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What are the Most Expensive Traffic Violations?

by Kevin Mercadante

Traffic violations are frustrating because they are almost always an avoidable expense. How much of an expense varies. It’s almost impossible to determine the exact cost of any traffic violation. But it is clear that there are certain violations that will be more expensive than others. The cost of each violation is determined by a combination of three separate factors:

most expensive traffic violations

What are the most expensive traffic violations?

1. Fines and penalties. These are imposed by the local jurisdictions as a penalty for traffic violations. They can range from $50 for missing paperwork, up to more than $1,000 for DUI or reckless driving.

2. Insurance surcharges. Insurance companies regularly check motor vehicle records for customer violations. If they find any, they will increase your car insurance premiums by a certain percentage to offset the increased risk that you represent to the company. These surcharges vary by both location and the type of violation. This is why safe driving can help you lower your auto insurance premiums.

3. “Points” for driving violations. States assign points for various violations that can remain on your driving record for several years. Though these are not a direct cost, they form the basis of other charges. Insurance surcharges are based on them, and if you accumulate too many, your license could be subject to temporary suspension. If you are dependent on driving in order to earn your living – and most of us are – the suspension of your license could be the most expensive cost of all.

Each of the above categories will vary substantially from one state (or even community) to another. But generally speaking, you can expect the following violations to be the most expensive just about anywhere they happen:

Driving under the influence – DUI

On average, a DUI violation will increase your auto insurance premium by 19% – and that’s just for the first offense. Traffic fines can run in excess of $1,000, and a violator will generally receive the highest number of points awarded for any traffic violation.

In California, points resulting from a DUI will stay on your record for ten years. Accumulate too many points, and you can lose your license.

In fact, DUI violations often include the suspension of driving privileges, particularly if they occur in combination with other traffic violations. And statistically, people with DUI infractions have other violations, whether they are immediately connected to the DUI itself or a previous incident.

Extreme situations, or repeat offenses, can result in jail time. Like the suspension of driving privileges, jail time will interfere with the violators ability to earn an income, which can add many thousands of dollars on top of fines and insurance surcharges.

Reckless driving

Reckless driving covers a lot of different behaviors, but is generally described as driving with an intentional disregard for property or the safety of other people. It can be something as “ordinary” as tailgating.

The average auto insurance surcharge is actually higher than what it is for DUI, at about 22% per violation. This is at least in part because reckless driving incidents run the gamut. And different jurisdictions have different definitions as to what it includes.

Much like DUI, reckless driving can involve fines well beyond $1,000. In cases involving personal injury and certainly death, both license suspension and jail time is common.

Driving without a license or permit

We have to make a distinction here when it comes to driving without a license or permit. Simply not having a license or permit on your person at the time of a police stop is usually a minor violation. Often, that violation will be waived if you can produce the required license or permit within a specified amount of time.

But then there is true driving without a license or permit – as in you don’t have one, or the one you had was suspended or revoked. This kind of violation is a heavyweight on the expense side. Insurance surcharges average 18%, and while fines may only be a few hundred dollars, there’s a high likelihood of jail time.

Careless driving

Like reckless driving, careless driving can have different meanings in different jurisdictions. In general, while reckless driving involves intentional disregard for safety, careless driving is more about negligent disregard.

Despite the lower status of careless driving, the expense of a violation is still a stiff one. Insurance surcharges average 16%, and much like reckless driving violations, fines can run from a few hundred dollars, to well past $1,000. Much depends upon personal injury or the extent of damage created by the violation. At the upper end, this can also lead to license suspension and jail time.

Speeding 30 or more miles over the limit and failure to stop (tie)

These two violations will result in an average insurance surcharge in the neighborhood of 15%. Fines are high because of the very real potential for personal injury.

Notice that the cost for speeding is on a high-end – at 30 or more miles over the posted speed limit. Exceeding the speed limit at lower speeds can result in significantly lower penalties, particularly insurance surcharges. In some states, insurance companies will not even impose a surcharge, for example if the violation is for no more than 10 miles over the speed limit.

Failure to stop involves several possible scenarios, depending on jurisdiction:

  1. Running a red light
  2. Making a right turn on red without first stopping
  3. Running a stop sign
  4. Failing to stop at an emergency stop (police stop)
  5. Failing to stop for a school bus

Whatever the violation, considering the number of potential expenses involved in any driving incident should be strong motivation to slow down and be more careful while driving.

(Insurance surcharge source: Insurance.com.)


Published or updated October 2, 2013.
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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Michelle

Reckless driving is definitely a big no-no where I live. I have actually called the police one time because a stranger was following me home and tried to run me off the road a couple of times. The police pulled him over and he thought I was SOMEONE ELSE!

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2 Kevin Mercadante

Hi Michelle – If you were that someone else, did he think he had a right to run you off the road??? I had a similar encounter. Last week I was crossing (on foot!) at an intersection, and a lady driving an SUV was turning into the street I was crossing and nearly hit me. No matter how hard I tried to avoid being hit, she kept coming right at me. I even hurt my foot trying to escape.

I believe she was trying to hit me! I have no idea what was in her mind, but I wonder if some people don’t intentionally set out to hurt someone. Maybe something bad happened and she’s looking for revenge on someone, or maybe she felt I had no right to be crossing the street and she was going to teach me a lesson. But think about it, if she hit me, her life would have changed forever.

I always tell my son, now that he’s driving, to never assume to know what another driver might be doing. You have to be as careful as you can. In my case, there was no cop around, so the lady continued on her merry way.

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3 Bryce @ Save and Conquer

@Kevin, Too bad you didn’t get her license plate. It would have been a he said-she said and they probably couldn’t have done anything, but at least the police would have her on record in case she did it again.

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4 Kevin Mercadante

So right Bryce. Sooner or later that kind of attitude will lead to big trouble. I’m hoping she was just having a bad moment, and recoverd from it shortly after.

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5 Jim

Great post Kevin, it’s interesting to see these fines and what the effects are on the insurance side. Most people dont take into consideration the ‘real cost’ of the citation by figuring in the increased cost of insurance, or the fact that you may be cancelled altogether!

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6 Kevin Mercadante

Hi Jim – Cancelation is always another possibility for insurance. Without it you can’t drive, and that will hit in the income department – another cost! If we seriously think about violations we’re sure to be more careful to avoid them.

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