By Logan Quirk
Your driving record is a legal account of any driving mishaps you’ve had over a certain period of time, and how your record is affected can vary from state to state. Keeping a clean driving record with no moving violations, traffic accidents, or points can be important for many reasons. Here’s a look at why, as well as how you can maintain a clean record in the future.
Why a Clean Driving Record Is So Important
Having a clean driving record may not have been an issue for you until you came up against a problem with your current record. At that point, you may have realized that a clean record is a lot like having good credit: it affects your life in multiple ways.
There are dozens of reasons to maintain a clean driving record. First, if you accrue enough violations or points on your driver’s license, you can lose your right to drive. Laws about loss of license are different for each state in the US. In California, for example, if you pick up two points within a 12-month period, your driving can be restricted. Rack up three points in that same 12-month period and your license can be completely suspended.
How Law Enforcement Sees You
Your record also affects how you fare if you are in an accident or get pulled over by a police officer. While you may still get a ticket with a blank record, many law enforcement officers tend to be a little more lenient when they run a license and it comes back clean. However, if you have a poor record, an officer may be harsher on you in the moment or even look for reasons to cite you for additional violations. If you have to go to court for a vehicle-related issue, your driving record may be brought up in the process and influence the outcome of a hearing or trial.
On the Job
A potential employer may ask to look at your driving record, particularly if driving a vehicle is part of the job. This doesn’t just apply to truckers and delivery people. Positions in pharmaceutical sales or news reporting typically involve a lot of driving and may be denied to people with poor driving records. Likewise, you may not be able to become either a paid or volunteer firefighter or EMT with a bad record. Jobs that come with a company car aren’t usually awarded to those with bad driving records.
Dollars Down the Drain
Having a poor driving record can cost you a bundle too, and not just in traffic citations. A big factor in your automobile insurance premium cost is your driving history. Even one speeding ticket can up your rates significantly. Your premiums may double or triple with more serious offenses.
Life insurance calculations are also influenced by your driving record. A very poor driving record can indicate a higher risk of death, which means a greater likelihood of your insurance carrier needing to pay out sooner. Life insurance companies compensate for this increased risk to them by upping your premium costs.
Miscellaneous Other Scenarios
Other situations affected by your driving record:
- Adopting a child
- Running for public office
- Receiving federal aid
- Maintaining your credit (if you have unpaid citations)
- Renting a car
- Getting a pilot’s license
How to Keep a Clean Driving Record
The best way to keep a clean driving record is not to tarnish it in the first place. If you never get cited for a moving violation or get pulled over, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Here are some tips on how to keep your license spotless.
Know the Laws Where You Live
Some folks get into trouble with the law because they don’t know the traffic laws for their area. You remember that old saying, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse?” It became a cliché for a reason.
Go online or go to your nearest DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and grab one of the free booklets there for people studying for their driver’s license. This will help with basic situations, like how far from a fire engine you need to drive or how fast to go in a school zone.
Pay attention when you’re driving to the signs around you, particularly speed limits. And remember: a limit is exactly that. It is the maximum speed you are allowed to drive, not the required speed. A police officer can pull you over for going “too fast for conditions,” like if it’s raining or snowing and they perceive you are endangering others with the speed of your car.
Don’t Be a Scofflaw
While speeding is probably the most common way drivers thumb their noses at the law, there are others. One biggie is refusing to wear your seatbelt. Know the seat belt laws for your state and observe them religiously.
When you carry oversized items on your vehicle, make sure they are properly tied down and flagged for drivers behind you. Be extra cautious when towing. And never, ever talk on a handheld phone or text while driving.
Don’t drive under the influence; when in doubt have someone else take the wheel or call a ride sharing program–there’s no excuse nowadays.
Watch out for these other common reasons for cops to stop you:
- Illegal or questionable window tinting
- Items dangling from your rearview mirror that could obstruct your vision
- Making illegal U-turns
- Not having the proper license plate (not having one on the front, having it covered, etc.)
- Creating gridlock at an intersection
- Driving aggressively or tailgating
- Failure to signal
- Having loose pets in the vehicle that could endanger you or other drivers
Don’t Look Like a Violator
You don’t want to attract attention to yourself that makes you look like a violator either. In addition to speeding and not wearing a seat belt, you can do things that, while perhaps not technically illegal, call into question your judgment as a driver.
