Decoding the Mysteries of High-Risk Car Insurance

When it comes to who qualifies, formulas and definitions vary widely among states and insurance firms.

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Those infractions can pile up. Even if you haven't been endangering lives, if you've been cited a few times in the past few years, you should start to be concerned. "The rule of thumb is a combination of three," says Weedin, who explains that you're typically labeled a high-risk driver if, within three years, you have three moving violations – for instance, a speeding ticket, running a red light and making an illegal U-turn.

Of course, your insurer may not see the illegal U-turn as a major problem, and perhaps it would take a fourth violation such as another speeding ticket to put you in the high-risk category. But if your infractions are starting to add up, you don't want to push your luck – and you may want to look into taking a state-approved driver's education course to bring down your points.

Even bad luck could count against you. Let's say a deer ran into your car, and a few months later, a car sideswiped you and you were found not to be at fault. Another month later, your car slid on some ice and into a telephone pole. Although you may be having a run of bad luck, those types of accidents can collectively label you an at-risk driver, according to Jack Taylor, a professor of retailing at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Ala., who has done extensive teaching and academic research on insurance issues. "The repeated history is enough of a red flag to pick up attention," he says.

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Teenage drivers can make you feel like a high-risk driver. The good news is that adding a teenager to your policy won't automatically make your rates double – but the bad news is that it can. But most insurers offer discounts of anywhere from 15 to 35 percent if your teenager maintains a B average in school. Many insurers also will lower your premiums if the student takes an insurer-approved driver's education program, and it also helps if he or she drives a car that's considered a safe model.

There is good reason for insurers to be concerned about teen drivers. All younger drivers are considered a risky bet for the insurance industry: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teenagers from 16 to 19 are more likely than any other age group to crash. And information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that male teen drivers are almost twice as likely to die in a crash as female teens. As you can imagine, if your teenager is involved in just one accident, especially if he or she was at fault, you can expect your rates to climb significantly. Two accidents, and you'll probably be told your teen is being dropped from your policy.

How to get labeled as a standard- or preferred-risk driver. "Really, the only way you get off of it is to be a better driver. Stop having moving violations and especially having wrecks," Taylor says. "It's that simple. Typically, you can expect to be on these lists for about five years, depending on how bad your record is."