Bumpy past? How to climb out of the high-risk driver group

If you keep your driving record clean, you can escape from the high-risk group to more affordable car insurance rates. (Photo: Shutterstock)
If you keep your driving record clean, you can escape from the high-risk group to more affordable car insurance rates.

You’ve received one too many speeding tickets, lost your job and didn’t pay your car insurance premiums, or got drunk and crashed your car.

What will that mean when it comes to insuring your vehicle?

These things are considered serious violations by your auto insurer, and you could see your rates soar—perhaps even doubling as a result, says David Suarez, director of marketing at Mercury Insurance, headquartered in Los Angeles.

“It’s not unusual to assume someone with a DUI would pay twice as much for insurance as someone without a DUI, all things being equal,” Suarez says.

While letting your insurance policy lapse may seem far different than driving under the influence, both could result in you being considered a high-risk driver by your car insurer. Having several moving violations or accidents in a three-year time period also will put you in the high-risk category.

How big an impact these problems have on your rates, and how long they will influence your rates, depends on the infraction, your state laws and your insurance company. But the good thing is that high-risk drivers aren’t usually stuck in that tier forever. If you keep your record clean—meaning no new tickets, accidents or lapses in coverage—and know the best time to start shopping for car insurance, you can escape from the high-risk group to more affordable rates.

Here are some tips for when to switch car insurance companies to get a better rate.

Bill past due notice

(Photo: Shutterstock)

What you did wrong: Oops – I didn’t pay my car insurance bill!

If you haven’t paid your auto insurance bill and your policy has lapsed, you may be considered a high-risk driver for six months after you’ve purchased a new policy, Suarez says. (If you’re just late with a payment, your insurance company will usually grant you a grace period, he says, which typically ranges from 10 to 30 days, before canceling your policy.)

Tip: You will want to stay with the same car insurance company for six months once you buy a new policy. But once you’ve paid on time for six months, it’s time to shop around for better rates. Paying your bill for those six months “reflects responsibility,” says Suarez. Once insurers see you have six months of continuous coverage, you typically will then qualify for preferred driver rates, which are typically much cheaper.

man drinking while driving a car

What you did wrong: DUI

If you have a DUI on your record, your insurer will usually consider you a high-risk driver for between three and seven years, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for Insure.com. Depending on where you live, your state’s laws may determine how many years your insurance company can take the DUI into account when setting rates.

Tip: Once that time period is up, your rates would usually fall. Find out when your DUI will drop off your record in your state. If it doesn’t, some states leave it on for life, then find out from your state’s insurance regulator how long you can be surcharged by car insurance companies for the offense. Once that time is up, shop around. If you’re required to carry an SR-22, shop around once you’re allowed to drop it, even if the DUI is still on your record. You’ll have more insurance companies to choose from without the SR-22 requirement.

policewoman writing a ticket

(Photo: Shutterstock)

What you did wrong: Multiple violations within three years

Keep in mind that you could be considered high risk for years if you don’t watch your driving behavior. Say you received a DUI three years ago, and your insurer no longer takes that into account when setting your rates. But if you’ve “received three speeding tickets, or one ticket and have been in two accidents, you’re still risky to car insurance companies,” Gusner says.

Having three tickets or accidents, or a combination of three tickets and accidents within 36 months, is usually enough to push you into the high-risk category. Some insurers will even cancel your car insurance as a result, Gusner says.

Tip: If you have recent infractions, you’re better off not looking elsewhere for insurance. A new insurance company will check your driving record, Suarez says. But if you stay with your current company, it may not check your driving record upon renewal. “If you get a violation, you might be better off just staying put,” he says.

Man taking a driving class

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Key considerations for high-risk drivers

  • Insurers take a number of factors into account when setting rates. If you have a lapsed policy and a bad insurance credit score, you’ll probably pay much more than someone with a lapsed policy and a healthy credit history, Suarez says. “It’s a combination of elements that would make the difference.”
  • The rate you pay also depends on the insurance company you choose. A company that provides coverage to just a few high-risk drivers will generally charge you more than a company that specializes in providing insurance to high-risk drivers, Gusner says. Typically, car insurance companies that cater to high-risk drivers offer more bare-bones coverage, for instance, only covering named drivers on a policy, which helps keep their premiums in check.
  • Don’t count on your insurance company to let you know that you’ve moved to a high-risk category—or that you’ve moved back out again. “A lot of high-risk drivers probably don’t even know they have a non-standard policy,” Gusner says. So be sure to check on your status with your car insurance company.
  • Although you’re no doubt eager to move to a standard insurance policy, there’s no way to hurry the process along with your current insurance company. “Each insurer will have its own surcharge schedule and driver tier and length of time you need to show improvement to move to a better tier,” Gusner says.
  • If you’re faced with higher premiums, there are still a few things you might be able to do to take a bit of the sting off—take a driver’s improvement course or pay your policy in full. Those discounts can “help balance out the surcharges associated with the DUI, bad credit, lapse in insurance or bad driving record that is making you a high-risk driver,” Gusner says.

Apr 06, 2015 | By Susan Ladika

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