What it Really Costs When You Drive Badly

Cutting corners while driving (and even that littering ticket) costs more more than just the initial ticket.


Misbehaving is perhaps one of life’s earliest pleasures: As soon as we learn “no,” we learn also to test whether or not we can get away with whichever mess tempts our wee hearts most at any given moment.

The truth is, there are driving laws that all of us regularly disobey — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that as many as 39% of drivers “enjoy the feeling of speed.” If forced to testify in a court of law, could you say with a clean conscience that you’d never purposefully done something a bit risky behind the wheel?

It turns out that some deviant behaviors can not only be dangerous, but incredibly costly — in terms of the ticket fee and its lingering impact on your car insurance rate. That’s right — your car insurance company takes your personal driving record into account more than any other single rating factor. (In most states, your credit score can also be a factor. You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com to see where you stand.)

4 bad behaviors that will cost you

First, a note on our methods: Using ZIP codes from all 50 states, we ran a mock profile to get an average base car insurance premium. Our sample driver was a single 35-year-old male homeowner with good credit and no accidents for the past five years. Then, we got him into some hypothetical trouble…

1. Littering from vehicle

Average fine cost: Usually anywhere between $100 and $1,000 for the first offense. Most often considered a misdemeanor, tossing something especially heavy, or repeated offenses can land you in jail in many states. (Other potential punishments include litter cleanup.)

Average hike in insurance rates: 11.18%.

2. Speeding in a school zone

Average fine cost: The costs can vary widely, but often start around $200 – $500 with additional costs for each extra mile over the speed limit you’re driving. Often, in school zones, the fines and fees are simply doubled.

Average hike in insurance rates: 18.89%.

3. Reckless driving

Average fine cost: Varies widely. Just what constitutes reckless driving? Individual states’ definitions vary slightly, but all sound a lot like this Kansas statute: “Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.” If you’re driving in a manner that you wouldn’t want your mom to see, chances are you’re driving recklessly. This can include speeding, tailgating, running stop signs or lights, distracted driving — even failing to use a turn signal.

Average hike in insurance rates: 63.93%.

4. Street racing

Average fine cost: at least $1,000. Other possible consequences include having your license revoked, being arrested and having your vehicle impounded for 30 days or more. Also, many auto insurance companies will simply drop you if you’re found guilty of street racing. It’s serious business and seriously dangerous — while data are hard to collect and corroborate, the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing estimates that around 50 people die each year due to street racing.

Average hike in insurance rates: 73.32%.

Needless to say, any one of these expenses can impact your premium — any combination could send it through the roof. And while a 10% hike is considerably less than the 73% a racing ticket could cost you, the truth is that any preventable behavior that ups your insurance is just going to cause regret. What should you do if you’ve gotten a ticket for any of the above bad behaviors? Your best bet is to compare car insurance rates across companies if you’ve been slapped with one of these fines. And, of course, to solemnly swear that you’ll never behave so badly again behind the wheel.

More from Credit.com:

Stacy Johnson

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