How motor vehicle records affect your car insurance

Rachel Hartman

If you live in Oregon, the cost to obtain a driving record – and car insurance – may be on the rise. And for drivers in the 49 other states, knowing the costs involved with driving records, as well as how they relate to insurance rates, is key to understanding how much you pay for car insurance.

After the state's 2011 legislative session, the Oregon Motor Vehicles Division proposed bumping up the fee to obtain a motor vehicle record from $2 each to $9.68 each, with the change taking effect in the summer of 2012. The state’s Department of Justice advised the two departments involved – the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Administrative Services – that that they didn't need legislative approval to pursue the fee hike.

Other sources disagree with the setup. According to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, a trade group, the move violates sections of the state’s Constitution that indicate driving records fees are to be dedicated to roads, such as construction and maintenance projects. Plans are in place to put revenue from the higher fee toward managing Oregon state government’s website.

In response to the proposed increase, the Oregon Trucking Association, together with Associated General Contractors of Oregon, AAA of Oregon and others involved in the trucking, construction and insurance industries, sued the Oregon Department of Transportation and Oregon Department of Administrative Services to block the fee. The property and casualty insurers group as well as another trade organization, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, joined the lawsuit.

The immediate impact of the fee hike "will be borne by insurance agents and producers,” says Kenton Brine, assistant vice president at the property and casualty organization. Insurance agents and companies regularly use driving records to determine insurance eligibility and set premiums. “Like all other things, it increases the cost of insurance for consumers down the road,” Brine says.

Representatives of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the Oregon Department of Administrative Services declined to comment on the fee.

Motor vehicle records by state

A motor vehicle record reflects your driving history, as reported by your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV). This record may include driver’s license information, point history, traffic violations and traffic convictions. Some states also include your name, birthdate, height and weight.

Many states, including Oregon, keep track of your driving record for three years. Some departments, however, may report five years or more of your driving history.

Fees for driving records vary depending on where you live and what type of record you order.

In Florida, it costs $8 to obtain a three-year driving history record, and $10 for one that goes back seven years. Illinois residents can expect to pay $12 to receive a certified summary of a driving record. In California, residents can pay $2 to obtain a record online, or $5 for an official document via mail or from a DMV office.

In Texas, it costs just $4 for a record that lists date of birth, license status and latest address; for one listing date of birth, license status, crashes, violations and suspensions, the price is $22. For New York residents, a driving record costs $7 if ordered online; $15 if requested by phone; and $10 if ordered by mail or at a DMV office.

Driving records and insurance rates

According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average yearly auto insurance premium is about $850. The exact figure you’ll pay, however, depends on a host of factors, including your driving record.

Here are five ways your driving record can affect your car insurance rates.

1. Better means lower.

If you have a clean driving record – meaning no accidents or serious traffic violations – you’ll pay less than if you've had accidents or serious traffic violations. Customers enrolled in State Farm’s Drive Safe and Save program can receive a discount of up to 25 percent for staying accident-free. Allstate provides safe drivers with savings as high as 45 percent, while Nationwide provides a discount of up to 10 percent for motorists with at least five years of driving experience who haven't been involved in an at-fault accident.

One warning: Part of your car insurance premium may be based on the number of years you've been behind the wheel. If you’re a new driver, and thus have no driving history, you may pay more for insurance than older drivers with a longer, clean driving record do.

2. Accidents can have an impact.

Generally, crashes affect your insurance rates. The exact amount of the change varies, depending on whether the crash was your fault. “Although both (types of) accidents can be a basis for insurance companies to increase premiums, at-fault accidents tend to cause sharper increases in insurance rates,” says Judah Fuld, an attorney at the Law Office of Elliot H. Fuld who handles traffic and personal injury cases in New York and New Jersey.

3. Traffic violations can increase rates.

Certain citations, ranging from speeding to driving recklessly, can cause points to be added to your driving record. For serious offenses, such as DWI, driving privileges may be suspended. Typically, the more points you have, the more you’ll pay for insurance.

The point system for your driving record varies from state to state.

If you had a clear record before getting a speeding ticket, your insurance company may not raise your rates, says John Rhude, a partner at the Law Office of Corse & Rhude in Arizona.

On the other hand, if you get pulled over for DWI, expect your rates to double or even triple. “If you were paying $800 a year, it may become $2,000 after drunk driving,” Rhude says.

4. Changes may not be permanent.

Many states automatically remove points from a driving record after a certain period of time, such as three years. You also may be able to hire an attorney to help dismiss a ticket, and thereby remove any points attached to the ticket. The attorney also might help reduce the charge or sentence, which would lead to fewer or even no points on your record.

5. Courses can reduce points.

If you’ve racked up points on your driving record, some states will let you take a defensive driving course. Once you've completed the course, a number of points will be deducted from your driving record. Removing those points may move you out of a high-risk category for insurance. “Once the points on a driving record are reduced, insurance rates should lower immediately,” Fuld says.

Free Insurance Quotes