The Point System

Driving record affects insurance rates

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Each state has its own Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and most use a “point” system to track your individual driving record. Whether a parking ticket, moving violation, at-fault accident or DUI charge, each infraction comes at a price as each has a certain value associated with it. The fewer of these points on your license (cannot be less than zero), the better shape your driving record is in.

The points system is designed to help identify dangerous drivers; and, if found convicted of an infraction or infractions, the DMV applies the appropriate number of points to your driving record. In general, infractions with a greater number of points associated with them are more severe than those with a small number of points. In this case, less is always more.

Some common infractions and their point values can be seen here (abbreviated list):

  • Violation of restriction on driver's license (i.e. not wearing glasses) = 2 points
  • Failure to obey policeman = 2 points
  • Failure to stop for a red light =3 points
  • Improper passing = 3 to 4 points
  • Following too closely = 3 points
  • Failure to yield to oncoming driver when making left turn = 3 points
  • Failure to obey stop sign = 3 points
  • Failure to obey at yield sign = 3 points
  • Improper turn (i.e. illegal U-turn) = 3 points
  • Failure to stop for school bus when red lights flashing and stop arm extended = 5 points and 60-day license suspension
  • Driving too fast for conditions = 2 points
  • Failure to yield to pedestrian in cross walk = 2 points
  • Careless driving = 3 points
  • Leaving the scene of an accident (property damage only) = 4 points

Speeding violations (Actual point values may vary by state):

  • 1 to 10 mph over = 2 points
  • 11 to 15 mph over = 3 points
  • 16 t0 25 mph over = 4 points
  • 26 to 30 mph over = 5 points
  • 31mph or over = 5 points
  • Exceeding school zone speed limit = 3 points

The DMV won't suspend or revoke a license on account of one or two minor violations, however, several offenses will alert them to possible action. In most states, accumulating 11 points in an 18-month period is usually enough to warrant a 31 day license suspension. The number of times a license has been suspended previously will impact the length of additional suspensions based on points accumulation. Points are removed from a driver's record every year as long as no other moving violations or suspensions took place.

Besides the points system, there are other ways to have your license suspended, including DUI and/or DWI charges, refusing to submit to a blood alcohol level test, failing to insure a vehicle, and things like unpaid fines or other DMV fees – even missing child support payments. To learn more about the points system and license suspensions, visit the DMV.org website and click on your state.

It's hard enough being on the DMV's bad side. But, did you know that most insurers have their own separate point systems to manipulate your premiums based on your driving record? And, there's a good chance your insurer can access your driving record whenever it wants. DMV points are taken seriously; but, many insurance companies place as much weight on their own point systems when the time comes to jack your rates or not. As unfortunate as it sounds, checks like this are often expensive to run frequently. Of course, there are several occasions when it's pretty much guaranteed your driving record will be under scrutiny. Any negative information your insurer finds could potentially mean higher rates for you:

  • Whenever applying for auto insurance coverage for the very first time.
  • Whenever requesting a policy change (for example, more coverage and higher deductible).
  • Whenever more vehicles are added to your policy.
  • Whenever the insured vehicle changes (buying a new car, trade-ins, etc.).
  • Whenever a new operator is added to a policy.
  • Every year when your policy is up for renewal.

It only takes one speeding ticket to send your rates upward. In extreme cases, policies are canceled completely if the insurer decides you're at a higher risk of being involved in an automobile accident. If this happens, finding another insurer willing to cover your potentially higher-risk ass could be very challenging. Compounding the problem is that many states forbid out-of-state insurance policies. Plus, it's illegal to drive without insurance in every state. To combat this nationwide epidemic of uninsured drivers, those who get caught are dealt very harsh penalties.

Since your record is used to determine whether or not you can be insured at all by comparing it to certain standards that evaluate your potential risk, the latter goes hand-in-hand with your actual rates. To a degree, every insurance company evaluates its applicants differently, meaning the actual number of points on your driving record may not have as great an impact with one insurer versus another.

Most insurance companies, however, do rely on the Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP), a program issued by the Insurance Services Office (ISO) that encourages “...safe driving by rewarding low-risk drivers and making sure high-risk drivers pay their fair share of insurance costs.”

The SDIP keeps its own database of automobile accidents and moving violations to which point values are individually attached. A computer program rates each incident from zero to four based on its severity and automatically applies surcharges (points) to either increase or decrease rates based on the policyholder's driving record, plus all of those vehicle operators listed on the policy.

Through initiatives like New York state's Point & Insurance Reduction Program (PIRP), some states seem to be willing to forgive and forget, so to speak, if a driver passes an approved driver training and/or advanced driving course. Upon successful completion of a PIRP-certified course, for example, the N.Y. DMV “...will not count up to four points on your driving record toward license revocation or suspension.” Essentially, this means you could exceed your points limit without garnering an immediate suspension. It's not a glitch in the system though, and shouldn't be treated as one.

The best way to avoid paying lots more for insurance later is to mind your driving record now by being a safer, more responsible driver. You should consider some additional driver's training too. It will help you become a better driver, which is what pays off in the long run.

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