Research

Study: Traffic tickets can spike your car insurance cost by $1,200 or more

BASED ON A NATIONAL ANALYSIS OF 73 MILLION CAR INSURANCE RATES

Traffic violations aren't just unsafe, they're unaffordable

Introduction

One in 12 American drivers is pulled over for a traffic violation every year, and about half of them are ticketed. If you happen to be one of them, you could see your car insurance costs rise from anywhere between 4.4% and 78.3% ($68-$1,212) on average.

Insurance companies take your driving habits into account when they’re deciding how much your policy will cost. They see drivers who forget to buckle their seatbelts, blow red lights, tailgate, speed, or leave the scene of an accident — and get caught —as higher risk and adjust their policies accordingly. And those drivers don’t pay that rate hike just once. Traffic tickets typically impact car insurance rates for three years.

The amount drivers pay for breaking traffic laws depends on the violation and which state they live in. A new rate study by The Zebra reveals the impact driving violations have on car insurance and household budgets, and what steps drivers can take to reduce the impact of a traffic ticket.


Key findings
  • The riskiest violations can more than double what you pay for car insurance
  • Depending on your state, the exact same violation could increase your rate by 36% or by 383%
  • High-cost penalties hit drivers twice as hard in low-income states
  • Drivers who get ticketed can take steps to reduce the financial impact

Finding 1

The riskiest violations can more than double what you pay for car insurance

The more you put yourself and others at risk, the costlier your insurance policy will be. 

For instance, drivers who get ticketed for forgetting to turn on their lights pay an average of $68 more per year for car insurance than drivers without any violations on their record. Drivers who get a ticket for speeding in a school zone will see an average insurance increase of $342 per year. 

There are six violations that cost drivers over $1,000 a year in rate hikes: hit-and-runs, racing, DUI, refusing a breathalyzer, driving with a suspended license, and reckless driving. 

Drivers can also see rate increases as the result of getting in accidents and filing claims. The good news is that it’s usually not by much. In many states, filing one medical claim won’t increase drivers’ rates at all. The most expensive it gets is for filing two comprehensive claims, and that’s only by $163, or about $14 a month.

In other words, drivers shouldn’t worry as much about filing a claim as they do about driving safely.

In the tables below, you can see the national average rate after each of 33 common violations and four types of claims. The median household income (MHI) in the U.S. in 2018 was $63,179. 

Violation/accidentAverage annual rateRate as % of MHIRate increase by $Rate increase by %
None$1,5482.5%$00.0%
Driving without lights$1,6162.6%$684.4%
Child safety restraint$1,6322.6%$835.4%
Seat belt$1,6392.6%$905.8%
Not-at-fault accidents$1,6552.6%$1076.9%
Failure to show documents$1,6992.7%$1519.7%
Driving with expired registration$1,7082.7%$15910.3%
Speeding 6-10 MPH over limit$1,8683.0%$32020.7%
Driving too slowly$1,8843.0%$33621.7%
Speeding 11-15 MPH over limit$1.8863.0%$33821.8%
Speeding in school zone$1,8903.0%$34222.1%
Cell phone violation$1,9033.0%$35522.9%
Texting while driving$1,9063.0%$35823.1%
Failure to stop at a red light$1,9103.0%$36223.3%
Failure to yield$1,9123.0%$36423.5%
Illegal turn$1,9163.0%$36823.8%
Speeding (all violations)$1,9273.1%$37924.5%
Wrong way-wrong lane$1,9313.1%$38324.7%
Improper passing$1,9333.1%$38524.8%
Speeding 16-20 MPH over limit$$1,9343.1%$38624.9%
Tailgating$1,9433.1%$39525.5%
Speeding in a 65 MPH zone$1,9763.1%$42827.6%
Passing a school bus$1,9893.1%$44128.5%
At-fault accident, less than $1000$2,0053.2%$45729.5%
Speeding 21-25 MPH over limit$2,0093.2%$46129.7%
Operating a vehicle without permission$2,0293.2%$48131.1%
Open container$2,0853.3%$53734.7%
At-fault accident, $1,000-2,000$2,2343.5%$68644.3%
At-fault accident, greater than $2,000$2,3153.7%$76749.5%
Reckless driving$2,5864.1%$1,03867.0%
Driving with a suspended license$2,5924.1%$1,04467.4%
Refusing a breathalyzer$2,6284.2%$1,08069.8%
DUI$2,6484.2%$1,10071.0%
Racing$2,6794.2%$1,13173.1%
Hit-and-run$2,7604.4%$1,21278.3%

