The Five Most Expensive Traffic Violations

April 14, 2015

The cost of incurring a traffic violation has gotten much higher in recent years. Fines in many jurisdictions have doubled, tripled, or even more. Even worse – because they are recurring – are the insurance surcharges that apply after most violations. And at the extreme, some violations can even result in jail time.

Here is a list of what are generally the most expensive traffic violations you can have, in no particular order:

1) Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is a broad category, that can be defined differently from one jurisdiction to another. Generally speaking, it is driving in a way that endangers yourself and other people on the road. It can involve speeding, but there’s usually some element of danger that goes well beyond it.

Fines for reckless driving are generally heavy, but may also depend upon the seriousness of the violation. In extreme circumstances, reckless driving can lead to loss of license and even jail time.

Insurance surcharges can cause your premiums to nearly double. Should that happen, you may find yourself unable to afford auto insurance, and therefore unable to drive. In that situation, you may also experience economic impairment – since you have no car, you’ll be unable to get to work, and will likely lose your job.

2) Speeding

Speeding is probably the most common traffic violation, but it’s not always the most expensive. And how expensive it is will be a matter of degree. In most jurisdictions, there is a wide variation in fines between going 10 miles over the posted speed limit, and going say, 30 miles over.

Not only can fines be all over the place, but so can insurance surcharges. Much like fines, they are progressively higher the more you exceed the speed limit. Your insurance can rise more than 30 percent as a result of a single speeding episode. Multiple speeding tickets cause both the fines and surcharges to accelerate.

Though jail time is unusual in connection with speeding violations, if you accumulated several citations for speeding, your insurance company may drop your coverage after determining that you are an unacceptable risk. High-speed driving, after all, results in high-speed accidents. Those are usually the most extensive kind, the type most likely to result in serious injury and fatalities.

3) Driving Under the Influence (DUI or DWI)

This is generally the most expensive traffic violation you can incur. Insurance premiums can virtually double on a first offense, and fines can be prohibitive. Cancellation of insurance after a first offense, and certainly after a second, is hardly out of the question.

Once again there is the very real possibility of experiencing an economic loss as a result of this violation. Depending on the laws in your state, the loss of your license for a period of time is common. That can make earning a living very difficult, and even impossible. The loss of income will dwarf even the combination of fines and insurance surcharges – unless of course you are unemployed at the time of your incident.

This is not a violation to take lightly. Penalties are only becoming more severe as tolerance for drunk driving declines. As well, the loss of a job due to a DUI could end up being a career killing experience, that will leave your income permanently impaired.

4) Running a Red light

Like speeding, running a red light is a fairly common violation. This is particularly true given the confusion over right-turn-on-red provisions in many jurisdictions. Typically, you are required to come to a full stop before turning even where the turn is permitted. But it’s incredibly easy to forget to stop when you’re used to making such turns.

Unfortunately, the courts and insurance companies are not particularly forgiving over such a mental lapse. Again, the fines vary between jurisdictions, and can be particularly heavy in urban areas where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. Insurance surcharges can easily run as high as 20%.

While it might be convenient to dismiss a right-turn-on-red violation, there is a fairly high rate of injury and even of fatalities connected with these violations. For that reason, jurisdictions are taking them more seriously all the time.

5) Careless Driving

Careless driving is the younger cousin of reckless driving. Where reckless driving is generally considered to represent a pattern of driving that is dangerous to anyone on the road, careless driving is more along the lines of a mental lapse. It could be something as simple as failing to use your blinker while changing lanes on a multi-lane highway.

Once again fines vary from one jurisdiction to another, and also by the fact that careless driving takes in literally dozens of offenses that range in severity. Insurance premiums to rise by 25% or more as a result of a single careless driving violation.

Though careless driving carries a much lighter cost than the other violations listed here, the combination of fines and insurance surcharges can raise your cost of driving considerably.

The best advice is to be more mindful of what driving activities rise to the level of violations, and do your best to slow down and stay in control. Getting a traffic ticket for something incidental and occasional is bad enough, but getting one that is the result of bad driving habits is something that you can and should control.


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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