Road rebels: How bad behavior hurts your insurance

Linda Melone

A woman from Northern California racked up three speeding tickets in one hour -- two for driving over 100 miles per hour. In Florida, a teen motorist -- who had a learner's permit but didn't have an adult in the car with her -- was nabbed for drunken driving three times within 17 days.

Such cases not only endanger people on the road, but they can result in severe penalties for the reckless drivers, including jail time or sky-high car insurance premiums. In California, for example, a motorist convicted of reckless driving faces as much as 90 days in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.

Risks and penalties

Depending on the severity of the behavior, a reckless driver can be hit with higher auto insurance premiums or be dropped by an insurer altogether. The riskier an auto insurer thinks you are, the more risk the insurer assumes.

"Auto insurance companies underwrite and rate policies based on risk," says Michael Davis Sr., president of the Michael L. Davis Insurance Agency in Ohio.

In the case of the speeding driver in California, she may have points added to her driving record for each violation, Marshburn says, and her auto insurance rates could double -- or more. Speeding in New York costs you three to 11 points on your license, and two to five points in Pennsylvania.

"The exact effect on your insurance premiums varies among insurance companies," says Kevin Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania.

As for the allegedly drunk Florida teen, she's not a fully licensed driver, so she's most likely on her parent's insurance policy. "Her parents would be wise to have the teen turn in her license, which a judge will likely make her do anyway," says Rose Marshburn, a specialist at North Carolina insurance agency SIA Group.

In Davis' home state of Ohio, if you accumulate 12 points on your driving record within two years, you'll lose your driver's license. Something like speeding or running a red light will result in two points, while a more serious offense like drunken driving or excessive speeding will cost you four points.

Punishing drunken drivers

In Marshburn's home state of North Carolina, a drunken driving conviction lands you a 12-point punishment on your driving record. Your state's department of motor vehicles assigns points based on the type of traffic violation. The number of points per violation varies from state to state, as does the number of points resulting in a suspended license.

"If you get more than one DUI conviction, you will lose your license," she says. "How long before you can get your license back is up to the judge when you appear in court."

Furthermore, a DUI in North Carolina stays on your record for five years, compared with three years for most other traffic violations, according to Marshburn.

Although laws vary from state to state, a DUI conviction typically triggers a license suspension, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Some states, such as Georgia, will suspend a driver's license for a year for a first offense. Others, such as Massachusetts, are more lenient, with a 90-day suspension for a first DUI offense.

Many states will restore driving privileges during a suspension, but only if the driver can prove he or she has a special hardship, such as driving to and from work or driving to and from a doctor's appointment. Even if the privileges are restored, the driver may be prevented from driving anywhere but to and from work, and may have to install an ignition interlock, a device that analyzes a driver's breath and disables the ignition if the driver has been drinking.

"People need to remember that driving is a privilege and should be treated as such," Marshburn says.

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