Rules of the Road

So you’re at fault in an accident; how long will it be a black mark on your driving record?

A traffic infraction can remain on your driving record for three years and a collision for five years, and some sources may never delete it.
A traffic infraction can remain on your driving record for three years and a collision for five years, and some sources may never delete it. The Bellingham Herald file

Question: I was at fault for a traffic collision for “failure to yield leaving a parking lot or alley.” How long will this be on my driving record?

Answer: As data expert Jeff Rothenberg said, “Digital information lasts forever, or five years, whichever comes first.” The only way to have a perfectly clean driving record is to never get a ticket. However, the real concern, and what I suspect you’re getting at in the question, is “How long will a traffic infraction or a crash affect me?”

If your insurance company or a potential employer requested your driving record from the Department of Licensing, your collision would be on your Abstract of Driving Record (ADR) for five years from the conviction date.

However, DOL keeps much longer records; an alcohol related conviction stays on your driving record for life, which DOL lists as 99 years. So do vehicular homicides and deferred prosecutions.

Commercial vehicle convictions stay on the ADR for 55 years.

DOL isn’t the only place where at least a piece of your driving record may be kept. The law enforcement agency that investigated the collision keeps the report on file. One local law enforcement agency I spoke with said they typically keep collision reports for 10 years, but may keep them longer on more serious crashes.

The court that recorded your infraction also would have a record of this event. Like law enforcement agencies, courts will likely keep record of the violation for much longer than what shows up on your ADR.

If the law enforcement agency that originally issued the infraction for the crash or the court that recorded it decides, after a period of time, to destroy the record of the crash, that doesn’t mean that it’s also destroyed by any of the other agencies that have a record of the incident.

And with digital records backing up original documents, an agency may destroy a paper document after 10 years, but leave the digital copy stored indefinitely.

The insurance business isn’t quite as easy to summarize, because each insurance company has its own approach to determining how crashes and tickets affect their customers’ rates.

At least one national insurance company advertises “accident forgiveness,” where they give you a pass for your first crash.

Whatever your insurance company’s process, I’d be willing to bet that the company doesn’t ever forget the last time they had to make an expenditure on your behalf.

I asked my insurance agent about how long a driver could expect to be affected by a crash on a driving record. He said that while it varies from one company to the next, insurance carriers generally look at violation activity for the past three years and collision activity for five years.

If you happen to be a celebrity or a politician, or you crash in such a spectacular way as to get media attention, the record of your crash, at least online, will last as long as Google’s server farms have storage space.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit Ask a question.