That texting-while-driving ticket can lead to an insurance penalty

Many insurers charge the penalty, or surcharge in insurance lingo, for three years after the violation, meaning you’ll still be paying the price long after the check for your ticket has cleared. Metro News Service photo

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Many insurers charge the penalty, or surcharge in insurance lingo, for three years after the violation, meaning you’ll still be paying the price long after the check for your ticket has cleared. Metro News Service photo

Getting a speeding ticket can cost you much more in insurance penalties than the initial fine, and the financial fallout can last years, a new analysis finds.

In addition to the immediate cost of the ticket, many automobile violations can lead to double-digit percentage increases in car insurance premiums, according to a report from the Zebra, an insurance comparison website.

Many insurers charge the penalty, or surcharge in insurance lingo, for three years after the violation, meaning you’ll still be paying the price long after the check for your ticket has cleared.

That multiplier effect is something drivers should bear in mind as they hit the road for the Fourth of July holiday. The police increase enforcement on roads and highways during holiday periods, and the auto group AAA forecasts that a record 49 million people, buoyed by a strong economy and low gas prices, will be driving over the July Fourth holiday.

“Drive safely, and be informed,” said Alyssa Connolly, the Zebra’s director of market insights.

A single ticket for speeding, for instance, costs about $150 on average, but adds an average of $341 to your annual premium, the Zebra found. Multiplied over three years, the total impact on your rate can top $1,000. Failing to stop at a red light adds, on average, $333 a year; a drunken-driving citation adds $1,086 a year.

The surcharges are added to rates that may already be quite hefty. Auto premiums overall have been rising in recent years, and, while they vary by state, the average annual auto premium is $1,470, the Zebra found.

The insurance industry attributes the rising costs to multiple factors, including more accidents from distracted drivers talking or texting on mobile phones. Nine percent of fatal crashes in 2017 were “distraction-affected” crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A strong economy also means more drivers are on the road and they’re driving more miles, increasing the chance of accidents, said Bob Passmore, car insurance expert with the American Property Casualty Insurance Association, an industry group.

Cars these days are also more expensive to repair after accidents because of high-tech features, including new safety systems like lane-change sensors and automatic braking, which are costly to fix or replace.

“These features work,” Connolly said. “But they are not reducing car insurance rates because they are expensive to repair.” And many advanced safety systems are available only on newer cars and aren’t always standard, so their full impact hasn’t yet been seen.

The average surcharge for using a cellphone or texting while driving has been rising and is now nearly $300, Connolly said.

The Zebra’s analysis, conducted from September to December 2018, is based on more than 60 million quotes from insurers as well as public rate information filed with insurance regulators by the top 10 auto insurers in each state. The analysis used a base profile of a 30-year-old single man with a good driving history, driving a 2014 Honda Accord EX, and changed the profile to include driving violations to obtain the change in premiums.

Here are some questions and answers about car insurance rates:

Q: Can factors besides my driving record affect my car insurance rates?

A: Yes. In many states, insurers consider criteria like your education, gender, marital status and credit score to help set your premium, although more states have begun to restrict the use of such “nondriving” factors. Michigan, for instance, passed an insurance reform law in May that, among other things, bans the use of credit scores. New York last year barred consideration of occupation and education. And California this year became one of a growing number of states that exclude the use of a driver’s gender in setting premiums.

Efforts are also afoot in Congress to propose federal legislation barring the use of nondriving factors to set auto rates. Historically, auto insurance has been regulated by the states, rather than by the federal government. The proposals may not pass this year, but they may at least result in hearings, which could help shed light on the practice, said J. Robert Hunter, insurance expert with the Consumer Federation of America.

Q: How can I keep my auto premiums as low as possible?

A: One way to lower your premium is to raise your deductible, or the amount that you pay out of pocket when you make a claim. Increasing your deductible to $1,000 from $500 can lower your premium by 11 percent, the Zebra found.

If you have an older, high-mileage car, you could consider dropping insurance components that are usually optional. That includes collision coverage, which pays for damage to your car in an accident, or comprehensive coverage, which pays for other types of damage to your car, including from hail or flooding, or hitting a deer. Just keep in mind you’ll have to pay for the repairs yourself.

Taking steps to maintain your credit file, such as by keeping card balances low and paying them on time, may also help, because many insurers do consider credit-based scores when setting insurance rates.

It’s also important not to have any gaps in your insurance coverage, Connolly said. A lapse of even a day will affect your risk profile by suggesting you have not had continuous coverage, and will raise your rate.

If you don’t drive much, traditional insurers and some startups now offer “usage-based” insurance, which sets rates based on the number of miles driven and your driving habits. Insurers typically monitor your driving electronically using a device installed in the car.

To see if your driving habits may earn you lower rates with this new option, try the online DriveCheck tool offered by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Q: Is it worth shopping around for insurance quotes after I get a ticket?

A: Yes. Different insurers may assign different penalties to the same type of ticket, so it's worth seeing what the market will offer. Hunter recommends getting quotes from several insurers at least every year or two, whether or not you have a ticket. You may find better rates that can save you money, he said, or just obtaining a lower quote may prompt your current insurer to lower its rate.

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