If you’re lucky, the effects of an auto accident will be short-lasting. Your injuries, like your driving jitters, will soon pass. Once your vehicle gets repaired, you’re ready to get back on the road as though nothing ever happened. The one area where the impact of the auto accident will linger is on your driving record.
An accident is more than a minor flaw on your driving record. It also affects your insurance rates, even if you weren’t at fault. That means adding even more to already rising insurance premiums. It can stay on your driving record for years, costing you hundreds of dollars in rate increases.
A single accident or ticket doesn’t always taint your driving record. Minor accidents or violations might not affect your driver’s record. This is especially true if you have a long history of safe driving. Some insurance companies give their established clients accident forgiveness, so they get a free pass after a single incident. This is true for single-car or other at-fault accidents as long as they are minor.
Even minor offenses add up over time. If you receive additional violations or have multiple accidents, then it will probably go on your record.
Fault plays a role in whether an auto accident goes on your record, and on how long the record lasts. Other factors that play a role include:
- Your state of residence
- Number of previous accidents
- Your age
- The cost of the damages
- The seriousness of the violation
- Your insurance company
- How long you have been with your insurance provider
If you aren’t sure what’s listed on your driving record or how a recent accident will affect your insurance rates, go onto your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website. Each state has specific guidelines for how points are applied to your driving record.
Insurance Points Vs. Driver’s License Points
Depending on the factors listed above, you might end up with points added either to your driver’s license record, to your insurance, or both. Points that accumulate on your driver’s license can result in suspension or permanent loss of your driving privileges. The DMV is concerned with whether you are a safe driver on the roads or if you put others at risk.
An accumulation of insurance points, on the other hand, will result in increasingly higher rates and potential loss of your insurance coverage. The main difference between these two types of points is who adds them. If you have an at-fault accident and get a ticket for it, the points will go onto both your driver’s license and your insurance. If you run a stop sign or are speeding and get a ticket, the points will only go on your driver’s record, at least until your insurance company reviews your driving record and decides whether to raise your risk level.
If you have a minor fender-bender or a single-car accident due to weather conditions, you will probably file a claim with your insurance company. Insurance companies are more concerned with how many claims you file over a certain period. Your driving and accident history shows them that you are a high risk for filing more claims in the future. They might raise your rates to cover any additional claims.
Serious crimes like DUI or hit and run carry higher penalties and larger rate increases than minor violations. This number increases with repeated offenses. Someone who learns their lesson after a DUI offense might have their points removed from their record with minimal rate increases. A driver with two or more DUIs is a much greater risk, and they will pay a lot more for their insurance coverage. Multiple DUIs can also result in insurance companies refusing to provide coverage.
The DMV uses a point system to determine the severity of an accident or traffic violation. Points are assigned for each incident, accumulating and building more penalties with each new offense. In California, one point is assigned whenever you get a ticket for speeding, running a traffic light or sign, causing an accident, or other traffic violations. Offenses involving convictions such as driving under the influence results in the addition of two points to your driving record.
The points added to your driving record for most accidents and minor violations remain on your California driving record for 39 months. Those for more serious offenses stay on your driving record for thirteen years. That means that if you cause an accident while driving under the influence, you will probably have two points added to your record for thirteen years.
That sounds like a long time for an auto accident to stay on your record. But in some states, the period is much longer. Each state also dictates how many points you can add within a specified period before having your license suspended. The more points you incur, the greater the risk of losing your driver’s license. It’s in your best interest to drive safely and avoid accumulating additional points on your driving record. If you don’t, you might lose the privilege to drive. At best, your increasing points will increase how much you pay for car insurance.
The more points you have on your driving record, the more your insurance company considers you to be a high risk. Repeated violations push the risk higher with each offense, driving your insurance rates up. Some states limit how long insurance companies can consider at-fault accidents in calculating premiums, but it isn’t uncommon for companies online to ask about violations for extensive periods.
What Happens When It Isn’t Your Fault
If you aren’t the at-fault driver, it might not count against you. Keep in mind that this differs among the states, partly because of the difference in fault and no-fault laws. Those states that have no-fault insurance are more likely to raise your insurance rates after any crash, even if you aren’t at fault. Unlike claims in at-fault states where people make claims to the insurance company of the at-fault driver, those in no-fault states file claims with their own insurance company. The insurance company might raise your rates to make up for the payout on your coverage.