ClaimAverage annual rateRate as % of MHIRate increase by $Rate increase by %
None$1,5482.5%$00.0%
One med-PIP claim$1,5542.5%$60.4%
One comp claim$1,6202.6%$724.6%
Two med-PIP claims$1,6212.6%$734.7%
Two comp claims$1,7112.7%$16310.5%

It’s also important to remember that when drivers have violations on their records — and in some cases, even when they’re not convicted — the driver won’t just pay for the ticket, and they won’t just have costlier insurance for a year. The true cost of traffic violations is the sum of the fine, court costs, and three years of insurance rate hikes, the period for which their insurance company will consider them higher-risk. That’s three years of budgeting around unsafe driving.


Finding 2

The same ticket could increase your rate by 35% or by 383%, depending on your state

The way insurance policies are priced depends on a variety of factors, including state law. The result is that even though hit-and-runs have the biggest average impact on insurance rates, how much drivers pay for them varies. 

In Nebraska, for instance, drivers pay 36.2%, or $496, more for their insurance after a hit-and-run, while North Carolinians pay a whopping 383.1% more, equivalent to $3,658. 

In the table below, you can see the most expensive violation(s) in each state, their average cost, and the portion of the state's median household income the rate increase represents.

StateMost expensive violationRate increase by $Rate increase by %Increase as % of state MHI
AlabamaHit-and-run$97667.3%2.0%
AlaskaHit-and-run$69554.6%0.9%
ArizonaHit-and-run$94063.9%1.6%
ArkansasHit-and-run, racing (tied)$91854.1%2.0%
CaliforniaHit-and-run$3,170169.7%4.2%
ColoradoHit-and-run$81046.1%1.1%
ConnecticutHit-and-run, racing (tied)$1,35880.1%1.8%
DelawareHit-and-run, racing (tied)$1,16164.4%1.8%
District of ColumbiaHit-and-run$1,07477.7%1.3%
FloridaHit-and-run$1,19851.9%2.2%
GeorgiaHit-and-run$1,41688.0%2.4%
HawaiiHit-and-run$2,265216.7%2.8%
IdahoHit-and-run, driving with a suspended license, reckless driving (tied)$59851.4%1.1%
IllinoisAt-fault accident over $1000$75557.9%1.2%
IndianaHit-and-run, driving with a suspended license (tied)$57349.2%1.0%
IowaHit-and-run, racing (tied)$68361.7%1.1%
KansasHit-and-run$75246.4%1.3%
KentuckyHit-and-run$1,42864.7%2.8%
LouisianaAt-fault accident greater than $1000$1,15948.7%2.4%
MaineHit-and-run, racing (tied)$51855.4%0.9%
MarylandHit-and-run$84159.4%1.0%
MassachusettsDriving with a suspended license$1,28087.5%1.6%
MichiganHit-and-run, reckless driving (tied)$6,273202.6%11.1%
MinnesotaHit-and-run$87866.6%1.2%
MississippiHit-and-run$1,13471.5%2.5%
MissouriAt-fault accident, greater than $1000$80046.1%1.5%
MontanaHit-and-run$951$62.0%1.7%
NebraskaReckless driving$53839.3%0.9%
NevadaAt-fault accident, greater than $1,000$1,12356.9%1.9%
New HampshireRacing$1,038100.1%1.4%
New JerseyDriving with a suspended license$1,20575.7%1.5%
New MexicoHit-and-run$90968.2%1.9%
New YorkHit-and-run$1,07863.2%1.6%
North CarolinaHit-and-run, racing (tied)$3,658383.1%6.8%
North DakotaHit-and-run, racing, driving with a suspended license (tied)$75554.8%1.2%
OhioHit-and-run, racing (tied)$66063.1%1.2%
OklahomaHit-and-run$1,13963.7%2.2%
OregonHit-and-run$73150.0%1.2%
PennsylvaniaAt-fault accident, greater than $2,000$82756.1%1.4%
Rhode IslandHit-and-run, racing (tied)$2,226105.9%3.5%
South CarolinaHit-and-run$63845.2%1.2%
South DakotaHit-and-run$75844.4%1.3%
TennesseeRacing$96961.8%1.9%
TexasHit-and-run, DUI (tied)$76253.9%1.3%
UtahDriving with a suspended license$54641.8%0.8%
VermontHit-and-run$93280.7%1.5%
VirginiaHit-and-run$57156.8%0.8%
WashingtonHit-and-run$75255.0%1.0%
West VirginiaAt-fault accident, greater than $1,000$76049.5%1.7%
WisconsinDriving with a suspended license$60851.5%1.0%
WyomingHit-and-run$1,02771.4%1.7%

