If you look in your rear view mirror and see the flashing lights of a police cruiser behind you, take a deep breath and handle the situation at hand. Although your thoughts may immediately turn to the ding on your driving record and the hit your insurance will take, your insurance company won't find out about your traffic violation right away. You may even have several months before you have to worry about a possible rate increase.
It could take up to several months before a ticket you have received is recognized by your auto insurance company.
The Legal Process
Traffic violations work on the same premise as more serious criminal charges, that being the idea that you are innocent until proven guilty. 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 been resolved yet, so there's no information for your insurer to access.
Citations and Policy Renewals
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.
Obtaining a New Policy
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.
Review of Driving Record
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. If you are 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.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally for over 30 years. She is also a paralegal, specializing in areas of personal finance, bankruptcy and estate law. She writes as the tax expert for The Balance.