Just about the only ticket you can pay and then forget is a parking ticket.
Everything else has the potential to be a double whammy: First you deal with the stress and fines of the ticket itself, then you worry about the effect it can have on your insurance rates.
Of course, the laws in each state are different, and there is no comprehensive list of tickets that won't affect your insurance rates. Your insurance company won't hear about every ticket you get, at least not right away, and it won't treat them all the same way.
Some tickets simply aren't worth the lost sleep.
Here's a quick primer on when to worry and when not to worry. (Keep in mind, though, that there are always exceptions, and you should check with your insurance provider instead of making assumptions based only on Internet research.) Moving violations are worse than non-moving violations, and a couple of minor moving violations in a short period can catch an insurer's attention as much as a bigger one.
These tickets will almost always affect your insurance rates:
- Speeding, if it's not your first ticket in three years
- Causing an accident
- Driving without insurance
- Driving with a revoked or suspended license
- Driving under the influence
- Fleeing police
- Driving the wrong way on a freeway or one-way street
Worry less about affordable car insurance if you get these tickets:
- Your first speeding violation
- Driving in an HOV lane
- Driving on an expired license
- Driving on a restricted license (for example, if you are a young driver who is only supposed to drive during the day)
- Seatbelt violation
- Expired registration
- Broken tail light or cracked window, loud exhaust, etc.
- Failure to secure a load
Your first ticket may not matter
Every insurance company has a different method of determining rates, but many will forgive a speeding ticket or other minor moving violation if it is out of the ordinary. While some tickets don't necessarily result in a surcharge, or penalty, but instead may cost you your good driver discount.
"A person who has a clean driving record is less likely to be affected by a ticket for a moving violation," says Kip Diggs, a spokesperson for State Farm Insurance. "For that good driver, the ticket is looked at as something out of the ordinary. More violations will cause your driving record to be examined more closely."
Insurers typically check for new points on your record every six months (when most policies come up for renewal). A violation will usually stay on your driving record for three years (again, everything varies by state), so if you got caught speeding just that one time and your rates didn't change, keep an eye on your speedometer for the next three years.
Depending on your state, you may also be able to go to traffic school instead of paying a ticket. You might pay as much for the school as you would for the ticket, but you'll avoid the nasty side effect of increased insurance rates. (See "Pay your speeding ticket by picking up litter.")
How about a cell-phone ticket?
In many states, a ticket for talking on your cell phone or even texting while driving won't currently affect your insurance rates. But this type of infraction is relatively new, and insurers are still gaining experience, says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
As more states enact laws that make talking on the phone and texting while driving illegal, insurers are likely to view these infractions as more serious.
In California, drivers are given tickets for talking on the phone or texting while driving, but those tickets don't carry any points, says Pete Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California. Most states use a points system to keep track of your driving record. Points are assessed when a driver commits a moving violation, like speeding or causing an accident. Insurers use some version of a points system when determining rates, though it doesn't necessarily correspond with the DMV's version.
That means it would also affect insurance rates, as it already does in a few states.
"The impact of violations will vary by state," Diggs says. "Texting is a great example: It is not illegal in all states, and in some it is illegal, but insurers are prohibited from using the violation. And, it can vary by individual company and how they have chosen to write their rating rules."