The color of money

Michelle Singletary: Calculating the real cost of that speeding ticket


Washington Post Service

For many drivers, the fear of rising auto insurance rates keeps them from driving too fast or leaving their license at home.

Get into an accident or get a ticket, and what’s the second thought you might have?

“Oh my gosh, my insurance will go up.”

AAA estimated that last year almost 31 million Americans traveled by car during the Memorial Day weekend and another 36 million during the July 4 holiday. With that many cars on the road, traffic violations — not to mention accidents — are bound to happen.

The thing is, you don’t generally know how much a traffic ticket will affect your car insurance.

Now, the website has created an online tool that allows drivers to estimate the increase to their auto insurance rates for 14 common violations. It’s called the “’Uh-Oh!’ Calculator.”

Get a ticket for not wearing your seat belt and that could increase your insurance rate by about 3 percent, according to, which provides consumer insurance information and quotes.

“We decided to develop the calculator because average rate increases for common traffic violations were not widely known or reported, yet everyone is curious about it,” said Michelle Megna, managing editor of “Naturally, you know how much the ticket costs and you realize your car insurance rates are likely to go up, but after that, it’s a bit of a black hole. No one really knows what to expect in specific dollar amounts.”

To come up with the averages, the company said it analyzed nearly half a million auto insurance quotes provided to its users from 2009 to 2011. Drivers with common violations were compared with folks with no infractions. then used this information to figure out premiums that also took into account people’s personal information such as age, where they live, and length of time with their insurance provider.

If you get a ticket, you will likely get a surcharge on your car insurance premium upon renewal, Megna said. So here are the percentage increases a ticket might cost:

•  Reckless driving: 22 percent

•  First offense for driving under the influence: 19 percent

•  Driving without a license: 18 percent

•  Careless driving: 16 percent

•  Speeding 30 miles per hour or more over the posted limit: 15 percent

•  Failure to stop: 15 percent

•  Improper turn: 14 percent

•  Improper passing: 14 percent

•  Following too close/tailgating: 13 percent

•  Speeding 15 to 29 miles per hour over the limit: 12 percent

•  Speeding one to 14 miles per hour over limit: 11 percent

•  Failure to yield: 9 percent

Of course the caveat to the calculator is that the average percentage increases will vary depending on your own personal information, including your overall driving record. Still, this tool is a great guideline for two reasons.

First, you can put a figure on the likely premium hike of a driving violation without calling an agent and alerting the insurer to your ticket. In addition, you can also find the points and penalties that may be imposed in your state. Let’s say I got a ticket for speeding one to 14 miles per hour over the posted limit.

Using the calculator, I answered six questions about myself: my ZIP code, marital status, residence type, age, length of time with my current insurer and, finally, current premium amount. Based on the information I provided, my rates might increase 12 percent. I suspect it was higher than the overall average because of where I live.

Second, you can use the information to help compare quotes if you want to change providers because your rate has increased. Very conveniently and strategically, the site has a link right below the calculator results for free rate quotes to find cheaper coverage. “Insurers calculate risk differently, so the same driver can get rates from different insurers that differ by hundreds of dollars,” Megna said.

You may also be wondering how long it will take before you see a decrease in your premium after getting a ticket. How long you’ll pay a higher premium depends on your insurance company’s policies and your state’s laws. But three years is the typical length of the surcharge unless state laws dictate some other time period, according to Megna. “That’s important to know because you want to make sure your insurer doesn’t keep charging you after three years,” she said.

I always find this type of tool helpful if for no other reason than it reminds me of the very real dollar cost of not doing the right thing.

Hear Michelle Singletary’s personal finance reports on Readers may write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington DC 20081.

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