Sex, Skin, and Driving Record Capital

What do sex (gender) and skin have to do with someone’s driving record? I’m not sure, but the past weeks have me thinking of ways in which being a woman who is white might have granted me privileges not granted to others.

Driving record “capital” – the monetary benefits that accrue from having a good driving record – may sound small but can be significant.

In 39 years of driving, I’ve been pulled over 5 or 6 times. The first time, I was 19. In my 1982 Pontiac Firebird, I ran a red light at Fowler and Nebraska, a dangerous Tampa intersection. I didn’t run it barely; I ran it bigly (as a certain politician would say). It was flagrant and I was rude to the officer who pulled me over. I totally deserved the ticket she gave me, and it was painful to pay it.

As a result, the other painful part was that I lost driving record “capital.” I had to pay higher insurance premiums for a few years. This kept down the price of the car that I could afford. Also, if I had applied for life insurance or disability insurance, I would have paid higher premiums for those too. (Yes, your driving record affects your life and disability insurance premiums, no matter what your age.)

But I’ve never had a ticket since. In the past 35 years, I may have been guilty of:

California rolling a stop sign in a quiet neighborhood in an Infiniti sedan; and/or screaming 65 around Florida country curves posted at 35 in a Cayman S; and/or doing a U-ey in front of a sign with a big red line through a black U.

Yet, no tickets. Maybe I’m not guilty of any of these things, but I sure was pulled over for them.

Why Only a Warning?

Each time I left with a warning. Why? Maybe it’s because I learned to be polite. But somehow I don’t think that’s all of it. Only one of the officers actually told me his reasoning. “I’m gonna’ write cha’ this here warning, on account of you’re drivin’ such a nice car. Slow down now, y’hear?”

When he said that, I thought, “Well thank goodness, but that’s not a very good reason to let someone out of a speeding ticket.” “Yes, sir,” I said.

As I carefully drove away, heart pounding with relief, I wondered, what if I had been just as polite, but a guy? And now I wonder, what if I had been just as polite, but a black guy? How about, what if I had been a polite black gal in that rural Florida county “drivin’ such a nice car?” Maybe I wouldn’t be driving away with a warning.

Maybe, for going 30 miles an hour over the limit, he would have arrested me. Bye bye, driving record capital. Hello, perhaps, jail?, lawyer fees, court fees, driving school, and a permanent mark for higher insurance premiums and who knows what else for quite a while.

Capital Begets Capital

As with other types of capital, having some to begin with helps you get more. Each time I was pulled over, no prior warnings showed up on my license (although I was told by the stop sign officer that the warning would show up, and next time would be a ticket.) Does driving record capital also help someone get warnings instead of tickets, so either way is self-reinforcing? Ticketed drivers get more tickets; warned drivers get more warnings?

Regardless, I have been allowed to keep my driving record capital. Heck, with each traffic stop, I was given that capital, and the right to continue on with my life. Others have not been treated so fairly. Wait – that’s an understatement. Others have been severely, tragically wronged.

What To Do?

The question is, what part could I do to even things up? My “extra” driving record capital is not transferable to someone who had theirs taken away unjustly. But it does have monetary value. Each ticket could have cost $200-$500 in additional insurance premiums annually for 3 – 10 years. (Higher increases when you’re 30 – 40-ish; lower when you’re older).

As a starting point, I’ll donate those savings in the same way: $200-$500 per year for the next 3 – 10 years, to causes that help people who have been treated unfairly, especially because of their sex or their skin. Your favorite suggestions for those causes are welcome in the comments below.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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