Driving

What is a clean driving record? 6 tips for cleaning yours up

A clean driving record is one that has no traffic violations, accidents or other infractions during a specified time frame, which varies by state.

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As inflation continues to impact budgets, you may be looking to save a few pennies wherever you can. One strategy might include shopping around for new car insurance rates and another might be to clean up your driving record to see how much your rate will go down.

With more than 18 million quotes under our belt since 2012, The Zebra knows the role a clean driving record can play in getting you the best car insurance rates. In this article, we’ve gathered everything you need to know, from what types of infractions end up on your driving record to how to check your record and how to clean it up so you can get the best rate. Read our guide below or skip ahead to the infographic.

What is a clean driving record?

A clean driving record refers to a motor vehicle record (MVR) without any violations, accidents or other infractions during a specified period. Your MVR is maintained by your state, and other entities like your insurance company and potential employers can access it and make decisions based on what’s on your record.

Generally, a driving record covers anywhere from three to seven years, depending on your state. Some infractions, like a speeding ticket, may fall off your record after three years, while more serious offenses, like reckless driving or a DUI, may remain on your record longer or even permanently. In most states, only official tickets are added to your MVR, so if you are pulled over for speeding and only given a warning, it won’t be on your record.

Having a clean driving record is more than just a point of pride; it saves you money. Insurance companies use your driving record as one of the biggest factors when determining your car insurance rates. A clean driving record indicates someone is a low-risk investment to insure, leading to lower rates, while someone with a DUI or a series of speeding tickets may be more expensive to insure. Some insurance companies may even reward clients with a clean driving record with a good driver discount on top of lower rates.

A clean driving record can affect other aspects of your life too. If you are applying for a job requiring driving as part of your responsibilities, your potential employer can require a clean driving record. Even if driving isn’t a part of your job requirement, a potential employer may check your driving record to determine whether you would be a responsible employee.

If your driving record isn’t squeaky clean, don’t panic. What counts as a clean driving record depends on the insurance company or the employer. One minor traffic ticket may not necessarily raise your insurance rate or keep you from employment.

What types of driving infractions go on a driving record?

Some states may list individual driving infractions on your record, while others may assign points based on the type of violation. In this case, once you reach a certain number of points within a specific time frame, the state may suspend your license.

Only driving infractions that result in criminal charges end up on your driving record. For example, speeding tickets are handled through the court system, so they would go on your record, but a parking ticket may not be a criminal offense in your state. In that case, a parking ticket wouldn’t show up on your driving record.

No matter your state, you can expect the following driving infractions to appear on your driving record.

 Types of driving violations

 

Moving violation

A moving violation occurs whenever the driver violates a traffic law in a moving vehicle. The most common moving violation is a speeding ticket, but actions like running a red light, failing to use a turn signal or violating seat belt laws are also moving violations. 

One of the more common moving violations today is distracted driving, which refers to any time a driver is cited for focusing on an activity other than driving. The most common form of distracted driving is texting and driving, but eating, checking your email and putting on your makeup also count. Research shows that insurance companies are cracking down on distracted driving, which significantly impacts your insurance premiums — up to 23% in some states.

Mechanical violation

A mechanical violation, also called a non-moving violation, refers to whenever a driver operates a vehicle with faulty or missing equipment. These violations include driving with a broken taillight, brakes needing repair, missing or improperly functioning windshield wipers and so on.

Major violation

Major violations are more serious driving offenses, like driving under the influence, reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident that you caused. They may involve hefty fines or jail time, and almost always stay on your record longer than moving or mechanical violations. Some states may even suspend your license after a major violation.

Driving without a valid license

Driving without a valid license or with a suspended license is illegal in every state, even if you left it at home while running to the store. Driving with a suspended license, or a license that is temporarily invalid, can lead to other penalties, such as fines or revocation of the license altogether, which can last for the rest of the driver’s life.

Do you have a clean driving record?

Just like a credit score, it’s wise to check your driving record frequently to ensure it’s accurate. You should aim to do it at least once a year and after any infraction on your record expires to ensure it disappears.

While how to check your driving record may vary by state, generally, you’ll need to do some combination of the following:

  1. Request your motor vehicle record (MVR) from your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) online, via mail or in person.
  2. Share your valid driver’s license.
  3. Pay a small fee.

Note that third-party companies will offer to check your MVR for you, but these companies aren't always reliable and may not be worth the added expense since it is so easy to do yourself.

How to clean up your driving record

The best way to maintain a clean driving record is to avoid tickets and other infractions in the first place, as removing them will always take time or may cost money.

The first step to removing violations from your driving record is to check your state’s DMV website, since each state has a different process. Not all infractions can be removed from your driving record, but most minor offenses can be removed in one of the following ways.

