How Far Back in Your Driving Record Do Insurance Companies Look to Determine Your Car Insurance Rate?

Written by James Hirby | Fact checked by The Law Dictionary staff |  

Whether you've had the same insurance company for years or find yourself in the process of switching providers, you're probably curious about the insurance industry's pricing protocols. After all, the methodologies that insurance companies employ to calculate the appropriate cost of the policies that they issue can have real-world impacts.

Unfortunately, it's difficult to determine the exact means by which the cost of a given auto insurance policy is calculated. To avoid tipping off their competitors about pricing strategies or actuarial equations, most providers don't openly discuss this information. If you call your carrier's customer service department and start asking pricing-related questions, you're liable to be given misleading, inaccurate or unhelpful answers. At best, you'll be offered a "pricing reevaluation" that may not lower your rates to a significant degree.

However, one aspect of auto insurance pricing is common knowledge: driving history. In fact, this factor is crucial in determining the annual cost of your policy. Aside from your demographic profile, no single factor is more important to this calculation. If you wish to get a good idea of how much you might be charged by a prospective insurance carrier, you should take a moment to review your recent driving history.

Before providing you with a coverage quote, most insurance companies will take the last five years of your driving record into account. They'll consider traffic citations, vehicular crimes and accident reports. In most cases, you'll be "penalized" for accidents for which you were deemed to be at fault. You'll also take a hit for speeding tickets, reckless-driving convictions and other moving violations. Serious vehicular crimes like impaired driving and vehicular manslaughter may raise the cost of your policy by 100 percent or more.

Although most insurance companies follow a standard five-year "look-back" period, some providers may adhere to different policies. This is typically the result of variations in local insurance statutes. For instance, Massachusetts allows a "look-back" period of up to 10 years. On the other hand, several states are more lenient. For instance, Washington State and Virginia both require insurance companies to disregard driver-history data that's older than 36 months. This rewards drivers who quickly change their driving habits for the better.

It's important to note that driver-history statutes are notoriously volatile and subject to change. In addition, they may soon become irrelevant. The increasing prevalence of maneuver-recording devices like Progressive's SnapShot may enable insurance companies to establish "permanent" files on their policyholders.

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