If you look in your rear view mirror and see flashing police cruiser lights behind you, take a deep breath and deal with first things first. Your insurance company won't find out about your traffic violation immediately. You may even have several months before you have to worry about a possible rate increase.
The Legal Process
Traffic violations work on the same premise as more serious criminal charges: you're innocent until proven guilty. In most cases, unless your infraction is particularly bad, you have a choice to make when you get a ticket. You can pay the fine, or you can go to court to fight the charge. Until you act on one of these options, no one but you and the municipality knows about your ticket. The legal process hasn't resolved yet, so there's no information for your insurer to access.
After you pay your ticket, or if you go to court and lose the fight to have the charge dismissed, the court will eventually notify your state's Department of Motor Vehicles of your violation. Now the ticket becomes part of your driving record, but your insurer still won’t know about it unless it takes deliberate steps to find out. Your insurance company must request your driving record from the DMV to access the information. This costs money, and insurers usually don't throw money away on a whim or a hunch. They pull drivers' records when policies are up for renewal, or when drivers make changes to their policies. They might access your DMV record if you buy a new car and change your coverage to accommodate the purchase. Otherwise, your company will probably wait for renewal time. If you receive a traffic citation in August, but your policy isn't up for renewal until the following January, you probably have at least four months before your insurer finds out – provided you don't request any changes to your policy in the meantime.
If you change to a new insurance company, it's a safe guess the insurer will learn of your ticket shortly after you apply. Insurers want to know what kind of driver they're covering, so they'll look into your driving history before issuing you a policy. The bad news is that once a ticket is on your record, it's there for eternity. Points against your driver's license fall off your record after three years, but the charge itself lingers. The good news is that insurers typically won't go back more than five years or so when reviewing your record. Time is on your side, but you might have to wait a while before your ticket no longer affects your insurance or your rates.
Some insurers also schedule regular reviews of your driving record, and these might occur at a time when you're not renewing or changing your policy. Regular reviews usually take place every two years, but may occur annually. The frequency can depend on your age and your overall driving history. Insurers tend to review younger drivers more often, and if you've got a history of infractions, your insurer will probably look at your record more frequently as well. Whether your rates actually go up after accessing your record and discovering a traffic violation depends on a multitude of factors. According to CNBC, if you're over 50, there's only a 15 percent chance that your insurance rates will go up when your ticket becomes part of your insurance record.
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images