Traffic Tickets Can Ruin More Than Your Day



We all know that sinking feeling when you get pulled over for a traffic violation. If you're lucky, you might just get a "fix-it" ticket for a broken tail light. But what if it was a more serious offense, like speeding or reckless driving? Depending on your driving record, you could get slapped with a sizeable penalty or even a jail sentence -- and your insurance rates will almost certainly go up.

Let's say you absentmindedly ran through a stop sign or made an illegal left-hand turn. You'll probably know right away how much the ticket will cost, but it could take months before your insurance company receives notice of the infraction and adjusts your premium.

If the suspense is killing you, Insurance.com has a handy tool called the Uh-Oh! Calculator that estimates the average rate increases for the 14 most common traffic violations. And, if you enter your age, ZIP code, residence type, marital status, length of time with your insurance carrier and current premium, the calculator will generate a more customized estimate based on your personal data.

To arrive at its estimates, Insurance.com analyzed nearly half a million auto insurance quotes given to drivers from 14 insurance carriers over a two-year period. They compared quotes that drivers with the 14 most common violations received alongside quotes from drivers with no violations.

Some of the average premium increases are pretty shocking:

Reckless driving: 22 percent

DUI first offense: 19 percent

Driving without a license or permit: 18 percent

Careless driving: 16 percent

Speeding 30 mph over the limit: 15 percent

Failure to stop: 15 percent

Improper turn: 14 percent

Improper passing: 14 percent

Following too close/tailgating: 13 percent

Speeding 15 to 29 mph over limit: 12 percent

Speeding 1 to 14 mph over limit: 11 percent

Failure to yield: 9 percent

No car insurance: 6 percent

Seat belt infractions: 3 percent

So, for example, if your annual premium is $650 and you're caught speeding 18 miles over the speed limit, your premium would go up $78 to $728, on average. Not wearing your seat belt would generate a relatively milder $19.50 increase.

Another neat trick with the Uh-Oh! Calculator: If you plug in your personal data, it will tell you how many points or other penalties will be added to your driving record per infraction (based on state law), as well as information on the state's rules for when driving privileges can be suspended or revoked.

Another company, called DMV.org, features a Ticket Fines and Penalties tool that provides an even more detailed state-by-state analysis of what various infractions can cost, procedures for paying -- or challenging -- your ticket, how points are calculated (in those states that use a point system), how long it takes to clear infractions from your record, links to local traffic schools (where offered), and much more.

One caution when using any of these types of sites: Because traffic laws are complex and change often, always double-check with the state's DMV itself for the latest and most accurate information. DMV.org provides a DMV Office Finder tool by ZIP code.

So, assuming you're not going to challenge the ticket in court, the damage has been done and your insurance rates will likely climb -- what can you do to lower your premium? Here are a few tips:

Investigate whether attending traffic school will erase the ticket from your record. Rules vary widely by state (e.g., how often you can attend), and certain serious infractions, like excessive speeding, are ineligible in some places.

When your policy is up for renewal, get rate quotes from at least three carriers. Talk to an insurance agent or use an online comparison site such as Insurance.com, InsWeb or NetQuote -- just be aware that not every carrier participates in these sites and make sure you're comparing apples to apples, since companies often package coverage differently.

Another reason to comparison shop: Each insurance company calculates risk differently, so particular traffic infractions might trigger varying increases, depending on the carrier.

Increasing your deductibles from $250 to $1,000 might lower your premium by 15 to 30 percent.

Ask about premium discounts for: low annual mileage; clean driving records; defensive driving courses; being over a certain age; good student grades; vehicle safety features like alarms, anti-lock brakes or vehicle tracking systems; parking in a secure lot; working in specific industries; or buying your homeowner's or renter's insurance from the same company.

Most insurance companies use some form of credit information to help determine rates, so, review your credit reports periodically to correct any mistakes. If you know that your credit rating has improved, ask your insurance company to recheck it at renewal time.

With collision and comprehensive coverage, insurers pay only up to the vehicle's actual cash value, minus deductibles. Thus, some people with older cars drop this coverage, since repairs often cost more than the car's worth. But remember: If you drop this coverage and later rent a car, purchase the rental agency's coverage to be fully protected.

The best way to avoid traffic violation-related rate increases is to not break the law in the first place. But if that horse has already left the barn, arm yourself with information about coverage costs and how you might be able to lower your rates.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a legal, tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to you and about your individual financial situation.

Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney

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