Ah, the elusive clean driving record. It’s one of those vague phrases people throw around — like good credit or stable employment history. We know we’re supposed to have these things, but we’re not sure what they mean, exactly, or how to get them. For example, does a simple parking ticket dirty your clean driving record? What if you get a speeding ticket and then go to traffic school? Or, once you have a DUI on your driving record, what does it take to clean that up?
There are about 227.5 million licensed drivers in the U.S., and many struggle to keep their driving records free from violations. Around 1.5 million drivers are arrested annually for drunk driving. More than 40 million drivers receive speeding tickets each year. Millions more are cited for other driving infractions, including reckless driving, running stop signs, not signaling, and tailgating.
The first time you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror, you may have the sense you’re about to lose that clean driving record forever. But all hope is not lost. First, let’s dive into what “clean” means — as it may surprise you. Then, we’ll talk about how to restore your clean driving record when something bad happens.
What is a clean driving record?
Technically, a driving record is clean when it has no moving violations or accidents in recent history — usually three to five years. If you haven’t gotten a ticket, been arrested while driving, or been in a reported accident, your driving record should be squeaky clean.
That’s the black-and-white interpretation, but the real-world answer is less clear. In certain situations, a driving record can have minor traffic violations and still be considered “clean.” It all depends on who is looking into your driving history. Uber, for example, defines a clean record as one without DUIs or reckless driving charges, and with no more than three moving violations in the last three years. Long-haul trucking companies have more rigid standards, limiting drivers to no more than one or two minor infractions in the last two years. Car insurance providers have the strictest view, and normally raise your rates after a single violation.
Note that parking tickets and fix-it tickets don’t impact your driving record. But a pattern of unpaid parking tickets or unresolved fix-it tickets could get you in trouble with your state DMV. You might get fined and be prohibited from renewing your car’s registration. In extreme cases, the DMV might suspend your license. That license suspension would go on your record and would definitely impact your insurance premiums.
Tickets vs. accidents vs. DUIs
Tickets, accidents that are your fault, and DUIs all impact your driving record. Generally, the more severe the infraction, the bigger and more lasting mark it leaves.
Many state DMVs follow a point system to track violations and weight their severity. If you live in a state that uses a point system, a prospective employer might want to see a driving record “with no points.” This is synonymous with “clean driving record,” and means you have no tickets or accidents.
Here’s how driving points work. The state assigns a point value to accidents and to specific infractions, such as a speeding ticket or DUI. As you incur citations, those points accumulate on your record. Get too many points, and the state suspends your license. Each state defines its own points rules and its own threshold for license suspensions. We share some specifics below for the more populous states of California, New York, Texas, and Florida.
Note that points and violations earned in other states do get transmitted to your home state and added to your driving record.
Clean driving record California
In California, you get 1 point for an accident that’s your fault. You also get 1 point for speeding or making an unsafe lane change. But you’ll get 2 points for reckless driving, DUI, or driving with a suspended license. If you accumulate 4 points within 12 months, your license gets suspended.
Clean driving record NY
New York has a more complicated point system. Speeding earns you 3 to 11 points, depending on how fast you were going. You’ll get 5 points for reckless driving, failing to stop for a school bus, or texting while driving. Three-point violations include rolling through a stop sign and making unsafe lane changes. You are a candidate for license suspension if you amass 11 points within 18 months.
Clean driving record Texas
Texas formerly used a system called the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) to add points to your driving record. That program was repealed in September, 2019. You won’t earn points anymore in Texas, but you can still have your license suspended for repeated citations, failure to appear in court for a moving violation, or failure to pay for your ticket.
Clean driving record Florida
In Florida, you’ll earn 3 to 6 points for most moving violations. Leaving the scene of a crash that involves more than $50 in damage earns you 6 points. Reckless driving is worth 4 points and speeding is worth 3 points. Your license will be suspended for 30 days if you accumulate 12 points within 12 months.
4 benefits of a clean driving record
Lower insurance premiums
Even just one infraction on your driving record can raise your insurance premiums. Whether it’s an accident, ticket, or DUI, the incident flags you as an at-risk driver in the eyes of the insurance company. Teenage drivers usually get hit the hardest with rate increases. But even experienced drivers can see their premiums go up 10% from a minor speeding ticket. A more severe charge, like a DUI, will lead to insurance cancellation or a massive increase in premiums.
Less wear and tear on your car
Driving laws are in place to minimize traffic accidents. Follow safe, legal driving practices and you’re less likely to beat up your car. That means less money spent on repairs, but there’s another financial impact to consider. An accident on your car’s CARFAX report immediately shaves thousands off its value.
More job opportunities
A clean driving record is a standard requirement for any job that involves driving. Examples include bus drivers, chauffeurs, delivery drivers, long-haul truckers, ambulance drivers, and even machinery operators on construction sites and in factories. Most of these jobs will be rigid on their requirements — they’ll expect to see a driving record that has no negative marks in recent history. You can and should ask the prospective employer to clarify the requirements. Specifically, you’ll want to know how far back they look for violations.
Ability to get a CDL
Federal law requires you to hold a Commercial Driver’s License or CDL to operate any vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more, any vehicle designed to transport 16 or more people, and any vehicle that transports hazardous materials. Each state administers its own CDL program, so the requirements vary. Generally, the state will evaluate your driving record for the past 10 years. Any license suspensions or DUIs will disqualify you immediately.
How to clean your driving record
So, let’s get back to seeing those flashing lights behind you. A wise first move is to stifle any panic or anger. Even if the officer proceeds to write out a ticket, you can take steps to keep the points or infractions from mucking up your driving record.
Go to court
You can protest the ticket by going to court. This is a solid strategy if you’re sure you didn’t break the law. But it might also work in your favor in other situations, too. Perhaps you made that unsafe lane change to avoid hitting something else, or you sped through a stop sign because your daughter had just been admitted to the hospital. A judge might be receptive enough to your extenuating circumstances to reduce the charge and fine.
Resolve parking and fix-it tickets
Parking and fix-it tickets are non-moving violations and do not immediately impact your driving record. Even so, if you ignore these violations, they will catch up to you. Avoid hassles with your state DMV by paying your parking tickets and resolving your fix-it tickets as soon as possible.
Go to traffic school
You may have the option of taking a driver safety course to remove the ticket and the associated points from your driving record. Most states allow you to do this once every 12 or 18 months for minor violations only.
In states that follow a point system, points for tickets and minor accidents usually drop off your driving record in two to five years. The exact timeframe depends on the infraction and that state where it occurred. A speeding ticket in California, for example, falls away after three years. Waiting to clear your driving record after a DUI, though, will take 10 years.
If your state doesn’t use points, the infraction might stay on your record indefinitely. But most insurers and prospective employers won’t be too concerned with non-DUI violations that are older than five years.
Ask to have the violation cleared
Some states do accept requests to have violations cleared from your record. Generally, your request will only be accepted if you have just one infraction and you’ve demonstrated clean driving for a certain period of time. Check with your state on requirements and procedures.
Drive safely to keep your record clean
When it comes to driving records, there’s one clear takeaway: Following the rules of the road is the best strategy to keep your driving record clean. If you have a misstep, contest the ticket in court or go to traffic school to have the violation expunged from your record. That’ll prevent an increase in insurance premiums and spare you the awkwardness of asking prospective employers what they really mean by the phrase “clean driving record.” If your insurance company increases your price anyway, consider other options to bring down your rates.