 How to clean up your driving record

 

1. Take a defensive driving course

Many states will remove points or minor infractions from your driving record if you complete a defensive driving course. You’ll need to submit proof that you completed the program to your state's DMV before it will remove the points or infractions from your MVR.

2. Dispute errors on your driving record

If you notice an error, like an accident you weren’t involved in or a violation that should have automatically disappeared after a certain time, you can file a discrepancy with the DMV to have the mistake corrected. You can find your state’s discrepancy process on their DMV website. Be aware that it may take some time to navigate the process. 

3. Contest your ticket

The vast majority of people issued a traffic ticket won’t contest it in court, but if there are extenuating circumstances behind the ticket (you were speeding to get to the hospital during an emergency) or if the ticket is questionable (a traffic camera caught you running a red light, but you ran it to avoid being rear-ended by someone tailgating you), you have valid grounds to contest the ticket in front of a judge. 

You should also contest your ticket if you are cited for driving without your license when you leave it at home. Simply show your license and the fact that it was valid at the time of your ticket to have your ticket removed from your record.

In most cases, contesting the ticket can result in a reduced or dismissed ticket, especially if the police officer who wrote the ticket does not appear in court.

4. Fix minor issues immediately

“Fix-it tickets” refer to many mechanical violations, like a broken taillight. If you show the DMV that you fixed the issue, they will likely remove it from your record. You have to resolve the problem anyway to drive safely, so you might as well take the extra step to prove you did it and get the ticket removed as soon as you can.

5. Expunge your record

Expunging a driving record varies by state, so be sure to check your state’s DMV before you start pursuing this option. In states that offer it, you can delete certain infractions from your MVR. In California, for example, an infraction will be automatically expunged after three years if you have no other violations during that time and you've never been convicted of a DUI. If you don’t qualify for an automatic expungement, you can file for a manual expungement, at which point a panel will examine the infraction for removal.

6. Seek a deferment

If your state offers a deferment option, you may be able to defer certain types of violations before they make it on your record. This option is more proactive than expungement, since an infraction must already be on your record in order to be expunged. The process will require you to pay a small fee and go an entire year without another driving violation. If you meet those terms, the violation will not be added to your driving record at the end of the deferment period.

How does a driving record impact insurance?

Any violation, regardless of its severity, can potentially increase your car insurance premium. A recent study from The Zebra shows that a single driving violation can increase your premium anywhere from 2% to 70%, depending on the type of violation. 

If your driving record includes violations that involve filing an insurance claim like an at-fault car accident, an insurance company will also raise your rate.

The table below shows the top 10 most expensive traffic violations based on The Zebra’s Traffic Violations Report.

 

10 Most Expensive Traffic Violations

Violation Average Rate Increase (Per Year)

Hit and run

$1,077

Racing

$1,001

DUI

$946

Refusing a breathalyzer

$927
Reckless driving $906
Driving with a suspended license $866
At-fault accident greater than $2,000 $665
At-fault accident $1,000-$2,000 $627
Open container $530
Opening a vehicle without permission $409

 

 How much is your driving costing you

Frequently asked questions

Below are FAQs about the impact of common driving violations. If you have a more specific question, ask our licensed insurance agents.

How long do points stay on your driving record? Chevron down icon

Typically points will remain on your driving record anywhere from two to 10 years, depending on your state and the type of violation.

How long does reckless driving stay on your record? Chevron down icon

A reckless driving conviction will be on your record for three to six years, and since it is a serious offense in most states, you may not be able to remove it through expungement or other means.

How long does a DUI stay on your driving record? Chevron down icon

In most states, you can expect your DUI to remain on your record for five to 10 years, although some states keep DUIs on record for life.

How long do speeding tickets stay on your driving record? Chevron down icon

Speeding tickets will stay on your driving record for three to five years in most states, although many states may allow you to remove them from your record through a defensive driving course or the process of expungement.

How long does impaired driving stay on your record? Chevron down icon

Impaired driving, the act of driving under the influence of drugs (legally prescribed or illegal) or alcohol, will stay on your driving record for at least five years, with most states keeping it on record for 10 years. However, some states require an impaired driving violation to remain on your record for the rest of your life.

Now that you know what a clean driving record is, if you aren’t happy with your current car insurance premiums, request your MVR from your state's DMV and start working on cleaning up your record to lower your insurance rates. Then use our car insurance calculator to estimate new rates and get a quote today!

 What your driving record says about you infographic
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Susan MeyerSenior Editorial Manager

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebra a year. She currently specializes in producing research-focused content for The Zebra's Resource Center on topics related to auto and home insurance, personal finance and smarter living in the 21st century.

Susan's work has been cited by the Insurance Information Institute, State Farm, BuzzfeedCBS, Yahoo, Entrepreneur and Business Insider.