You may think you're pretty good behind the wheel. But if you rack up enough accidents, speeding tickets or even one serious infraction — such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs — you may find yourself classified as a "high-risk driver."

How to shop for high-risk car insurance

As a high-risk driver, you may be able to buy a standard policy at a higher rate from a traditional insurance company, or you may buy what's known as a nonstandard policy, which may include restrictions on who can drive the car or how much coverage you can buy.

The nonstandard market includes both small, niche companies, that are local and may only operate in your state, and some major carriers, like Geico and Nationwide, which have divisions selling non-standard coverage.

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How much is car insurance for a high-risk driver?

You’ll definitely pay more for coverage as a high-risk driver. For instance, an Insure.com rate analysis found that, on average, drivers will pay 79% more after a first drunken driving conviction; 71% more if they have poor credit and live in a state that allows credit to be considered; 43% more for two speeding tickets; and 32% more after an at-fault accident that injures another motorist.  

But, that doesn't mean you can't still save money. The good news is that you'll probably save more money by comparing car insurance rates than a standard or preferred driver would, because you're starting from a much higher rate to begin with.

Not all insurers treat high-risk drivers the same way. Some companies will assess much harsher rate penalties than others on high-risk customers, which means it's always wise to compare car insurance quotes before buying a high-risk policy. Finding the most forgiving carrier can ease the painfully high rates that typically come with being a high-risk driver.

Some insurance companies may charge you a lot more after, say, a credit ding or speeding ticket, while others may charge you much less.

For example, data show the average driver with bad credit can potentially trim an average of about $1,000 from their yearly policy cost by comparing car insurance companies, based on a rate analysis by the experts at Insure.com. Here's how rates compare for drivers with bad credit for a full coverage policy:

  • Geico – $2,084
  • Nationwide – $2,244
  • Progressive – $2,644
  • Allstate – $2,906
  • State Farm – $3,012
  • Farmers – $3,039

Another example – speeding tickets. Here are how companies compared on full coverage rates after a minor speeding violation, according to Insure.com data, showing an average savings of about $800:

  • Geico – $1,449
  • State Farm – $1,807
  • Nationwide – $1,900
  • Progressive – $1,916
  • Farmers – $2,146
  • Allstate – $2,239

How to get auto insurance for a high-risk driver

Companies that cater to high-risk drivers include:

In addition to comparing car insurance rates, here are three key things to note about buying a high-risk auto insurance policy:

There may be limits on who else can drive your car. Some companies that sell nonstandard auto insurance will cover only specific drivers who are named in the policy. That is different from standard auto insurance, which stays with the car and covers other occasional drivers.

Your driving record may be reviewed more often. Insurance companies may not always look at the driving record of safe drivers every year. However, an insurer may check the record of a high-risk driver upon policy renewal time, and hike rates if there are any moving violations.

You may not be insured for punitive damages. A nonstandard policy also may not cover you if you're in a wreck and you're sued for punitive damages and lose.

What is a high-risk driver?

Drivers generally fall into one of three categories, depending on their driving record and, in most states, things like their neighborhood, credit history, or recent insurance claims.

  • Preferred-risk driver: These drivers are considered the lowest risk and can get auto insurance at the lowest price. They are over 25 years old and have a safe driving record and no tickets and pay all their bills on time. They probably also live in an area with low theft and vandalism rates.
  • Standard-risk driver: These drivers present an average risk and will receive average rates. They will have a limited number of tickets or accidents and at least average credit record.
  • Nonstandard-risk driver: These drivers pose the greatest risk of filing a claim and are called high-risk drivers. They include young and inexperienced drivers, or those with multiple tickets or accidents or a history of reckless driving or DUIs. They will pay the highest premiums.

And then there is a fourth category: Drivers who can't convince any insurance company to sell them a policy. This type of driver can still buy insurance through their state’s "assigned risk" pool, but they'll typically have to prove they've been repeatedly rejected by car insurance companies, and their premiums will be two to three times higher than the national average. Thanks to the growth of the non-standard insurance market, very few insured drivers — only 1 percent nationally — have to buy into the so-called shared market.

How do I know if I am a high-risk driver?

When shopping for cheap car insurance, consider that the following factors may classify you as a high-risk driver and raise your rates:

A bad credit score: Although you can't be denied insurance altogether for a lousy credit score, in all but three states — California, Hawaii and Massachusetts — insurers are allowed to charge you more for your car insurance if you have a poor credit history.

A lapsed insurance policy: If you failed to pay your car insurance premium and had your policy cancelled by another insurance company, other car insurance companies will likely find out and factor that into your premium. You'll also pay higher rates if you drove without insurance for a period of time — in some states it has to be at least 30 days — during the previous 12 months.

Inexperienced or young driver: Inexperienced drivers are among the riskiest around. It's important to establish and maintain a good driving record if you want inexpensive insurance.

Your profession: People who drive great distances for their job — delivery drivers, for example — are considered high-risk drivers by many car insurance companies. If you drive for work and not just to work, you probably need a business auto policy, not a regular personal lines policy.

Your car: Certain types of high-powered cars, including some sports cars, can fuel higher auto insurance rates. These cars are expensive to repair and their drivers tend to make more claims. Check out Insure.com's list of the most and least expensive cars to insure to see how vehicle choice can impact your rates.

What if I can’t find high-risk insurance?

If one company turns you down for auto insurance, keep shopping with the best auto insurers to compare quotes. Another may be willing to sell you a policy, and you want to stay out of the assigned-risk pool. Being classified as a "high-risk driver" rarely forces you to buy from your state’s assigned-risk pool.

How long does it take to not be considered a high-risk driver?

Most car insurance companies will forget about your accidents and poor driving record if you maintain a clean driving record for at least three years. But this varies depending on the insurance company and the state. Some will look back as far as five years when assessing how risky a driver you are. If the offense has fallen off your driving record, your insurer should no longer be able to use it to increase your rates.

Many states use a point system that assigns a score according to the severity of an incident. Insurers use a different system of "insurance points" that they associate with various traffic violations, accidents and claims. The more severe the offense, the more points you receive.

You can ask your insurer how long it will take for your insurance points and the related surcharge (the increase in rates) to fall off so your rates can improve. In the meantime, driving carefully, avoiding accidents and paying your insurance bill on time should be your goals.