Your driving record is one of the key factors that affects how much you pay for car insurance. In general, a good driving record results in lower premiums. A history of accidents or serious traffic violations, on the other hand, makes you a higher risk to insure and means you'll likely pay more.  

While your car insurance company cannot pull your full motor vehicle report (MVR), it does pull a summary listing your most recent tickets, accidents, and convictions. The lookback period for your MVR varies by state and the insurance company. Generally, this period is between three and five years, but it can be much longer. For example, in California, a DUI remains on the MVR record and counts as an offense for 13 years, whereas an accident has a look-back period of 39 months.

Key Takeaways

  • In the underwriting process, an applicant's driving history is reviewed to determine premiums.
  • In general, a good record means lower premiums, but a history of accidents and violations likely means you'll pay more.
  • A driving history outside of the look-back period, which varies by state and insurance company, is not used to determine premiums.
  • An MVR summary typically includes moving violations and accidents, as well as convictions resulting from driving violations.

How Insurance Companies Use Your Driving Record

When applying for car insurance, the insurance company conducts a risk assessment as a part of its underwriting process. This assessment, or selection process, includes determining how to classify the applicant—low risk versus high risk, for example.

The best way to assess the applicant is to review their driving history, which typically includes moving violations and accidents, including at-fault and not-at-fault. The insurance company can estimate the level of insurance risk based on the frequency and severity of recent driving violations and collisions.

If there are several accidents or traffic infractions, the driver is more likely than other drivers to have similar problems in the future, increasing the insurer's liability. Also, they will probably make multiple, costly insurance claims. As a result, the insurance company may deem the driver too risky to insure or may charge an increased rate to compensate for the probability it will pay out claims.

Your credit score, age, where you live, and the type of car you drive are among the other factors insurance companies consider to determine premiums.

What Is Included in the MVR?

In addition to accidents and moving violations, the MVR also includes information about any criminal convictions associated with the driving record, such as DUIs and any incidents in which the driver failed to appear at a scheduled court hearing related to a driving infraction.

The MVR also supplies the insurance company with information about any license restrictions, such as not being allowed to drive at night due to poor eyesight. Any prior license suspensions or revocations within the lookback period are also included.

What If My Record Isn't Clean?

Luckily, even if you have to pay an increased insurance rate due to a less-than-favorable MVR, it may not be permanent. Once your infractions are older than the lookback period, they drop off the insurance summary and are no longer considered when determining your premium. If your insurance company has a lookback period of three years, for example, an accident you had in 2017 drops off your record in 2020. If you have no new collisions, your insurance rates may decrease at your next policy renewal.

How to Check Your Driving Record

If you are shopping for car insurance it's a good idea to check your driving record. Checking your MVR before applying will also allow you to correct any inaccuracies.

Obtaining a copy is straightforward. You can check your MVR through your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Each states typically charges a small fee—Utah charges $8, for example, while Washington charges $13.