Do Misdemeanors Affect Your Auto Insurance Rates?

Misdemeanors are crimes of a less severe nature than felonies, usually punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of less than $1,000. Most crimes are misdemeanors, although an accumulation of misdemeanor offenses can results in a felony charge of “repeat offender” which can carry significant jail time and fines.

Traffic misdemeanors include most speeding tickets, failure to yield at a stop sign or traffic light, and parking tickets.
While a traffic misdemeanor will probably not result in jail time, you will be issued a “ticket,” or a summons to appear in court to address the charge. Most people choose to waive their right to appear in court and argue their cases, simply paying the fine and, in effect, pleading guilty to the charge.

However, this action can have significant consequences beyond the fine itself. Many states exercise a “points” system for tracking driving offenses. If you receive, for example, a speeding ticket for 20 miles an hour over the limit, and you plead guilty and pay the fine, you could receive 2 points on your license. Another ticket within three years might add 4 points to your license, at which time you would have a total of six. If your state laws require a license suspension at this point, you could be without a drivers’ license for six month to a year. Different states have different point requirements, although in general laws are becoming more punitive for dangerous driving infractions.

The points system, or any other system for tracking moving violations, can also affect your car insurance rates. Many states now have a direct database by which they communicate with insurance companies. In fact, many states have computerized systems that allow an officer to know at the moment you are pulled over if your car is covered by insurance, what its limits are, and other information necessary to evaluate an accident or misdemeanor situation.

Your car insurance will inevitably go up if you acquire too many misdemeanor offenses. While parking tickets generally do not acquire points and do not affect your insurance rates, any moving violation will be known to your insurance company, and will definitely cause a rise in your premiums if you acquire many tickets.

Many companies offer “forgiveness” for one speeding ticket, but some do not. A second ticket in a short period of time will almost surely change your rates, as the insurance company believes you to be an “unsafe” driver, one that is taking unnecessary risks when operating an insured vehicle. As rates are based on risk factors, it is only natural that the company would raise your rates if this happens.

The way you are charged can also have an effect on your insurance company’s actions. Some violations, such as reckless driving, may result in a rate increase or even cancellation of your policy, even if it is a first offense. An accumulation of points may also result in cancellation of your policy, at which point you are placed in the unenviable position of having to seek new car insurance with a bad driving record.

There are several ways to keep this from happening to you. Obviously, the easiest course is to drive safely! You will not have a problem with tickets you never get, so obey the speed limit and traffic signs and signals. If you are charged with a moving violation, it may be worth your time to appear in court and address the charges. While most judges will not dismiss speeding tickets or other violations, they will often change the nature of the ticket if you agree to pay the fine without argument.

For example, a judge could reduce the ticket’s speed so that you are under the “cap” imposed by the points system—say from 70 in a 55 mph to 68 in a 55 mph zone. This may have significant consequences if your state is one that imposes a points system based on the number of miles per hour over the speed limit you are traveling. The judge may also be willing to change a “reckless driving” charge to one that will have less impact on your record and your insurance. Be sure to bring any evidence to court with you, and deal respectfully with the judge and court officials. It might be worth the cost to hire a traffic attorney if this is your second or third offense and you are facing significant repercussions for your license and insurance.

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