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If you have been pulled over and received a traffic citation, or “ticket,” any time in the last five to seven years, you probably have “points” on your driving record. Points are part of a system used by many states to track the number and severity of driver’s offenses. An accumulation of points can affect your license status and can also cause your car insurance premiums to increase.
Each state has a different system for accumulating points; this means that if you live in one state, a driving offense may not affect your record at all, while in another state it can mean a rate increase.
Here is how the points system works
If you are pulled over and given a citation, you have the right to appear in court and argue against the charge; however, you may be convicted of a misdemeanor traffic offense and given a fine. Many people waive their right to appear in court and simply pay the fine before the court date. In either case, you have a misdemeanor on your record reflecting your conviction of a minor traffic violation. The court reports this violation to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, and that agency assigns “points” to your license based on the charge.
Points are given in increasing amounts based on the severity of the charge against you
Most states have some type of grading system in which the number of points reflects the speed at which you were traveling or the relative danger of your behavior. For example, in one state, speeding up to fifteen miles an hour over the speed limit might add three points to your license, while speeding over fifteen miles an hour over the limit might add five points. A DUI or other very serious infraction can add enough points to suspend your license; you can also suffer a license suspension due to an accumulation of speeding points. For example, if your state suspends licenses for anything over six points, and you acquire three three-point tickets in a two-year period, you may face license suspension. You can find out about your state’s point system by visiting your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles web site.
Can I avoid points being added to my driving record?
It is possible to avoid points in some cases by appearing in court and asking the judge to allow you to pay the fine up front in exchange for no points. While this does not happen in every jurisdiction, in many cases judges will do this for first-time offenders. If you have multiple speeding violations or other infractions, however, it is less likely a judge will offer you this service.
How long do traffic points stay on my record?
Once points are assessed on your license, they remain there forever. However, they do not usually “count” forever, because the state usually allows a lapse after a certain number of years. In other words, points will never “disappear” from your record, but they cease to matter after a certain period of time. In fact, most states have a statutory period after which they will no longer count points toward license suspension; for some states this is as little as three years, and for others it may be as long as seven.
Will my car insurance rates automatically go up after a ticket?
Car insurance companies sweep DMV records every six months when they are compiling information for insurance renewals. If you have a speeding ticket just before a renewal period, it is likely that this information will not show up on your next renewal; however, you can expect a rate increase on the following renewal notice. Like the DMV, insurance companies only “count” speeding tickets or other violations for a certain period of time, often three years. You can find out what your insurance company’s policy is on retroactively counting points by contacting your agent and asking this question.
While a speeding ticket may increase your rates slightly, it is also likely that the increase will not be formidable unless you have several speeding tickets or other violations in a short period of time. Most insurance companies want to keep your business, and they realize that we may all have a speeding ticket from time to time; some companies will not even count your first speeding ticket against you unless it is for an excessive rate of speed or is coupled with other dangerous behavior, such as DUI or reckless driving.
If you have suffered a rate increase due to accumulated points on your license, you can shop around for a better insurance rate with another company. However, most automobile insurers tend to have similar policies when it comes to the treatment of points and how they affect your premium rates, so you may not find that you will save tremendously with a new company. In that case, you simply have to wait until the points “disappear” from your license to acquire a good insurance premium rate again.