However, rate increases alone don’t tell the whole story. The impact of a traffic ticket also depends on what your budget looks like in the first place.


Finding 3

High-cost penalties hit drivers twice as hard in low-income states

Drivers who live in states with high-cost insurance penalties and low average incomes pay an especially steep price for traffic violations. 

In Louisiana, for instance, incomes are 24.2% lower than the national average, but car insurance costs are 53.6% higher than the national average — $2,379 in the Bayou State versus $1,548 nationally — for drivers who don’t have violations. So even before Louisianans get a ticket, their car insurance takes up twice as much of their budget as the average American’s. 

But Louisiana is also especially punitive when it comes to violations. Going 25 MPH over the speed limit costs twice as much of a Louisiana budget as it does for the average American, and driving without lights costs four times as much.

Even on the less extreme end of unaffordability, the differences between states can be stark. The same DUI would have almost three times the impact on a Louisiana driver’s budget than it would for a Maryland driver’s, with insurance taking up 7.3% versus 2.5% of income.

Nationally, the most unaffordable violation is a hit-and-run, which would raise the average American’s insurance rate by 2% of their income. In five states — Utah, Virginia, Nebraska, Maine, and Alaska — drivers are impacted even less, paying less than 1% of their income in rate increases after committing the riskiest violations.


Finding 4

If you have a violation on your record, you can be proactive about lowering your rate and staying safe

If you’ve already been stopped or ticketed by police, the best thing you can do is to not offend again. Of course, that might be easier said than done. A 2018 report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that Black and Hispanic drivers are likelier than their white counterparts to be pulled over and ticketed, even when their driving behaviors are the same. Whether a driver is stopped or ticketed isn’t their own choice — it’s up to the officer. 

With that in mind, there are a few routes you can take to bring down the cost of your insurance in both the short term and the long term if you already have a violation on your record:

  • Ask your insurance company about discounts. You could be eligible for a number of discounts for car features, school or employer affiliations, policy add-ons, customer loyalty, and more. Your insurance company should be able to tell you what you qualify for.
  • Shop around. Insurance companies compete for customers. If your current policy is too expensive for you to afford, another company might be able to get you a lower rate. You could also consider pay-by-mile insurance policies that could save you some money if you don’t drive much, anyway.

  • Take a defensive driving course. If you know that you take too many risks while you’re driving, a defensive driving course could be a great option to help you learn better driving behaviors in the long run. The average cost among prominent online defensive driving courses is $38 compared to, for instance, an average total of $1,185 in insurance penalties over three years after a future tailgating ticket.
  • Do what you can to drive safely. Traffic tickets aren’t “just tickets.” Well beyond the long-term cost of violations, unsafe driving behaviors really do put you and others at risk — that’s why insurance companies penalize them.


Methodology

Between September and December 2019, The Zebra conducted a comprehensive auto insurance pricing analysis using its proprietary quote engine, comprising data from insurance rating platforms and public rate filings. The Zebra examined more than 73 million rates to explore pricing trends across 34,000 U.S. ZIP codes and Washington, D.C. 

Analysis used a consistent base profile for the insured driver: a 30-year-old single male driving a 2015 Honda Accord EX with a good driving history and coverage limits of $50,000 bodily injury liability per person/$100,000 bodily injury liability per accident/$50,000 property damage liability per accident, with a $500 deductible for comprehensive and collision. 

Median household income was determined by the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report on household income (2018).

Claims about race and policing were derived from "Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2015," a 2018 publication of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Finally, some rate data may vary slightly throughout report based on rounding.

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