In most states, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) keeps track of motorists' traffic convictions using a demerit point system. The specifics of these point systems vary from state-to-state. But the basic idea is the same in every jurisdiction: Motorists who accumulate too many points within a certain period of time face license-related consequences.
This article explains how traffic violation point systems work and some of the possible consequences of acquiring too many points.
States normally scale the number of demerit points to the seriousness of the offense. In other words, minor traffic violations will usually be fewer points than more egregious offenses. For instance, a speeding violation might add one or two points to a motorist's driving record. And more serious offenses like driving under the influence (DUI) or reckless driving might be four or more points.
Most states also have zero-point moving violations. For example, red light camera tickets generally won't add points to your record. When plea bargaining in a traffic case is possible, zero-point offenses are usually what you want to shoot for.
Car accidents can also lead to points. Some states impose points anytime a driver is found responsible for causing a collision. In other states, an accident alone won't lead to points; but if a driver commits a traffic violation that results in an accident, the accident increases the number of points for the traffic violation.
OUT-OF-STATE TRAFFIC TICKETS
Most states are members of the interstate "Driver's License Compact" (DLC). The DLC is an information sharing agreement among the member states. Basically, all the member states are required to report traffic convictions of out-of-state drivers to the drivers' home states. The DMV in the driver's home state then treats the conviction as if it occurred in the home state. So, in terms of demerit points, an out-of-state traffic conviction usually carries the same point value as an in-state violation.
Demerit points don't stay on your record permanently. The points for a violation are purged after a certain period of time. Depending on your state's law, this purging usually occurs anywhere from one to four years after the conviction.
States have different systems for penalizing drivers who accumulate too many points. But generally, drivers who acquire a certain number of points within a specific period of time face penalties like:
Typically, the DMV sends warning letters to drivers who are close to having point-related consequences.
Insurance premiums aren't necessarily tied to demerit points. Typically, insurance companies have their own systems for determining rates. As a driver accumulates more points, his or her rates will tend to increase, but the rate increase isn't a direct result of the points—it's because insurance companies consider drivers who get lots of tickets to be a significant risk. In other words, insurance companies believe traffic violations are an indicator of how likely a driver is be involved in an accident.
Some states permit eligible motorists to avoid a traffic conviction by completing traffic school (also called "defensive driving" and "driver improvement"). Participating in traffic school will also ensure that points for the violation don't go on the person's driving record. A number of states also allow drivers to reduce their existing points by doing traffic school.