Most Common Vehicle Incidents
If you received a traffic citation recently, there is a good chance the violation was one of the offenses discussed on this page. Below, you'll see a description of the most common traffic offenses for which drivers are cited. Each offense explains what you might be able to do about the ticket and how the citation will affect your insurance rates, if at all.
#1 At-Fault and Not-at-Fault Accidents
An at-fault accident is one for which you are legally and financially responsible. By contrast, a not-at-fault accident is one in which another driver bears responsibility for the collision. Typically, the determination of fault is left to your insurance company, which will base its conclusion on the police report (if there was one), your account, and the accounts of the other involved parties. Carriers almost always assign blame in the same way the police did at the scene of the accident, which means the at-fault driver(s) usually get citations of some kind.
In an at-fault accident, you will have to make a claim against the liability and comprehensive portions of your policy, which pay for the damage/injuries done to other drivers and the damage done to your vehicle, respectively. In this case, unless your carrier allows one free claim before elevating your rates, your premiums will most likely rise for three years.
In a not-at-fault accident, your rates will not rise because you will not have to file a claim with your insurer. For instance, say you were rear-ended in a simple fender bender. The accident was not your fault, so you file a claim to repair the damage on your vehicle with the at-fault driver's insurance company. The only exception is when you are involved in a not-at-fault accident with an underinsured or uninsured driver, in which case you would have to file a claim with your insurer, and your rates would likely rise.
#2 Damages Covered by Comprehensive Claims
Although comprehensive insurance also covers vehicle theft, for the most part, it pays to repair damage your vehicle sustains in non-collision event. Of course, such an event will not impact your driving record, but your rates will go up if you file a claim unless your carrier has a claim-forgiveness program. Below is a list of some of the common incidents involved in a comprehensive insurance claim:
- Hail damage and other weather-related events, such as wind or tornado damage
- Parking lot incidents, such as if a shopping cart dents your car
- Fire damage
- Accidents involving wild animals
- Most "acts of God," such as a streetlight or tree falling on your car
#3 Defective Equipment
If you are cited for defective equipment, the good news is the state will typically vitiate the ticket if you can prove that you have since corrected whatever defect your car had at the time. Common equipment defect citations include:
- Broken headlight
- Broken taillight
- Missing license plate lamps
- Broken turn signal
- Illegal window tinting
In most jurisdictions, you can mail in or present in person a receipt that shows you replaced, removed, or repaired the defective equipment for which you were cited. By doing so, you prevent the ticket from going on your record. A defective equipment violation is unlikely to affect your auto insurance rates.
#4 Parking Tickets/Violations
Parking tickets fall into the category of non-moving violations, which means they do not appear on your driving record, nor do they impact your insurance rates. You can receive a parking ticket in any number of situations, including:
- Parking illegally in a handicapped spot
- Allowing a parking meter to expire
- Double parking
- Parking in a loading zone
- Parking in an emergency zone
- Parking on a sidewalk
- Parking near a stop sign
- Parking near a fire hydrant
- Parking in or too near a crosswalk or intersection
- Parking facing the opposite direction of traffic
- Parking a vehicle not properly registered or licensed
#5 Proof of Insurance
A failure to present proof of insurance (either an insurance card or a copy of a policy) when you are stopped will result in a citation. In this situation, traffic school will not help you—only showing proof of an existing policy or purchasing a new policy will. If you were insured on or before the date you received the citation, most jurisdictions allow drivers to present proof of the policy to the clerk of court to have the fine or bail assessed reduced. You can then pay the reduced fine and have the charge dismissed. If, on the other hand, you were not insured when you received the citation, you might be able to purchase a policy (many jurisdictions require a 90-day minimum pre-paid policy), show proof to the clerk, and you will likely pay a reduced fine, but the charge will not be dismissed. As far as insurance ramifications go, remember that allowing your coverage to lapse will lead to substantially higher rates when you finally go to purchase a policy.
A speeding citation can range from a slap on the wrist for going five over the posted limit to a serious infraction for excessive speed or street racing, for example. In most areas, going 1-19 mph over the posted speed limit will get you a garden variety speeding citation, punishable by a fine and points against your license. Depending on how many offenses you've had in the recent past, you might have a good chance of attending an eight-hour traffic school to get the offense expunged from your record. You will still have to pay the cost of attending the traffic course, however. If you are caught driving 20 mph or more over the speed limit, this offense typically falls into "excessive speeding" or "criminal speeding," for which you could lose your license, pay exorbitant fines, be forced to complete community service, or even serve time in jail. Some states will also charge someone with excess speeding if they are found driving over 85 mph, for instance. Another form of speeding, street racing or drag racing, is also a serious offense that will result in large assessments of points against your license, licenses suspension or revocation, possible imprisonment or probation, and/or community service. The more serious your speeding ticket is, the higher your insurance rates are likely to rise. Furthermore, before you can get your license reinstated, you will need to have your insurer send in an SR-22 to the department of motor vehicles to show you carry adequate liability insurance.
#7 Failing to Obey Traffic Device or Sign
A failure to obey a traffic control device can include running a red light, failing to stop at a stop sign, turning right on red where prohibited, or failing to yield where indicated, to name a few examples. Fines for first offenders are usually modest for these offenses, but they will have a negative impact on your car insurance rates. In most jurisdictions, these offenses may be eligible to be dismissed if the driver successfully completes traffic school.