Traffic courts and prosecutors know that many traffic defendants will happily plead guilty and pay the fine as long as no points appear on their driving record. The court exacts its pound of flesh and the driver keeps a clean record. Everybody wins, right? Not always.
A former school teacher from Georgia emailed us with the following story. She was ticketed for illegally passing a school bus while traveling in the opposite direction on a divided highway. She thought she had a good case, hired an attorney and went to court. She even took a safe driving course hoping to improve her outcome. The court agreed to drop the six-point penalty (same as a DUI) if she would plead guilty and pay the fine. She did so gladly and went on her way, thinking the ordeal was over.
Shortly thereafter, she received a letter from her insurance company saying it had canceled her coverage, even though her DMV record was clean. The letter explained that Lexis/Nexis (the information services company) had assigned her with “points” anyway, which formed the basis for the cancelation. She eventually got coverage from another carrier but at a much higher rate.
(Lexis/Nexis is a private firm that aggregates data for the legal, risk management, law enforcement and corporate markets. NMA members may be familiar with a similar company, ChoicePoint, which provided auto insurers with detailed motor vehicle record data. ChoicePoint was acquired by Reed Elsevier, the parent company of Lexis/Nexis in 2008.)
So, even though our Georgia driver’s official record remains pristine, her driving history used for insurance underwriting now includes a big, black mark, thanks to a report from a for-profit company.
Unfortunately, this scenario may not be that uncommon. Few states have rules against raising insurance rates based on zero-point violations (although a few prohibit rate increases for minor speeding tickets). A member in Michigan confirmed that insurance companies in his state use their own points system for moving violations, even when the state doesn’t assign any. The result? Higher rates for drivers with clean records. The key, he said, is to plead down to a non-moving violation, which won’t have any impact on insurance rates.
Insurance laws and regulations vary from state to state, and what applies in Michigan or Georgia may not apply where you live. If you receive a ticket and aren’t sure about the potential outcomes of your various responses, consider these steps:
- Check the language in your insurance policy; it may spell out your carrier’s underwriting standards.
- Call your insurance provider if you still have questions about the potential impact of various pleas.
- Get a copy of your DMV driving record as well as one from your insurance company. Compare them looking for discrepancies and errors.
- If you can’t win a dismissal, try to plead down to a non-moving violation.
On a similar note, let’s look at the impact of a red-light camera ticket on your insurance rates. Camera supporters would have you believe the answer is none. The truth is more complicated.
In states like California and Arizona where red-light camera citations carry points, there will be insurance consequences. In other states, it’s not that straightforward. Take a look at this chart from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which lays out the penalties by state.
In states like Delaware, Georgia and Maryland, the chart notes that red-light camera tickets are “not used by insurers.” This implies that they are used by insurers in other states. Look at Rhode Island, for example, where it states that red-light camera tickets are “not used by insurers until after adjudication.”
One final example. For Louisiana the GHSA chart says that camera convictions are “not reported on driving record.” But this doesn’t protect the driver from higher insurance premiums, as this analysis demonstrates.
Editor’s Note: Check here for an in-depth look at the true motivations behind the insurance industry’s support for ticket cameras.