If you live in California, you’re going to pay a pretty penny for your car insurance. In fact, recent figures show that in San Luis Obispo County — where Californians, on average, pay the least for car insurance — drivers are still spending over $1,000 on their policies each year. In Los Angeles — which is home to the state’s highest average car insurance rates — drivers are spending nearly $1,600 every year.
Think your wallet is screaming for mercy now? Just imagine what could happen if you got a ticket, got into an accident, or committed some other kind of traffic violation!
Your driving record plays a major role in the rates that your insurance company calculates for you, and when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. After all, if you’re constantly crashing into things or constantly violating traffic laws, your insurance company is taking on a bigger risk by insuring you. To them, it’s only fair to charge you more.
But how exactly will your driving record affect your insurance premiums?
It’s impossible to say you’ll be charged a specific dollar amount, because most insurance companies have rules in place that forbid their employees from saying exactly how they calculate their rates. Those calculations are their “secret sauce”, but surveys estimate that even a minor violation can make your premiums go up 10-15%.
Wait… what’s a “minor violation”?
In order to understand exactly how your driving record affects your insurance rates, there are a few terms you need to become acquainted with. Like the name suggests, a “minor violation” isn’t very serious. Things like illegal u-turns, improper turns, and going just a few miles per hour over the speed limit are considered minor violations. Get pulled over for one, and you’ll find yourself in traffic court, but the penalties aren’t all that serious.
The same goes for “correctable violations” — like having a broken headlight or window tint that’s too dark.
What about more serious offenses?
A major violation, on the other hand, is handled in criminal court — and there’s a chance you could land in jail for committing one. Thinks like DUI, hit-and-run, and vehicular manslaughter are all major violations.
So, how do all of these things get sorted out in your driving record?
Here in California, we have a point system. Every time you get a ticket, cause an accident, or commit some other driving violation, points are added to your license. If you get enough points in a certain amount of time, the California DMV can suspend your license or revoke your driving privileges altogether!
Here’s how it works:
- If you get 4 points in 12 months, you can lose your license.
- If you get 6 points in 24 months, you can lose your license.
- If you get 8 points in 36 months, you can lose your license.
So, how many points will you get for each violation?
As long as you pay the fine associated with your correctible violation, you won’t get any points, and the violation won’t become part of your driving record. You won’t be as lucky if you commit some other kind of violation.
A ticket can fetch you one or two tickets, depending on the severity of the violation. You’ll get one point for each accident you cause. Commit a major violation, and you’ll get two points put on your license. Even if you get a ticket outside of California, the DMV here will still add a point to your license.
The points associated with more minor things — like speeding tickets or fender benders — will stay on your driving record for three years. The points for more serious offenses — like a DUI or a hit-and-run — will stay on your driving record for ten years.
Insurance companies will look at your driving record any time you apply for a new policy, and once again, when your policy comes up for renewal. So, if you think you can squeak by with a few points on your license, think again! Your insurance company WILL find out about these violations, and they’ll raise your rates accordingly. Or, if your insurance company thinks that there are too many issues on your driving record, they can cancel your policy altogether!
How far back do they look?
Most car insurance companies go back about five years. So, unfortunately, that speeding ticket you got a couple years ago can still have an effect on your rates today!
What about traffic school? Will that help ease the rate hike?
Here in California, going to traffic school will keep your ticket off your driving record. You won’t get any points, and your insurance company likely won’t find out about it. However, California drivers are only eligible to attend driving school once every 18 months.
What about accidents? How do they affect your insurance rates?
We’ve already talked about the points you’ll get hit with if you cause an accident, but we need to talk about a few more details. Specifically, you need to understand how insurance companies decide who’s to blame in a crash. Here in California, if you’re determined to be 51% (or more) responsible, you’ll be flagged for an at-fault accident. If you’re at-fault for an accident that causes injury, death, or more than $750 in property damage, you’ll lose your Good Driver Discount — meaning that your insurance rates can instantly climb 20%!
Bottom line — if you want to save money on your car insurance premiums, you’ve got to be extra-careful out on the road. Even one misstep can cost you a bunch of extra money!
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