Why Criminal Convictions Increase Car Insurance Costs

A man with handcuffs standing by a car and being arrested.

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There are many collateral consequences that follow convicted felons around once they've completed serving their sentence. In many states, for example, ex-felons face restrictions on their ability to vote, serve on juries, or own firearms. A felony conviction may even affect a person's car insurance rate, although exactly how it's affected depends on the type of crime they were convicted for, along with some other factors. But in general, people who have a criminal record end up paying higher insurance rates than those who don't because they're considered a higher risk.

How Auto Insurance Rates Are Determined

The name of the game when it comes to insurance rates is risk, and auto insurance is certainly no exception. Car insurance companies are in the business to make a profit, so the higher the risk to their bottom line, the higher the rates they charge.

Factors that car insurance companies have determined to influence risk include age, occupation, marital status, homeownership, credit score, and driving record.

Most auto insurance companies view people with criminal records or criminal activity on their driving records as higher risk because they see it as evidence that they're more likely to engage in irresponsible or dangerous behavior.

When shopping for car insurance, it's important to get quotes from several different providers and compare the rates. It's especially important for those convicted of driving-related crimes. Some companies have special policies for high-risk drivers.

Types of Felony Convictions

Every insurance company will check a person's driving record, but not all of them will check your criminal record. So if a felony conviction isn't related to operating a vehicle then the insurance company will not know about it unless they check the person's criminal record as well.

If a conviction is related to driving, then it will show up on a person's driving record, and car insurance companies will certainly take it into account when determining their risk—and premium rate.

One item that's sure to show up on a driving record is a DUI (driving under the influence) conviction, which in some states is known as DWI (driving while intoxicated), OMVI (operating a motor vehicle impaired), or OVI (operating a vehicle impaired.) DUIs are only usually considered if it's not the first offence, but regardless, they'll affect your driving record—and auto insurance rates—for years.

A DUI conviction will often stay on a driving record for three to five years in some states, and up to 10 in others, although it will likely stay on a person's criminal record for life.

If someone is convicted of any other type of felony that has to do with driving it will also likely show up on their driving record, and their rates will go up. These types of convictions can include vehicular homicide or manslaughter, certain types of reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident (often known as a hit-and-run), and repeat offenses of the same type of moving violation.

Arrest vs. Conviction

There is a big difference between being arrested for a crime and actually being convicted of one. And that could mean a big difference when it comes to the auto insurance bill, but it may depend on the jurisdiction where a person lives. 

In many cases, a person's arrest record is automatically expunged if there is no conviction. If not, in most jurisdictions an individual can apply to have his or her arrest record expunged. Again, that is, if there has been no conviction. Additionally, many jurisdictions will, in certain cases, expunge a person's criminal record even if he or she has been convicted once the sentence has been completed.