What Traffic Tickets Really Do to Your Auto Insurance Costs

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By Jason Notte

NEW YORK -- Getting a traffic ticket isn't great under any circumstance, but your insurance company thinks you should be sweating some offenses more than others.

The Insurance Information Institute notes that spending on auto insurance has held remarkably steady in recent years. Though the average annual cost of auto insurance rose from $798 in 2011 to $815 in 2012, according to a December 2014 report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, AAA notes that costs differ based on the driver. The average low-risk driver with a clean driving record for a policy with a $500 deductible for collision and a $100 deductible for comprehensive coverage paid $1,023, down from $1,029 in 2012, according to AAA.

"Auto insurance expenditures have remained relatively stable when compared to other life essentials, such as housing, food and health care," said Robert Hartwig, economist and president of the institute. "People are spending about the same for auto insurance as they did a few years ago, adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, other expenses continue to eat up bigger portions of their budget."

But only if they can keep their driving record fairly clean, or at least avoid the moving violations that insurance companies hate most. Laura Adams, senior analyst for insurance information and pricing site insuranceQuotes.com, says that only 19 percent of Americans who got a traffic ticket in the past five years are paying more for car insurance as a result. That's down from 31 percent in 2013, with drivers ages 30 to 49 picking up the most tickets and drivers 18 to 49 the most likely to see their insurance rates increase after getting a ticket.

Of all the moving violations a motorist can earn a ticket for, however, Adams says these three are by far the worst:

  • Percentage of average rate increase: 92.49 percent
While driving under the influence is not a terribly surprising list-topper, it's incredible how much the insurance penalty can vary by state. For a first offense in North Carolina, a DUI conviction results in an average (average!) rate increase of 337 percent. That's closely followed by a 289 percent uptick in Hawaii and a 184 percent surge in California. While that rate hike goes down to a surprising 15 percent increase in Maryland (below the 16.49 percent average nationwide rate hike for driving without a license), insurers tend to keep a DWI/DUI on a client's record much longer than any other violation.

"If you get a ticket, it's not just an increase in one year's premiums: That violation will stay on your record for up to five years," Adams says. "DWI and DUI tends to stay on your record for 10 years. That's in a category all by itself because, when you get that kind of a ticket, the state is pretty proactive in telling the insurance company about it."

Reckless Driving
  • Percentage of average rate increase: 83.29 percent
This one doesn't sound bad enough to be the No. 2 most-costly violation in the country, but just consider what it has to entail.

"With reckless driving, the ticket shows that you had some intent to do something reckless," Adams says. "You were speeding, you were playing a game of chicken with your friends on the highway."

If you missed a yield sign and caused an accident, however, it may be in your interest to argue that ticket down to careless driving if possible. While it sounds similar to reckless driving, it lacks the intent and, in insurers' eyes, merits an average 27 percent premium increase. Considering that reckless driving can double your insurance rates in Massachusetts, Michigan and Illinois, nearly triple them in California and quadruple them in Hawaii, obliviousness is preferable.

Speeding 31-Plus Miles Over the Limit
  • Percentage of average rate increase: 29.26 percent
Thirty-one is the dividing line between "where's the fire?" and lapping the firetruck.

On most highways, that's putting you into 95- to 100-mph territory. In cities, it's roughly or more than doubling the speed limit. Taking it down a notch doesn't help either, as speeding 16 to 30 mph over the speed limit boost rates by about 28 percent.

"A lot of people don't realize that speeding is as harmful to your driving record and insurance as it is," Adams says. "It's pretty serious. If you're speeding one to 15 miles over the speed limit, it's still raising your rates by an average of 21 percent."

As for the more minor violations, some are more obvious than others. Failure to wear a seat belt, the least menacing ticketable offense in an officer's arsenal, only raises rates 5.6 percent on average. Driving without a license, somewhat surprisingly, not only merits only a 16.47 percent increase, but is deemed a lesser offense than driving solo in the carpool lane (17.91 percent) and failure to signal (18.55 percent).

"The intent behind these violations is what's really important to the insurance company," Adams says. "They view it as how likely you are to get into an accident and make a claim on your insurance policy. When you look at some of the minor violations, it doesn't indicate intent or risky driving."

-Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Oregon, for MainStreet.
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