Car insurance rates can be a mysterious thing. Each insurance company uses its own formula to decide how much to charge you for coverage.

But one fact is almost universally true: the more responsibly you drive, the lower your rates will be.

"Your driving record is one of the key rate-setting criteria auto insurers employ," says Michael Berry, spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute.

Everybody knows that major violations such as DUIs and speeding tickets cause insurance rates to soar. But other, seemingly smaller violations also can make it more difficult to get cheap car insurance.

Robert Passmore, senior director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, says even minor offenses "certainly paint a picture of carelessness" that can cause you to pay more, particularly when they are combined with a record of more serious moving violations.

In some cases, that may result in higher rates. Or you may lose eligibility for certain discount programs.

For example, having several smaller violations may carry the same combined weight as a couple of bigger moving violations, "thereby making you ineligible for the good-driver discount," Passmore says.

The following are violations that are likely to hurt your reputation in the eyes of car insurance companies.

Driving without a seat belt

Wearing a seat belt reduces your risk of death or serious injury in a crash by about 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, countless drivers ignore the risk and continue to travel without proper safety restraints in place.

Every state except New Hampshire requires people 18 and older to wear seat belts, and all states require children to be belted in or secured with a child restraint system, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). There are exceptions to these laws and punishments vary from state to state.

In New Mexico and the District of Columbia, you'll be dinged for a couple of points on your driving record if you're caught not buckling up. States such as New York do not punish adults with points if they fail to buckle up themselves. However, they can end up with three points on their record if they are driving with a passenger under age 16 who is not properly restrained by a seat belt or child safety seat.

Driving too slowly

Driving like a slowpoke is annoying to other drivers - and could result in a blemish on your driving record.

Several states punish drivers for moving at a snail's pace. For example, in Nevada you can get two points on your record for "impeding traffic, driving too slow." Accumulate 12 points in a year and you automatically lose your license for six months.

Failing to drive cautiously around school buses

Each year, an average of 24 school-age children die in accidents related to school transportation, according to the NHTSA. States have passed many laws to make sure drivers behave themselves around school buses. Violate these laws and your driving record will pay the price.

In Maryland, you'll end up with three points on your record for failing to stop when a school vehicle's lights are flashing alternately. In Michigan, passing a stopped school bus will get you four points; in Texas, it's five.

Littering

Think twice before tossing that burger wrapper or cigarette butt out the window.

In states such as North Carolina, you'll get one point or more for littering. In Florida, you could get nailed for three points.

The original article can be found at Insurance.com:
Small violations with a big impact on car insurance costs