If you get a ticket, you will also likely get a surcharge on your car insurance premium upon renewal.
How much that surcharge costs, how long you will be required to pay it and whether the surcharge decreases over time depends on your insurance company's policies and your state's laws.
Bryan Cook, a senior assistant vice president with Amica Mutual Insurance Co. in Lincoln, Rhode Island, says that while the amount of a surcharge varies according to the severity of the offense, how long an infraction stays on your driving record does not impact the length of time you must pay a surcharge. (See: "Ticket? Uh-oh! Auto insurance increases for common driving violations.")
While insurance companies must comply with state laws governing car insurance rates, he says Amica typically adds a surcharge for a ticket for three years after the ticket was issued.
Charlie Edington, assistant vice president and product manager for Grange Insurance Personal Lines in Columbus, Ohio, also says three years is the typical length of the surcharge unless state laws dictate some other time period.
John Foster, vice president of the Personal Lines Division of Penn National Insurance in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, says, "The start of that three-year period may be based upon the date of occurrence or conviction and is often determined by state law. It is also worth noting that some state laws, for example Pennsylvania, do not permit surcharges for minor violations and only allow them for major traffic offenses. In addition, not all insurance companies elect to surcharge renewal customers for tickets."
Foster says the surcharge percentage generally stays the same every year and won't increase or compound. Some companies, including Penn National, reduce the surcharge percentage each year as the violation ages.
Edington says that state regulations can dictate whether or not the surcharge percentage changes over time. At Amica, Cook says most surcharges decline in the second and third years after an offense, provided the driver maintains a clean driving record.
While state laws may govern whether a surcharge can be applied and how long it might last, every insurance company decides for itself what the dollar value of that violation on your premium might be.
From carrier to carrier, the differences can be huge. Some companies might not choose to penalize your for a small offense, even if state law allows it.
For example, according to data gathered by Quadrant Information Services for Insurance.com, here's what happens after a single speeding ticket for 11+ mph over the limit with six major carriers for 40-year-old man buying full coverage on a new Honda Accord in Kalispell, Montana:
And you certainly don't want a second ticket. The smallest increase after a second violation was 10.7 percent -- and the largest 64.4 percent.
Stack up a few tickets and you run the risk needing high-risk auto insurance.
If you decide to shop for a new auto insurance policy during the period of the surcharge, your new car insurance company will apply a surcharge ton your premiums until the surcharge period ends, in accordance with state regulations.
"The surcharge period is generally established by state laws, so, for example, if you had a reckless driving ticket from an accident in December 2008, typically, your surcharge would not fall off until January 2012," says Cook. "You new insurance company couldn't extend the surcharge period because they are usually regulated by state laws."
Foster says that the surcharge period will be based on when the violation occurred, so that if you switch insurance companies two years after a ticket was issued, your new company can only apply a surcharge for one year, then you will return to regular auto insurance premiums. However, depending on the severity of your driving infraction, you may have trouble acquiring new car insurance.
"While surcharges are generally limited to only a three-year period, some carriers may evaluate tickets on your driving record beyond three years -- especially major convictions -- when determining new applicant eligibility or acceptance," says Foster. "For instance, while companies may not surcharge a person for a ticket four years ago, they may decline or refuse to accept a new applicant for that traffic ticket."
There are ways to save on car insurance, despite a less-than-perfect driving record.