It's a classic scenario: you're cruising along at 10 miles over the speed limit in an attempt to keep up with the rest of the cars on the road. You think you are simply going with the flow of traffic, when you suddenly see flashing lights in your rear view mirror. In an instant, you find yourself holding a $325 speeding ticket. The headache of dealing with a traffic ticket doesn't necessarily go away when you pay the fine. When points go on your driving record and your insurance company finds out, you could be hit with insurance surcharges of up to 30% for the next three years.
SEE: Beginner's Guide To Auto Insurance
That's why whether you're guilty of an infraction or not, attorneys and legal experts say you should first investigate all legal options before you jump to pay that ticket. With a little homework and effort, you may be able to pay a reduced fine and avoid having it on your record.
A Big Expense for a Little Mistake
In many municipalities, traffic tickets are a big source of county revenues. John Bowman, communications director for the National Motorists Association, says fines collected from traffic tickets amount to billions of dollars. The association recommends that drivers always fight their tickets and it even publishes a 250-page guide on how to do it. Bowman says whether you're guilty or not, you should use every legal measure available to try to minimize your fine and, most importantly, try to prevent it from impacting your insurance premiums.
"Depending on the infraction and your driving record, it can cause your insurance premiums to rise by up to 30% for the next three years. The fine is just the beginning," says Bowman.
Barry Kowitt of Unger and Kowitt Law Firm in Miami said that from start to finish, a simple traffic ticket could easily be "more than a $1,000 experience." That includes the fine, court costs and increased insurance premiums. For most drivers, that could amount to more than a week's pay. Kowitt says he's seen clients who have had to make the decision between paying the ticket and paying their rent.
"And that could be simply because you were doing 10 miles over the speed limit to keep up with traffic. It is in your interest to fight it because your options are not that great," says Kowitt.
Yet Bowman says perhaps only 5% of drivers actually contest their tickets. Because drivers may feel so hopeless in fighting the system or because they may think the $200 fine is the end of it, most simply pay the fine and then move on.
Explore Your Options Before Paying
When you immediately pay a ticket, you're automatically admitting guilt and will voluntarily pay the highest fine. You'll often have up to 90 days to enter a plea or pay the fine, so take some time to explore your options.
"Fighting" a ticket usually doesn't mean going to court in front of a judge and district attorney. Bowman says, "In most cases, you'll never go to trial anyway."
If it's your first ticket in the jurisdiction, you should ask the clerk if there is a special "no contest" plea for first-time offenders. In many cases, the district attorney will offer first-time offenders a reduced fine and will not release the citation to the insurance company. If that's not an option, start examining every piece of information on the ticket. This includes confirming all of your information, as well as the notes and documentation provided by the ticketing officer.
Ask yourself the following questions: Is the citation number correct? Is the intersection and location correct? What about the time of day? You can file a "discovery of motion" to request all the information about your case, including the officer's notes, calibration certificates for the radar gun and other details, which will help you in your investigation. Kowitt says missing or incorrect information on a citation can often be grounds for dismissal.
"We see cases in this office on a regular basis, certainly weekly, that have incorrect information. In many cases, a little bit of homework can go a long way," says Kowitt.
Minimizing Fines and Insurance Impacts
"If you do have to make a court appearance, another option is to try to reschedule it to increase the odds that the ticketing officer doesn't show," says Alex Carroll, author of "Beat the Cops." Because you have the legal right to question your accuser, a case will often be dismissed if a cop is a no-show.
You might also be able to approach the district attorney and simply ask for a plea to a lesser infraction. "Most traffic courts are going to offer some level of flexibility," says Scott Feifer, an attorney with Feifer and Greenberg in New York.
Feifer says while New York City doesn't offer plea bargaining, most other cities around the country do. There can be a lot of overhead in taking a case to trial, which is why many courts allow you to simply pay a fine and move on.
SEE: How To Reduce Auto Insurance Costs
"If you give the court the impression that you are serious about fighting the ticket, you are going to have a lot more leverage and control over the process," says Bowman.
Because traffic courts might have to handle hundreds of cases per day, there just isn't enough funding, staffing and time to take every single one to trial. Merely showing up to the courthouse can make a big difference because no one wants you to clog the system.
A little effort fighting your violation can really pay off. For example, that $400 speeding ticket might get knocked down to a $125 equipment violation, which won't impact your insurance rates. If you received the speeding ticket in another town, another option might be to fight the ticket by mail - usually called a "trial by declaration." Carroll says a reasonable and coherent argument can often result in a dismissal, because police officers are required to submit written rebuttals, which doesn't always happen.
"You can never go wrong contesting a ticket if you have the time and energy, because you're almost always going to come out ahead," says Bowman.
The Bottom Line
Sometimes fighting a speeding ticket can be as simple as taking the time to go to the courthouse to contest it. There are many options available. In they end, you may be lucky enough to have the ticket thrown out. If not, you could still have the cost of the ticket reduced. Speeding tickets can affect insurance premiums making the final cost of getting a speeding ticket much higher than just the fine.
EntrepreneurshipLearn about how the Marketplace Fairness Act may impact small business owners should it pass in the House and what the act requires from business owners.
SavingsIf you're an aficionado of artisanal brews (or would like to be), a beer club can be a palate-pleasing, albeit pricey, way to expand your hops horizon.
Stock AnalysisIs DKS a bargain here?
Stock AnalysisUrban Outfitters just made a bold move. Will it pay off?
Stock AnalysisWalmart is enjoying a short-term rally. Is it sustainable? Is Amazon still a better bet?
SavingsSome points to consider, before committing to a membership for yourself – or as a gift. The right club can also help you save money over the holidays.
Stock AnalysisMany traders are bearish on Kohl's, but long-term investors might want to take a closer look for this simple reason.
Stock AnalysisAs a company that primarily sells discretionary products, GoPro and its potential falls right in line with consumer trends. Is that good or bad?
Stock AnalysisMacy's is heading in the wrong direction, but what's the potential for a turnaround?
Stock AnalysisConsumer trends are going to change over the next year or so. How will this impact Nordstrom? Will it adjust in time?
You can only purchase NetSpend reload packs at Giant Eagle, Albertsons, Roundy's and Pathmark supermarkets. NetSpend cards ... Read Full Answer >>
While your auto insurance company cannot pull your full motor vehicle report, or MVR, it does pull a record summary that ... Read Full Answer >>
In microeconomics, utility represents a way to relate the amount of goods consumed to the amount of happiness or satisfaction ... Read Full Answer >>
There are many ways to achieve product differentiation, some more common than others. Horizontal Differentiation Horizontal ... Read Full Answer >>
An original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is a company that manufactures a basic product or a component product, such as a ... Read Full Answer >>
Generally speaking, the retail sector is highly seasonal. Almost invariably, sales in the retail sector are highest in the ... Read Full Answer >>