Feb. 20, 2013 -- Contrary to what many drivers believe, getting a ticket doesn't automatically lead to hefty car insurance premium increases.
"It's a myth that insurance companies are constantly checking your record, and that if you get ticketed you'll be noticed right away," says Laura Adams, the site's senior insurance analyst. "It might be the case if you're a younger driver. But for the majority of drivers, it's not."
If you're between the ages of 18 and 25, she says, your insurer probably is pulling up your Motor Vehicle Report (the document that keeps tabs on any tickets that you have gotten) once every 6 months. Because insurers view young drivers as risky, they monitor their records more closely.
"But if you're an older driver," Adams says, "and you've got a good record—if you've gone 10 years, say, without a ticket—then they're not going to be pulling it often, if at all." The reason is cost. Pulling the report is expensive for insurers.
Some 41 percent of young drivers who got ticketed said they saw their premiums increase, compared with 32 percent of drivers aged 30-49 and 15 percent of drivers aged 50 or older. The most common increase was $100 a year or less, according to the survey.
Some kinds of tickets, of course, invite more scrutiny—and are costlier--than others.
Of the 1,000 respondents in the survey, most (62 percent) were ticketed for speeding. The next biggest group (19 percent) had run a stop sign or a red light. Seven percent were ticketed for careless driving, 3 percent for driving while telecommunicating, and another 3 percent for driving drunk. Some 58 percent said they had gotten only one ticket in the past five years; 25 percent got two, 9 percent got four or more.
Whenever possible, says Adams, you should try to have a ticket expunged from your record, since a repaired record reduces the odds you'll pay more for insurance. Tickets for minor infractions are easily expunged in many states by attending traffic safety school.
Getting a second ticket, regardless of type, within 6 to 24 months of your first is such a red flag in the eyes of an insurer that you may lose coverage altogether.
Adams recommends that drivers with serious and/or multiple infractions consult an attorney. The laws of every state differ, she says, when it comes to ticketing and penalties. "An attorney can help you navigate the laws of your state and help you understand your options."
Persons guilty of multiple infractions don't just risk cancellation of their insurance; they risk forfeiting their license. "For something as serious as that, you want to get counsel," Adams says.
Drivers can lower the odds of their having to pay a higher premium if ticketed by purchasing all their various forms of insurance from a single carrier. Most insurers, explains Adams, reward customers for what the industry calls "bundling": If you have your car, home and life insurance all with the same carrier, then the insurer is less likely to charge you more if you get dinged for running a red light. "Bundlers will fare better with ticket-forgiveness than will consumers who only have their auto coverage with that insurer."
Every insurer, she says, treats getting of a ticket differently. For that reason you'd be wise, when shopping for insurance, to ask your agent to explain the company's policy. He or she should be able to give you a ballpark idea of what the consequences will be if, say, you get two tickets in two years. "It's very worthwhile to discuss that in advance, especially for younger drivers," say Adams. But most consumers, she says, don't ask. It's only after they've gotten ticketed that they find out what penalty (if any) they will pay.
What about senior drivers—people well beyond their 50s? What happens to car insurance costs for an 80-year-old who gets a ticket? Likely nothing, Adams says. The insurer's assumption is that an older person's sight and reflexes are up to par, unless these were discovered to be deficient the last time they tried to renew their license. Absent such deficits, an older driver is not going to get special scrutiny from an insurer. Their years of experience behind the wheel spare them the same scrutiny a 19-year old would get.