Keep a Speeding Ticket Off Your Record
Once those blue lights flash, you’ll almost certainly have to pay -- a fine, a lawyer, the cost of a defensive driving class or an “administrative fee.”
The real question is whether you will go on paying for a speeding ticket even after that, in the form of increased car insurance rates.
Depending on how fast you were going, the pain can be severe. According to data gathered for Insurance.com by Quadrant Information Services, a single speeding ticket 11 to 15 mph over the limit raises rates, on average, about 20 percent ($288).
Not all tickets are created equal
You may get lucky with that ticket if it’s the only one on your record, says Insurance.com consumer analyst Penny Gusner. “Some insurers cut motorists some slack and won’t surcharge on a minor violation,” says Gusner. (See which tickets are most likely to affect your insurance.)
But what you really don’t want is a second moving violation during your insurance company’s look-back period, usually three years, says Insurance.com Managing Editor Michelle Megna.
“One is a mistake,” Megna says. “Two is a pattern of risk.”
That second ticket typically nets an average 43 percent increase in rates, according to Insurance.com's rate data analysis.
Pay now, pay more later
That surcharge, or penalty, will hang around long after you forget why you were speeding that day in the first place.
“It varies by insurer, but a speeding ticket can affect your insurance premium for at least three years,” says Kristofer Kirchen, president of Advanced Insurance Managers in Tampa, Florida.
Insurers are not automatically notified of a speeding transgression. Instead, they have to pull your DMV record, which costs them money. “Most insurers will only pull your record once a year, even less if you have a clean record,” says Kirchen.
While you may not see a ticket surcharge for one or two renewal periods, inevitably your car insurance company will get wind of your moving violation.
You have options
The best way to avoid a premium increase is to avoid the ticket in the first place.
Your next best bet is to keep the citation from hitting your driving record by making a deal. You have two things working in your favor: Trials are expensive, and the state usually just wants your money, not revenge.
Finally, you can roll the dice by going to court.
Once you commit to fighting your ticket, you increase your chances of avoiding a financial penalty or jeopardy to your license, says Sheila Dunn, communications director of the National Motorists Association (NMA).
"Another possibility is that your financial penalty will be reduced, or your license points protected, or both," says Dunn. "Could you receive a larger fine or lose more points by fighting your ticket? You could, but it would be an extremely rare event. It is far more common for a fine to be reduced at trial, even when the defendant is found guilty."
The NMA estimates that only 5 percent of people fight a ticket.
Don’t automatically pay the ticket
When it comes to a traffic ticket, take your time. In most jurisdictions you have at least 30 days to pay the fine or enter a plea. Use the time to explore your options. The website for the clerk’s office of the court listed at the bottom of your ticket is a good place to start.
“First and foremost, don’t pay your ticket, since it essentially admits guilt,” warns Bradley Groene, with Luftman, Heck & Associates in Cincinnati.
Your options will vary depending on your jurisdiction, but you can:
- Pay the fine, admit guilt and ensure that any moving violation appears on your state driving record, where your insurer can find it.
- Contest the ticket and ask for your date in traffic court. You should get the chance to plea bargain. If you go to trial and lose, you pay the fine and the ticket goes on your record. You may have to pay court costs as well.
- Seek traffic school or deferred adjudication, which would prevent a moving violation conviction from appearing on your driving record.
If your offense is minor – say, speeding at 10 mph over the limit outside a school or construction zone – and your record is otherwise pretty clean, you’ll probably be offered some means of avoiding both a court appearance and a black mark on your record.
Ask for a deferral
A deferral means that the court finds you guilty but defers entering those findings for a certain amount of time; a year is common. If you get through the deferral period without any citations, the ticket will be dismissed or marked “adjudication withheld.”
However, if you get another ticket in the deferral period, both tickets hit your record and your insurance will probably skyrocket as a high-risk driver.
There is usually a fee of $100 to $150. There may be a limit on the number of deferrals you are granted. In Washington, for example, it’s one every seven years. You’re unlikely to be offered a deferral if your record is already checkered, or for some violations, such as school-zone violations.
Ask for traffic school
A defensive driving course as an alternative resolution is not available in every state or for every infraction, but it can be a lifesaver.
“This is not always an option, but if it is, take it,” advises Gusner. “Your ticket will be deferred, and upon proof of course completion the ticket will be dismissed or marked as ‘adjudication withheld.’ Your insurer will never know.”
Expect to pay a fee for the class itself and administrative or court fees on top of that.
Some states limit how often you can use a traffic school option; Florida, for example, limits you to once a year, and in California, it’s 18 months.
Ask for a better deal
In some jurisdictions it’s possible to contact the clerk of court or the prosecutor handling your case and ask to have your offense knocked down to a non-moving violation. You also may be able to approach the prosecutor on your appearance date before your case is called.
You may have to pay court costs and a fine, but if your insurer is none the wiser it could be worth the effort.
Plea bargaining isn’t permitted everywhere.
You also may be able to ask for mitigation, pleading guilty but presenting your side of the story. Basically, you are asking the judge to lower your fine. Many states allow you to mitigate via written statements.
The outcome is up to the judge. The fine may be lowered or stay the same, and it cannot increase. Regardless of what happens to the fine, you are pleading guilty, the infraction will end up on your DMV record, and eventually your insurer will find out.
Contest the ticket
Here you plead not guilty and go to court to argue with your accuser, alone or with the help of a lawyer.
A lawyer is not a requirement in traffic court, but hiring one can make things easier.
While you may imagine yourself as Perry Mason, there is a good chance court will be intimidating. “Most people don't have experience with traffic law. It's very easy to make a mistake in explaining your side of what happened,” warns Groene.
You can call witnesses and present evidence. Your main goal is to create enough doubt, or even sympathy, to get the ticket dismissed or knocked down to a non-moving violation.
“For major violations like a DUI, or if my license were at stake, there’s no way I would go to court without a lawyer,” Megna says.
Guilty? Limit the damage
For whatever reason, you now have a conviction for a moving violation on your record, a fine to pay and a possible increase in your insurance rates to deal with. Consider these options:
Paying the fine: Many courts will accept payments over time. You may be able to ask for community service in lieu of a fine.
Removing driver’s license points: Some states – Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, New York and Virginia among them – allow you to remove points from your motor vehicle record by completing a traffic school course. You may see an insurance discount as well. (See “10 things you need to know about driver’s license points.”
Shopping around: Insurance companies use their own point systems for traffic violations, and they’re all different. Comparing car insurance quotes can save you money. For example, looking at rates from six major carriers for a speeding violation of 16 to 29 mph over the limit:
- State Farm – 12 percent
- Allstate – 14 percent
- Nationwide – 17 percent
- Farmers – 23 percent
- Progressive – 30 percent
- Geico – 37 percent