Feb. 21, 2013 at 11:06 AM ET
Only 31 percent of drivers who have gotten at least one traffic ticket say the citation resulted in a rate increase from their car insurer, according to a survey by InsuranceQuotes.com.
The likely reason for this low figure? Your insurance company is even cheaper than you are.
When a police officer flags you down, the infraction goes on your MVR, the motor vehicle record maintained by your state transportation department, but not to your insurer. The company will only find out about your ticket if it pays to see your MVR, at a cost of up to $27 in some states.
"Pulling these records isn't cheap, so they only pull them when they need to," said Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst at InsuranceQuotes.com, a one-stop shopping site for insurance.
All companies check your record when you first become a customer, and some will revisit it when your policy renews, or at regular intervals, normally every 18 months to two years. Younger drivers automatically get more frequent checks from many companies: 41 percent of younger drivers surveyed by InsuranceQuotes.com reported having their rates raised after getting a ticket.
"Younger drivers are riskier. They pull their MVR more frequently, so they are aware if a younger driver gets a ticket," said Adams.
Chalk it up as one benefit of age: Only 15 percent of ticketed drivers above age 50 had their rates raised.
Age won't protect you, of course, if you're a lousy driver, or a drunken one. If you've been signed up as a higher risk, higher premium driver, you'll be monitored more closely, since the cost of pulling your driving record is frequently built into the rate. "It depends on the business model," said Kevin Conlee, a director in the underwriting department at Allstate.
Whether your rate changes also depends on your offense. A simple speeding ticket may not incur a hike, especially if it's a rare occurrence. Tickets that yield points, like reckless driving (which can include speeding well over the limit) or driving under the influence, will draw an automatic increase in your premium according to the company's rate structure, Conlee said.
If you've gotten a ticket recently, the advice of most professionals is to do nothing—including, if you can help it, changing your policy. Switching companies, adding coverage, even buying a high-performance car may bring your infractions to light. And it's highly recommended you avoid another ticket anytime soon — many insurers will not look back beyond five years.
You can also try to reduce the risk of a rate hike by reducing the points the ticket earned you. "Most people can plead it down in court and get rid of the points," said Mark Hauser, a Philadelphia defense attorney who often handles traffic tickets. "For a more serious violation, your chances of pleading down to no points is pretty rare." Taking a traffic-safety course can also counteract or erase points.
If you haven't been ticketed already, it's a good idea to bundle your home, boat, and other insurance policies with one company. "Customers with multiple policies are going to get more forgiveness," said Adams. "They see consumers with multi-line policies as more valuable."
But the best tack is to keep your rates low to begin with. Fairly or not, your credit rating also plays an outsized role in how you are perceived as a driving risk, so paying your bills on time helps.
Another way to keep your rates lower is if you allow the insurance company to monitor your driving habits with an onboard device.
Adams recommends that at the very least, consumers shop diligently before insuring their car, and stay in touch with their insurers about discounts and other deals that will lower your existing rate. "Unless you ask, you may not know what they are. It's always wise to communicate." Until you get that ticket. Then, it makes sense to lay low.
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