“Do you know how fast you were going?” No one wants to hear those words from a police officer after being pulled over for speeding. And there’s nothing like that feeling of seeing flashing lights in your rear-view mirror as you get flagged down and pulled over. So, you have a speeding ticket and are facing some fines and maybe even demerit points. Now what?

First of all, don’t panic. We all know that traffic tickets are unpleasant. They can cost you a significant amount in fines and end up on your driving record. And another way driving penalties can take money out of your pocket is through higher insurance premiums.

Thankfully, your driving history is an important factor in how your insurance provider determines how much you pay. If this is your first offence, and it’s considered a minor offence, it’s less likely to have a significant impact. The flipside of this, of course, is if you have made a habit of speeding or other traffic violations, you are pretty much guaranteed to be paying steeper premiums.

Here's what you need to know – and how you can save money on auto insurance even if your past isn't perfect.

How much are traffic fines?

The provincial government sets the fines for traffic offences. In Ontario, speeding fines fall under Section 128 of the Highway Traffic Act. Speeding fines are calculated according to the number of kilometres you are over the limit, and those kilometres get more expensive the faster you're going:

  • 1-19 km/h over the limit: $3 per kilometre
  • 20-29 km/h over the limit: $4.50 per kilometre
  • 30-49 km/hr over the limit: $7 per kilometre
  • 50 km/h over the limit: $9.75 per kilometre

Also, suppose you are caught driving more than 50 km/h over the limit (which is considered to be "stunt driving"). In that case, you will receive six demerit points, your vehicle will be impounded automatically for seven days, and you will have to attend court. That will be considered a major infraction by your insurance company.

Ontario is just one example – other provinces may have higher fines, and it may not be easy to fight the ticket. In most provinces, speeding fines are doubled in Community Safety Zones (usually near schools) and construction zones when a worker is present.

How demerit points work

Every driver starts out with zero demerit points. You gain them after being convicted of breaking certain traffic laws and they stay on your record for two years. Rack up enough of them, and you can lose your driver’s licence.

You can also get demerit points on your Ontario’s driver’s licence when you violate driving laws in:

  • Other Canadian provinces and territories
  • The State of New York
  • The State of Michigan

It’s important to note, however, that insurance companies do not base your premium on the number of demerit points you accumulate, but on your driving record as a whole.

Speeding tickets out-of-province

As stated with the demerit points above, whether you were visiting family in another province or taking a road trip through the U.S., the location of a traffic ticket doesn’t matter. Any ticket from outside your province appearing on your driving record will affect your insurance. Once the ticket is paid, an out-of-province offence will still show on your driving record.

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Will my insurance provider see my speeding ticket?

Once you have paid the fine, the conviction will appear on your Ontario driving record showing as the date you paid the ticket. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) will not contact your insurance company to inform them of convictions. You can choose to disclose to your insurance broker that you have received a ticket at the time, however, either way, your broker will see your driving record when your policy is up for renewal.

How will tickets affect my insurance?

Many factors go into calculating your insurance premium. These include how long you've been driving, where you live, your age, and the make of your vehicle. But driving history counts too, and in a big way: the better your record, the lower your premium.

The government also states that one minor infraction should not affect your rates. Note the word "should" here, as an insurance company can still choose to charge you more based on just one minor ticket. But in general, if you've had two tickets in the past three years, even for small offences, your premium may rise. That's also the case if you had one major conviction or many traffic tickets.

Subject to regulatory approval, each insurance company will use its own set of rules and standards to rate for speeding tickets and other traffic violations. Your insurance rate is based on many different variables, so the increase will vary based on the number and severity of traffic violations you may have. Here are some examples:

  • Speeding fines and other minor infractions: 10% increase. That's for things like failing to signal, failing to yield, obstruction of a licence plate, or driving too slowly.
  • Distracted driving and other major infractions: 25% increase. That's for things like distracted driving, false statement of insurance, failing to report an accident, or speeding in a construction zone.
  • Serious or criminal driving convictions: 100% increase. That's for things like racing, failing to remain at the scene of an accident, criminal negligence, or driving under the influence.

How long will this affect my insurance premiums?

