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Though the Insurance Information Institute (III) likes to point out that the annual cost of auto insurance has been nearly flat in recent years — rising from $798 in 2011 to $815 in 2012, according to a December 2014 report from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners — the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the cost of insurance eats up 2% of the income in low-earning households. With “low-income” defined as households making less than $20,000 annually, that’s somewhat of a surprise, considering the average low-risk driver with a clean driving record for a policy with a $500 deductible for collision and a $100 deductible for comprehensive coverage pays $1,023 annually, according to AAA.

“In the decade prior to the release of the 2012 report, the typical U.S. driver’s auto insurance expenditures increased by 10% while their housing expenditures rose 29%, food costs grew by 21%, and out-of-pocket health care spending went up by 52%,” said Dr. Robert Hartwig, economist and president of the III. “All drivers—low-income and otherwise—benefit from a robust insurance marketplace where they can shop for the best policy at a competitive price, irrespective of how they pay for that vehicle.”

No, auto insurance isn’t as costly as other expenses, but it isn’t exactly pocket change, either. It also gets significantly costlier even if you commit comparatively minor infrations. Laura Adams, senior analyst for insurance information and pricing site insuranceQuotes.com, notes that not signaling, failure to yield, not stopping for pedestrians, failure to stop at a signal, following too close, improper passing and speeding 1 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit can all increase your auto insurance premiums by an average of roughly 20% — according to an insuranceQuotes.com study.

Unless you’ve failed to wear your seat belt — an offense that merits only a 5.76% rate increase, on average — you’re going to incur a significant penalty any time a police officer decides to send you off with something other than a warning. A single driver who drives in a carpool lane, for example, will see his rates soar more than 18% for that infraction. For comparison, that’s a penalty similar to the 18.6% spike drivers see when they avoid a railroad signal. While there are ways to mitigate the damage, they require some time and money on your part.

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