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One-Fourth of Adult Drivers Got at Least One Traffic Tickets in the Last 5 Years

It’s a familiar scenario for so many drivers: Just after getting a speeding ticket, you hang your head and begin worrying about your car insurance premiums going through the roof. But a new survey suggests that ticketed drivers may be worrying in vain. asked American drivers over age 18 whether they’d received a traffic ticket in the past five years for infractions like speeding, running a red light or passing illegally. Of those polled, 23 percent had gotten traffic tickets. Among ticket recipients, only 31 percent said they’re paying more for car insurance as a result.

This, experts say, is not entirely surprising. Car insurance premiums don’t always climb after someone gets slapped with a moving violation.

Who Is Checking on Your Driving Record?

When a car insurance company prepares a new policy, one of the things it checks is a driver’s motor vehicle report (MVR). This report includes a list of all traffic tickets the driver has received in the past two or three years as well as the number of points on that person’s driving record. It’s one of the primary tools used to determine premiums for new customers.

But if you already have car insurance, you insurer isn’t necessarily checking that report regularly — and if the insurer isn’t checking, it doesn’t know you got a ticket.

“There’s a myth that insurance companies constantly check your driving record,” says Walter Meyer, a traffic expert and driving instructor in California. “Once you’re over 25 and have a clean record for a few years, it’s no longer cost-effective to be looking at everyone’s MVR. So there’s a good chance you could have gotten a ticket and the insurance company never even finds out.”

Dan Weedin, an insurance and risk management consultant, says drivers who’ve never filed a claim and who’ve maintained a clean driving record for at least 10 years often go undetected when they get a traffic ticket.

“If your ticket isn’t the result of an accident, it may be years before the insurance company checks your MVR,” Weedin says. “It’s expensive to run an MVR, and if they don’t have to check it they won’t.”

There is, however, one exception.

“If you’re between the ages of 16 and 25, you better believe your insurance company is running an MVR every six months,” says Kevin Lynch, a former insurance agent and assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania. “It may be hit or miss for a lot of people, but definitely not for young drivers. They’re too risky.”

In the survey, 36 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds reported receiving at least one traffic ticket in the past five years – the highest percentage of any age group. Forty-one of drivers in that age bracket who did get tickets said they got hit with higher premiums (also the highest percentage for any age group).

Shopping for a New Policy

Regardless of your age, a traffic ticket will affect your premiums if you shop for a new policy within two or three years of receiving it. Matthew Weiss, a traffic attorney in New York, says an insurer always will obtain a motor vehicle report for a new customer.

“If you’re price shopping for new insurance, companies are going to check your driving record 100 percent of the time, and that ticket is going to show up,” Weiss says. “So if you have a ticket or two but you’re happy with the insurance you have, just sit back quietly and don’t worry about it.”

Moving Violation Forgiveness and Driving Classes

Some car insurers are becoming more forgiving of drivers who get minor traffic tickets for things like speeding, running a red light or making an illegal turn. If the driver has a previously clean record and hasn’t filed any insurance claims, a single speeding ticket may not result in higher premiums. Jeff Sibel, a spokesman for Progressive, says it usually takes two tickets before rates increase.

On top of that, many states offer driving classes to help drivers remove one or two moving violations from their record. For instance, Ohio drivers can take up to three such driving classes over the course of a lifetime. After successfully completing the course, drivers are awarded a two-point credit that’s applied to their driving records. So if you got a speeding ticket that added two points onto your license, the completion of this course would wipe away those points.

Also, Mike Cicero, a municipal prosecutor in Ohio, says some car insurers will overlook a traffic ticket if you also have a homeowner’s insurance policy with that company as well.

“I come across insurance agents and brokers all the time who tell me that people who bundle multiple types of insurance together usually do better with ticket forgiveness than customers who only have auto coverage,” Cicero says.

Sometimes There’s No Exceptions

Weedin says there are certain types of tickets that always will result in higher car insurance premiums. These include:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Reckless driving
  • Going more than double the posted limit
  • Distracted driving, such as talking or texting on a cellphone
  • Leaving the scene of an accident
  • Committing vehicular homicide
  • Driving with a suspended license

Your insurance company may actually drop you entirely for these infractions,” Weedin says. “These are red flags of risk, and they make you very expensive to insure.”

How Much Will Your Premium Go Up?

According to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, the hit to your insurance premium will vary depending on the moving violation.

Minor violations, such as going 5 miles per hour over the speed limit, will result in a 5 percent to 10 percent premium increase. More significant infractions like driving 30 mph over the speed limit, failure to stop, illegal passing or tailgating will result in a premium increase between 12 percent and 15 percent.

But these, experts say, are general rules of thumb.

“The better your driving record for the longer period of time, the less of an impact one ticket is going to have on your premiums,” Lynch says. “If it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon speeding ticket, you might be looking at a few extra dollars per year. But if you’ve gotten several tickets over the last few years, you could be looking at an increase of hundreds of dollars.”

What’s more, Weedin says, severe infractions like reckless driving or driving under the influence could result in your annual premium going up by as much as 30 percent or 40 percent.

Crying Never Works

According to insurance lawyer Thomas Simeone, the odds of beating a traffic ticket are slim. That being said, here are a few tips, from roadside to courthouse:

  • Maintain respect and composure. Simone says he’s seen many people appear reasonable in court and ask for leniency only to have the cop take the stand and read from his notes that the person was irate and said disrespectful things when the ticket was issued.“It simply never pays to vent at the officer,” Simone says. “Instead, accept that they are simply doing their job, whether they are right or wrong.”
  • Review the ticket carefully. A ticket must be 100 percent accurate. If it’s not, some courts will throw out the charge.
  • Get creative. For instance, both the prosecutor and the defendant are allowed to ask for one postponement of the trial. If you request a postponement, the court may accidentally set the case for a day the cop won’t be in court; if this happens twice, the ticket may be thrown out.
  • Arrive early. Speak with the prosecutor before court begins. If you have a valid reason for the offense, the prosecutor likely will let you plead guilty to a lesser offense. Simeone says you should be respectful and, truly sorry. What’s more, if the police officer confirms that you were respectful at the scene, they may dismiss the ticket entirely.
  • Don’t cry. “It doesn’t work on the cop or the prosecutor,” Cicero says. Other popular (but ineffective) excuses for speeding include running out of gas, needing to pee, playing with the radio, eating a sandwich and dropping your cellphone. “Just take responsibility for your actions,” Cicero says. “And try to negotiate in good faith to minimize the affect the ticket may have on you and your insurance.”

Survey methodology

Princeton Survey Research Associates International obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults living in the continental U.S. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (500) and cellphone (500, including 243 without a landline phone). Interviews were done in English by Princeton Data Source from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, 2013. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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