When you have a speeding ticket or other minor conviction on your driving record, you may wonder how long do speeding tickets affect insurance. Any conviction that appears on your driving record remains on your driving record for three years from the conviction date (the date the ticket is paid, or you were convicted in court). As a result, traffic violations listed on your driving record can affect your insurance for up to three years starting from the policy effective date and, for any new traffic violations, at the time of policy renewal.

Is that ticket minor, major, or criminal?

Here is a list of some common tickets, and their classification in terms of insurance rate increases:

Minor tickets

  • Crowding vehicle with more people than seatbelts
  • Defective brakes
  • Driver's licence violations
  • Driving with an insecure load
  • Driving without an up-to-date inspection sticker
  • Failing to share the road
  • Failing to signal
  • Failure to use seatbelts
  • Failing to yield to another vehicle or pedestrian
  • Failure to surrender your licence to authority
  • Failure to produce evidence of insurance to authority
  • Failure to carry an insurance card
  • Following too closely
  • Headlight offences
  • Improper driving in a bus lane
  • Improper opening of a door
  • Improper passing, lane change or turn
  • Improper railway crossing
  • Improper towing
  • Improper use of divided highway
  • Obstruction of licence plate
  • Obstructing the view of other drivers
  • Obstructing traffic
  • Overloading
  • Speeding
  • Stop sign or traffic light infraction
  • Unnecessary noise
  • Unnecessary slow driving
  • Unsafe move
  • Unsafe or prohibited turn
  • Unsafe vehicle
  • Use of radar warning device
  • Wrong-way on a one-way street

Major tickets

  • Distracted driving
  • Failure to follow restrictions in a school zone or improper passing zone
  • Failing to report an accident
  • Failure to report damage to highway property
  • Failing to stop or improper passing at a school bus
  • Operating a motor vehicle with no insurance
  • Producing false evidence of a licence or insurance
  • Speeding in a construction zone

Serious and criminal tickets

  • Driving impaired (blood alcohol level over 0.08 in Ontario)
  • Careless or dangerous driving
  • Criminal negligence
  • Driving while under suspension
  • Failing to obey police
  • Failing to remain at an accident scene
  • Motor manslaughter
  • Racing
  • Speeding 50 km over the posted speed limit (or set limit in your province)
  • Refusing a breathalyzer test
  • Stunting or drag racing

How do I find out what's on my driving record?

So, if you know your driving history impacts your premiums, you probably want to know what's on the books. You may have wiped that expensive speeding ticket from your memory, but it's still attached to your licence.

In Ontario, you can get a copy of your driving record for a $12 fee; $18 if you want it certified. You can also get your insurance history report for free. That lets you see your past claims history and policy information. It will give you a good idea of what you might be facing at renewal time.

You can also use this information to help you decide whether to compare car insurance quotes from different insurance companies.

What is a high-risk driver?

If you have too many convictions or a severe conviction, your insurance company might label you a high-risk driver or might not want to insure you.

Typically, three or more convictions – or a combination of a minor, major, and serious convictions – will make you a high-risk driver. In this scenario, your insurance company might not renew your insurance policy but refer you to other insurance providers that specialize in high-risk drivers.

My driving record isn’t perfect. How do I lower my rate?

If it takes up to three years to have a clean driving history, you may feel defeated when it comes to premiums. But the Insurance Bureau of Canada notes you can take action. You have the option to choose public transit to lower the number of annual kilometres on your car. You can also exclude high-risk drivers from using your vehicle.

If your insurance premium is high, shop around and get quotes from a few different providers to ensure you are getting the best rates possible. Remember, when you get a new quote, be honest about any past traffic convictions – it will help ensure your quote is accurate. It is of no benefit to hide this information because insurance companies will run your reports anyway and modify your quote based on your driving record.

Gail Balfour

Gail Balfour is a writer, editor, and senior content designer with more than 20 years’ experience covering areas of business, finance, technology and healthcare. A former editor of ComputerWorld Canada, she has also contributed to many other publications and corporate websites including Backbone, PwC Canada, RBC Canada, Women's College Hospital, Canadian Healthcare Technology and The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

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