission.

The SAAQ has over 3,975 employees across the province who are committed to protecting individuals against the risks inherent in use of the road.

Last update: May 27, 2022