How Much Will That Ticket Cost You?

Car pulled over, policeman giving a ticket

A quarter of all accidents are the result of texting behind the wheel, which is why a texting-while-driving ticket can raise your insurance rates by 27% or more. Photo: Robert Couse-Baker

Before we pass our road test and receive a freshly minted driver’s license, we learn that moving violations and speeding tickets can be costly.

Most of us have the facts imparted first by a driving instructor. After that, the same lessons are often reinforced by a concerned parent who warns us of what might happen if we get a ticket.

But if you’re like most people, neither lesson really sinks in until you’re sitting on the side of a road and a police officer is asking for your license and registration. It’s at that moment that you really begin to consider the potential outcome of your actions.

When it comes to moving violations, surveys and statistics abound. Twenty-five percent of all drivers have received a ticket in the past five years. On average, about 112,000 people receive a speeding ticket every day. The average cost of a speeding ticket is $152, for a total of about $300,000 per officer per year, for a grand total of more than $6 billion. That’s according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In an expensive state like California, you could wind up paying even more. Because the state charges a 20 percent surcharge on all traffic tickets and tacks on additional penalty assessments for many reasons, a traffic ticket with a baseline of $35 could actually cost you as much as $146 right out of the gate. And if you’re convicted of the driving offense you’ve been charged of, your total cost could exceed 20 times the initial cost of your ticket. In this case, you could wind up owing more than $700 on a ticket that started at just $35, notes NBC Los Angeles.

The Reason Your Rates Go Up

I confess that once upon a time I was a young driver who got a speeding ticket. In a desperate act of logic, I told my father that his insurance shouldn’t go up — because driving fast and not having an accident was proof I was a good driver!

I was wrong, of course, even though my logic appeared sound. After all, insurance companies don’t have to pay out any money if there are no claims. So why do they raise your premium after you get a ticket?

Contrary to what I believed all those years ago, speeding increases the likelihood of an accident. Not only do the chances of an accident increase, but the potential damage to people and property rises right along with the speed of the car.

Insurance company actuaries calculate how much various moving violations increase the chances of a driver getting into an accident. They also calculate the extent of damage and injuries that occur when drivers with different moving violations have an accident. That information is used to decide how much to raise a premium after you get a ticket.

Following are some of the moving violations that raise insurance premiums the most:

Driving Under the Influence

It’s doesn’t matter whether your state calls it DUI or sticks with the old-school DWI, the result is the same — a hefty fine, possible suspension of your license, and a whopping rate increase that can be close to 100%.

Insurance companies, like law enforcement, don’t give passes to anyone who gets caught driving while drunk or high. The reason is this very sobering statistic: One death every hour is the result of DUI/DWI violations. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says drivers with a blood-alcohol limit of 0.08% and above who are involved in a fatal accident are four times more likely to have had prior DUIs than sober drivers.

Texting While Driving

While younger drivers are the most frequent recipients of this violation, their elders are catching up quickly. Some research indicates that texting while driving has the same effect on the driver’s abilities as drinking four beers before getting behind the wheel.

The Governors Highway Safety Association reports that 44 states have texting-and-driving statutes on the books. Despite it being illegal in most places, 25% of all accidents are the result of driving while texting. The cost to your insurance is a 27% increase that is sure to go up further.

Reckless Driving

This can be considered a sort of bonus violation because it comes in both the “dry” and “wet” forms. “Wet” reckless driving is a charge that is generally added onto a DUI, and “dry” reckless driving can be more applied to texters and cellphone users.

The charge is made when the driver is observed changing lanes without signaling, tailgating, exhibiting road rage, or driving without using their hands. This ticket can impact your insurance premiums almost as much as a DUI, with rate increases up to 80%.

Careless Driving

Unlike reckless driving, which is considered intentional, a careless-driving ticket is usually issued when the officer believes your action was an honest mistake. Reasons for this ticket include changing lanes without signaling, nodding off behind the wheel (because you are tired and not impaired), and similar infractions. Rate increases in response to a careless-driving citation are generally in the 25% range, but can go higher depending on your driving record.

Failure to Stop

If you pass a stop sign or go through a red light, you can expect your premium to increase by about 20%.

Tickets issued as the result of a red-light camera usually won’t add points to your license, because there is seldom a means of proving who the driver of the vehicle was. However, when insurers are made aware of these tickets, they will increase rates based on the principle that, even if you were not driving, someone you allowed to drive your car put them at greater risk of a claim.

Final Thoughts

Getting a traffic ticket isn’t the end of the world, but it can wreak havoc on your budget. Not only must you cover the cost of the ticket itself, but you could pay higher premiums for auto insurance for years.

The best way to avoid a costly situation is to avoid moving violations and speeding tickets altogether. Always remember that driving is a privilege, and that someone could be watching at all times. Stick to the speed limit and avoid risky behavior like texting or drinking while driving.

And, you never know. These tips could do more than save you money – they might also save your life.


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