What Is a High-Risk Driver?

High-Risk Drivers Explained in Less Than 5 Minutes

Man using smartphone whilst driving.
•••


mikroman6 / Getty Images

The term “high-risk driver” isn’t a formal legal or insurance classification and can vary between insurers. However, high-risk drivers typically include those who have been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), experienced numerous car accidents, or racked up lots of driver’s license points. 

We’ll explore the definition of a high-risk driver, how to tell if you might be one, how long you’ll be considered high-risk and the potential consequences of being a high-risk driver. Then we’ll explore what you can do to rid yourself of the label. 

Definition and Examples of a High-Risk Driver

While insurers might not have an industry-wide definition of high-risk drivers, they’re always assessing drivers for risk, said Frank Jones, an independent insurance agent and partner at Mints Insurance in New Jersey. Jones works with insurance lines in 25 states and often looks for insurers who will take on high-risk drivers. 

“Insurance is a financial animal,” he said. Insurance companies are always managing the costs associated with claims, which can affect their profits. Drivers who are considered less likely to cause expensive claims are appealing to insurance companies, which can then provide those drivers with insurance coverage at competitive rates.

In general, a high-risk driver is someone with:

  • A major violation, such as speeding or a DUI conviction.
  • Multiple, frequent minor violations, such as tickets or accidents.
  • Multiple at-fault accidents in the past three to five years.
  • A requirement to file an SR-22 or FR-44, which could be due to a conviction or not carrying insurance.
  • Driving violations that led to accumulating points on your record.

Many insurers consider less-experienced or younger drivers to be riskier than more experienced ones, but Jones said they wouldn’t meet the definition of “high-risk drivers.”

A 2014 statewide survey in Minnesota defined the following risky driving behaviors: drinking and driving, not wearing a seatbelt, texting/internet use while driving, and speeding 10 miles per hour or more over the limit. High-risk drivers tended to be younger, male, and employed, and to associate themselves with personality traits such as thrill-seeking and competitiveness. As expected, high-risk drivers were more likely to get involved in car accidents, receive moving violations, and face license suspension than less-risky drivers. However, these drivers often thought of themselves as “above-average” drivers who were at less risk of being in a crash than other drivers.

How Does the High-Risk Driver Designation Work?

When you request a quote for car insurance, the insurance company reviews your driving record to determine whether you’re a high-risk driver with a pattern of risky driving. In fact, many insurance companies consider the driving records of every licensed driver in your home.

One-time speeding tickets aren’t terribly concerning, Jones said. Insurers are more worried about covering the costs that habitually risky drivers are more likely to rack up through accidents. 

Jones works to match high-risk drivers with insurers that will offer more than the minimum required auto coverage at a reasonable price. But he often finds that of more than a dozen insurers, only a handful will agree to take on a high-risk driver. 

Depending on your state, if you’re a high-risk driver, you may only be able to get coverage for the state’s liability insurance minimum. You may not be able to buy optional coverages like collision and comprehensive insurance, which cover damage to your car. 

How Long Is a Driver Considered High Risk?

Normally, insurers look at your driving history for the past five years, although a few carriers only go back three years, Jones said. Even if points fall off your state driving record, convictions for driving offenses can remain on your record for a longer period of time, sometimes permanently. 

Key Takeaways

  • There is no formal designation or definition of a high-risk driver by state or federal law, or by all insurance companies.
  • High-risk drivers are those who’ve racked up numerous small violations, one major violation, several at-fault accidents, or many driver’s license points, or who are required to have an SR-22 or FR-22. 
  • Insurers may be hesitant to offer coverage to high-risk drivers because these drivers present a substantial financial risk for the insurer. 
  • Insurers generally consider someone at high risk for three to five years after the infractions, violations, or convictions.
  • Defensive driving courses might mitigate your high-risk situation, but only time can reduce the insurance impact of high-risk driving.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do I become less of a high-risk driver?

Some states encourage or require people convicted of high-risk driving behaviors to take driving courses. For example, after being convicted of three offenses like failure to yield or passing on a shoulder, Delaware drivers must take an eight-hour behavior modification course. Some insurers may offer a discount if you take a defensive driving course to improve your driving skills. 

But to no longer be considered a high-risk driver by insurance companies, in general, you have to wait for the infractions to drop off your record. “If you get a DUI, a defensive driving course is not going to massively change your situation. What will change your situation is time,” Jones said. 

Of course, you can also take steps to prevent distracted driving:

  • Turn your phone to “do not disturb” mode and put it in your bag or console while you’re behind the wheel.
  • Follow posted speed limits.
  • Wear seat belts.
  • Avoid driving while under any influence of drugs or alcohol. 

How much does insurance go up after a high-risk driver designation?

There is no set amount for the increase, Jones said, although you may find it difficult to get auto insurance if you’re classified as a high-risk driver. In that case, many states offer an insurance plan developed specifically for high-risk drivers

But that insurance often comes at a steep price. Jones is aware of one person who received two DUIs and was in four accidents in just a few years — they wound up paying $17,000 per year for insurance for three years, when the driver’s previous rate was around $1,400 per year. 

Am I considered a high-risk driver after going without a car?

Not necessarily, Jones said. It all depends on whether you’ve had a high-risk profile or engaged in high-risk driving activities in the past.