Three Ways to Tell if a Ticket Will Raise Your Rates

Question: I just received a ticket for failure to wear a seat belt; I got caught under the “Click It or Ticket” campaign that was going on.  Will this ticket affect my insurance? This was my first seat-belt ticket violation.

Answer:  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) each year promotes the national seat belt enforcement “Click it or Ticket” campaign.  During this operation, more than 10,000 law enforcement agencies in all 50 states are on the lookout for motorists who forget to buckle up.

Everyone who gets this kind of ticket -- or any ticket that doesn't involve an accident or a DUI, for that matter -- wonders if their car insurance rates will go up as a result.

For a minor ticket to affect your rates, certain things have to happen.

  • The ticket must hit your motor vehicle record (MVR).
  • Your state must allow insurance companies to penalize you for the violation.
  • Your insurance company must consider the violation a risk factor.

If any of those factors isn't present, then your rates would not be affected, either because your auto insurance company won't find out about the offense or won't penalize you for it.

First, your insurer has to find out

For a seat-belt ticket, or any traffic violation, to affect your rates, it needs to be placed on your state motor vehicle record. Many kinds of tickets won't show up -- cell-phone tickets, parking tickets, fix-it tickets for broken headlights, carpool-lane violations, or expired registrations. Car insurance companies won't consider infractions that don't hit your driving record. (See "Tickets that don't raise your insurance rates")

Usually, an MVR reflects only moving violations -- acts that could endanger lives or property.

But if the ticket is a moving violation and lands on your driving record, all is not lost.

Some states, such as New York, don't permit auto insurance providers to penalize you if you have only one minor moving violation on your MVR.  Look to your state insurance regulator to find out what rules your state has for auto insurance companies regarding surcharges.

Even if your state does allow surcharges, it doesn't mean that your car insurance company will raise your rates.  Many auto insurers may not consider a minor ticket such as failure to use a seat belt risky enough to rate you on it. Others might.

A minor speeding ticket might fall into that category. Reckless driving or a DUI certainly would not.

Is this your first ticket? Lucky you

For many people, the biggest threat to their current insurance premium isn't an increase in rates, but the loss of any good driver discount.

With most insurers, you can lose any safe driver discount (usually a sizable amount of 15% or more) just by having a moving violation on your MVR.  So while it's not a rate increase, the loss of the discount will cause your premium to rise.

If your insurance company's guidelines consider the ticket a rating factor, the good news is that you typically receive a rate increase for a first ticket of less than 5%.

The bad news is that if you already have other traffic violations on your MVR, the number of tickets you have accumulated may push your rates up 20% or more. Multiple tickets show a pattern of bad decisions as a driver and make you a higher risk to your insurer.

If the ticket causes your rates to rise or the loss of a good-driver discount, you will find out at your renewal period. That's a good time to shop around for cheaper car insurance rates, because no two car insurance companies have the same guidelines about risk. The difference could be hundreds of dollars.

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