Radar detectors, for example, may have fallen out of favor lately, but some people still use them to stay alert to imminent speed traps. There’s really no reason to have a radar detector in your vehicle and what it says to a cop is, “I like to speed, and I’m trying not to get caught.”
Likewise, driving souped-up cars can be a magnet for police attention. Is it fair that your growly red Maserati with the spoiler and dual twin exhausts draws the cops to you like moths to a bright light? Probably not, but their reasoning is that you own that vehicle to drive like you’re on an episode of “Top Gear” trying to beat the track record.
Keep Your Vehicle in Good Shape
Having your vehicle in poor repair can be an actual cause for a traffic citation (non-working horn, broken headlight, etc.), or it can make a police officer focus a little more intently on you and notice you’re driving two miles over the limit. Some law enforcement codes give a great deal of leeway to police officers and let them decide what’s a violation and what’s not.
Even if a dent or a ding wasn’t your fault, it can make you appear like someone that’s in a lot of traffic accidents. A vehicle that’s well maintained tells those around you that you take responsibilities seriously. Therefore watch these items in particular:
- Damage from previous incidents
- Tire grip and inflation
- Side mirror functionality
- Window cleanliness and operation
- Snow and ice coverage
- Muffler noise
- Fluids and leaks
Take a Driving Class
Taking a driving class is often viewed as a way to remove points from a driving record (see below), but it can actually be a terrific way to avoid getting those points at all. Check out schools near you for defensive or high-speed driving classes similar to those offered to police officers, firefighters, and ambulance drivers.
What can you learn at one of these classes?
- Safety tips for dealing with highway driving
- What to do in emergencies, such as if the semi in front of you blows a tire
- How to handle emergencies in your own vehicle
- How to brake and swerve quickly at high speeds
- How to maneuver in reverse more easily
- What to watch out for in common accident locations, like parking lots and school pick-up zones
Even if you don’t need points taken off your driving record, attending and passing a defensive driving class may reduce your auto insurance premiums with some carriers.
How to Remove Items from Your Driving Record
If you do wind up with vehicle citations and get points on your driving record, sometimes it is possible to have them taken off. In addition to taking a driving class, you may find other approaches effective.
Waiting It Out
Sometimes all you can do is wait for the points to drop off your driving record, again, much like dealing with your credit report. State law varies on this. Some states reduce points after a certain period of good behavior while others are more strict. If you are close to seeing infractions disappear from your record, the best thing you can do is drive carefully and wait for them to fall off. Whatever you do, don’t get yourself in another situation where you rack up more points.
Going to Traffic Court
Many drivers avoid the option of going to traffic court, thinking it’s only going to hurt them. However, if you believe you were wrongfully given a citation, you are within your rights to go to traffic court to present your side of the story.
Traffic court can be especially helpful if there were extenuating circumstances in your case or if you have photos or video to back you up. If the other parties involved don’t show up, it can come down to your word versus theirs, and you’re the one that’s in the courtroom. Sometimes a judge will reduce or eliminate your fine or simply fine you without points. It’s often worth a try, depending on where you live, since traffic court procedures are different in every state.
You’ll probably have to wait your turn in court until your case is called. Look presentable and speak in a clear voice so you can be heard. Always address the judge as “Your Honor” and any law enforcement officers as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” Manners count. Avoid getting angry if someone disagrees with you. Calmly make your case and let the judge do their job.
Consulting with Your DMV
One last step is to see if your DMV has any suggestions. Every case is unique and your department will know about laws and exceptions particular to your state. If something should have come off your record by now, they may be able to expedite its removal. They can also tell you if a driving class will help.
There is another bonus to going to the DMV and having them run your driving record. If you notice infractions under your name that you have never incurred, it could be an error or, more seriously, a sign of identity theft, and they can help you with the next steps. You don’t want your driver’s license being used as a scapegoat in other people’s bad driving, and your name or credit may have been compromised in other ways.
If you are in an accident, how you handle yourself in the moment can often determine whether or not you take a hit to your driving record. Never get angry at the scene of an accident and engage in any road rage.
Whether you have been the victim of someone else’s poor driving or you may have been at fault yourself, you may wish to talk to a car accident attorney.
Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with accidents or cleaning up a poor driving record. Use these tips to maintain a clean driving record and you can enjoy your time on the road without worry.
Do you have more questions about how to keep a clean driving record? Contact the Quirk Law Group today. We’ll answer your questions and make sure you know where you stand when it comes to your driving record.