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How Driver's License "Points" Affect Your Car Insurance Rates

Tickets and traffic violations can add points to your driving record, but what does that mean exactly? Learn how points can impact your car insurance rates.

california drivers license with points

Depending on where you live, you've probably heard the word "points" used in regard to driver's licenses and car insurance.

What you may not know about insurance points is that they don't impact your ability to continue driving and your ability to maintain reasonably priced car insurance equally.

In fact, there are two kinds of points related to owning and using a car. The first kind is distributed and tracked by your state Department of Motor vehicles. That is, if you live in one of the 41 states that have some sort of points system in place. In the other nine states, officials keep an eye on your driving record and the number of traffic violations or infractions you have. They do this to see if they should suspend or revoke your license. For instance, getting a traffic ticket could raise your car insurance premiums.

Various car insurance companies manage the other kind of points.

The systems operated by insurers differ from company to company, although they have the same purpose. They track someone's driving performance and then use that information to raise their rates should any traffic infractions occur.

The systems that the DMV operates at the state level also track driving performances and traffic violations. However, in this case the points are used to determine whether a person will be penalized in a number of ways. For example, by being required to participate in a driver safety class or by having their driver’s license suspended.

Points handed out by a state's DMV usually won't directly impact your car insurance rates, because providers use their own systems to figure out how much various offenses should impact premiums. However, the two systems are still pretty closely related.

After all, getting a speeding citation or ticket for some other traffic infraction might not earn you the same number of points from the DMV and your insurer. However, it’s likely it will result in some number of them being added to both your driving and insurance record.

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Insurance Point Basics

It’s a good idea to know how both points systems treat various traffic infractions before you hit the road. Since the systems used by insurance companies aren't usually made public, it's difficult to get too specific about how a particular violation could affect your policy's rates.

Still, a good rule of thumb is that the more serious the driving offense, the more points you can expect to have on your insurance record.

For example, some insurers give one point to drivers who get a ticket for going one to 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. If they are going 11 to 20 mph over the limit, they will give them two points. If they go 40 or more miles per hour over the limit, they can get five or more points added to their record.

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Just Because You Get a Ticket, It Doesn't Mean Your Insurer Will Find Out About It

A fortunate thing about insurance points is that if you get a ticket for a minor traffic infraction, your insurer might not notice for some time. This means it probably won’t impact your insurance premiums for a while.

That's because many insurers aren't interested in paying the fee that's required to access a person's motor vehicle record (MVR). An MVR is what they would use to find out about your speeding citation or that ticket you got for not coming to a complete stop.

Instead, they hold off on checking out your record until your policy is up for renewal, you decide to increase your coverage, or you buy some type of high-performance vehicle. As long as none of those things happen, your insurance company probably will only review your MVR every 18 months to two years.

Many experts advise drivers to “sit tight” and do nothing after you get a ticket. This will help keep your car insurance premiums from being bumped up. This includes refraining from switching companies, as doing so also will prompt a look at your MVR, and likely will result in a rate increase.

DMV Point Basics

As for how DMV or state based points systems work, well, that's kind of complicated, too. Especially since a number of states put their own unique spin on how many points are handed out for various traffic infractions, and how many points you can have on your license before some sort of action is taken against them.

That said, the gist here is similar to the system used by insurance companies. In other words, the more severe the violation, the more points you're likely to be given. Rack up too many points in too short of a time and you can kiss your license goodbye—at least temporarily.

Two Basic Structures

Most of the states that have implemented points systems have structured them in one of two ways.

The first attaches a point to minor "moving violations" like speeding, illegal turns, and not making a complete stop. Two or more points are handed out when someone is caught driving far over the posted speed limit or breaking more serious traffic laws like reckless driving or driving under the influence.

Drivers who receive a certain number of points in a single year can expect to have their licenses revoked. This is usually the case if you have four or more points.

The second type of points system that is used by a lot of states gives people two points for minor violations, and three, four, or five points for more severe ones. Getting 12 points over three years in one of these states will likely result in a loss of license.

What Doesn't Get You Points?

One thing that tends to be true regardless of which kind of points system is in place in your state is that non-moving violations like parking tickets or citations linked to broken headlights or taillights usually don’t result in points being added.

In addition, more serious offenses like driving under the influence might not result in driver's license points being added to your driving record. That’s because in most states the DMV skips a step and automatically suspends driver’s licenses after DUIs.

These Points Will Stay on My Record for How Long?

In most states, points on your license will last for two or three years. There are plenty of exceptions, though, such as Nevada, where points associated with minor traffic violations only stay on a driver's record for a year. It's always good to know how points on your driver's license will affect you in the long run.

Another example of a state that strays from the norm is California, where points tied to DUIs or hit-and-run incidents stick around for a full 10 years.

Given the often subtle differences that can be encountered in this area, you'll probably want to check with your DMV if want to know exactly how points are handled in your state.

How to Reduce Your Points

Aside from waiting the required amount of time for the points on your record to disappear, there are a few other options for drivers wanting to clear their records of traffic infractions.

One of the most common involves completing a defensive driving course (also sometimes referred to as "traffic school").

Actually, in some cases, if you go through one of these classes shortly after you receive a citation, you can keep the infraction from ever appearing on your record. However, this is usually only true of fairly minor offenses.

An added bonus of going to traffic school is that it might provide you with a reduction in your car insurance premiums.

Another way to reduce the impact points can have on your license and your ability to drive without worry is to take your ticket to court and fight the accusations made against you.

Doing so can get the charges against you dropped entirely. This would mean no points whatsoever would be added to your record. However, in some cases it may just result in them being reduced in some way. This should still benefit both your license and your wallet. Fewer points are likely to mean less of a hike in rates.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I find out how many license points are on my driving record?

A: Go to your state's DMV website and look for a link to check the status of your driver's license. You'll need to have your driver's license number ready plus other identifying information like your birth date, name, and Social Security number in order to retrieve your driver's license points and status.

Q: Are points added to my license if I'm caught texting while driving?

A: There are 17 states that currently consider texting while driving a moving violation. If you live in one of these states, then you can have points added to your driving record if you’re ticketed for that offense.

Here are the states where that's possible at the moment: Alabama, Colorado, DC, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, Nevada, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Q: Will being cited for not wearing a seatbelt be added to my record, and affect my rates?

A: Do you live in New York? If so, were you cited because you had a child under the age of 16 in the car with you and that child wasn't wearing a seatbelt? In that case, points may be added to your license as a result of that particular offense.

If you live elsewhere, though, or if you were the one not wearing a seatbelt, you should be in the clear. Although you'll want to check with your state's DMV if you want to be sure one way or the other.

Q: If I’m caught driving without proof of insurance, how will my driving record be affected?

A: Where you live can affect whether an infraction results in points added to your driving record. Let’s say you live in Maryland and get pulled over and can’t provide proof of insurance. This would get you points added to your record.  Even if you don’t live in a state that uses points, your record might still be harmed. You might also face other penalties and fines as well.

Q: When it comes to my driver's license and the points associated with it, does it matter if a camera, rather than a police officer, catches me running a red light?

A: This is yet another situation that depends on where you live. In some states--like New Jersey, for example—you'll only have points tacked on to your driving record if an officer pulls you over for running a red light and gives you a ticket for it. In states like Arizona, you can get points on your record regardless.

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Q: How many points does it take to get my driver's license suspended?

A: This varies from state to state. Check your state's DMV website for more information on how its point system works, how many points are assigned to your license for certain violations, and how to check your driver's license state to find out how many points are on your driving record.

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