Some states also have laws prohibiting insurance companies from raising your rates when an accident isn’t your fault. Others have limits on the amount of damages involved. If the accident didn’t result in injuries or there was minimal property damage, you might not get points.
What Happens After an Auto Accident?
Once the auto accident points drop off your DMV record, your insurance rates will probably stay the same. The insurance company looks back into your driving history for several years, depending on your state of residence and the company. Some states have limits on how long the insurance company can go back. In Massachusetts, if you have a DUI and don’t incur any additional offenses for five years, the charge won’t affect your future premiums. In California, companies usually look back for three to five years.
If you’re thinking of switching insurance companies to get away from the high rates, don’t. A new company will check your driver’s record and categorize you as high risk or deny you coverage altogether.
How to Get and Keep Your Driving Record Clean
Once you get points on your driving record and feel the pinch from higher insurance rates, it could seem like an eternity before you can have them expunged. The last thing you want to do is make matters worse. Some things that might help save you money on your rates and get your driver’s record clean a little faster include:
- Obtain a copy of your driving record – You need to know exactly what is there. Go online to your nearest DMV or stop by their office. You will probably have to pay a fee to obtain a copy. To get a free copy, contact your auto insurance company. They should have a copy of your record in their file.
- Learn how long offenses stay on your record in your state – Something like a speeding ticket where you were going ten miles per hour over the speed limit will stay on your record for less time than one where you’re speeding 20 miles over the speed limit. If you caused an auto accident that resulted in serious injuries while speeding, the offense will stay on your record even longer. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t clear about the law at the time the accident occurred. Get a realistic time frame of how long the offenses stay.
- Ask the DMV about removing any convictions– The DMV determines whether they will expunge convictions from a driver’s record. Convictions for serious crimes like homicide or a DUI that resulted in wrongful death might stay on your record for life.
- Determine if you qualify for a dismissal –Once you understand your state’s requirements, determine if you qualify to have the points expunged from your record. If you do, ask the DMV for a request form.
- Pay the fee – You should find the fees for expungement listed on the state’s DMV website. The DMV should respond to your request within a couple of weeks. If they don’t, contact them for an update.
- Take a driver’s safety course – Some states allow you to take a state-approved driver’s safety course to have points removed from your driver’s record. Check that this is an option in your state before you sign up. If you received a ticket, you might even be able to have it dismissed. Even if your state allows this option, everyone isn’t eligible. Don’t wait too long after the auto accident or the allowed window of time might run out. Your state might also require you to opt for a defensive driving course when you pay the fine before you can take the course at all. If you do take a course, you can probably take it online. As long as the course is state-approved, you can take it when it’s convenient for you.
- Don’t add new violations to your record – Dealing with one offense is bad enough. If you continue to add offenses to your driver’s record, the problem will only grow. If you’ve already had points added on for an auto accident, getting tickets for other violations will add up. If you take a defensive driving course, put the information you learn to good use. Driving safely will help you keep your record clean.
- Contact an auto accident attorney – In California, both parties in an accident might receive some of the fault. Even if you aren’t 100% at fault, you could end up sharing the blame. If you are charged with a serious crime like DUI or hit and run, you need an experienced attorney to help you know your rights. Even if you aren’t at fault, you need to make sure you don’t end up paying for an accident that was someone else’s fault.
People who have points added to their driver’s record for an auto accident have a lot of questions. Trying to handle your situation without legal advice could result in your paying higher rates when you didn’t do anything wrong. Some questions you might have include:
What happens if I have a “failure to appear” on my driving record?
Can I get a hardship license if my license is revoked?
How do I deal with unpaid traffic tickets from years ago?
Are there any violations that don’t result in points?
Driving laws are often complex and confusing. After a car accident, you’re already dealing with a lot of issues. If you have injuries, you might face large medical bills and missed income from work. You might need your car repaired or replaced. The insurance company might not raise your rates until it’s time to renew. Getting points on your driver’s record might not even occur to you until you receive your bill.
An attorney can provide answers to all of these questions and more. He can look at the accident report and determine if you were at fault for the wreck. If not, he can explain your options for setting the record right.
If the other driver is at fault, your attorney can help you get compensation for your damages and injuries. In California, you can collect compensation from the other driver even if you are partially to blame for the accident. Your lawyer will evaluate your case and determine whether you should pursue a claim.
Contact Batta Fulkerson
If you have questions about your rights following an auto accident, contact Batta Fulkerson. Our San Diego law firm has gotten great results for our clients, and we will work to get justice for you.