What to Do When You Get a Speeding Ticket
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Your heart races and then sinks as the flashing blue lights of the police car appear in your rear view mirror. A quick blast of the siren tells you that those lights are for you.
As you back off the accelerator and look for a place to pull over, you realize you'd probably been driving over the speed limit. What happens next could make a difference of hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Your options when you get a speeding ticket include:
Pay the fine
Argue for a reduction in the fine based on the circumstances
Fight the ticket in court
Explore alternatives to a monetary fine, such as taking a safe driving course or doing community service
Apply for a payment plan if you can't pay the fine all at once
This article will explain what to do when you get a speeding ticket so as to limit the fine you pay, the impact on your driving record and the increased cost on your car insurance.
How Much Is a Speeding Ticket?
The cost of a speeding ticket includes the fine and higher insurance rates.
The fine for speeding varies greatly depending on the details, beginning with how much over the speed limit you were going. A traffic ticket for speeding in a work zone or a school zone will probably be especially high. It also matters whether you have a clean driving record.
In some states the cost of a speeding ticket can be fairly modest - as little as $5 for a mild infraction in a particularly inexpensive state. More often though, the cost of a speeding ticket exceeds $100 for even the slightest amount over the speed limit.
The cost rises sharply for more serious infractions. The cost of a speeding ticket can run to more than $1,000 plus jail time and suspension of your driver's license if you are a chronic offender or were driving at an extremely high speed.
Those are just the penalties for the ticket itself. You may also rack up hundreds of dollars in court fees and lawyer's fees if you decide to fight the ticket.
Finally, having a speeding ticket on your driving record can push up insurance rates. This may cause you to pay hundreds of dollars more per year, and that impact may be felt for years to come.
Being aware of these consequences might persuade you to drive at a more relaxed pace. It should also influence how you respond to a speeding violation, and that starts as soon as you are pulled over.
On the Day You're Pulled Over
Here are some tips on how to react on the day you're pulled over, beginning with when you first see those flashing lights in your rearview mirror:
As soon as you realize you're being asked to pull over, glance at your speedometer and make a mental note of the speed.
Take your foot off the gas and start looking for a safe place to pull over.
Stay in your vehicle and let the police officer approach you.
Stay calm and comply with any requests. Before reaching for something like your license or registration, ask the officer if it's okay - as in "the registration is in my glove compartment. Is it okay if I reach over and get it?" This will prevent any misunderstanding about what you're reaching for.
Don't make any statements, except in direct response to a question. Even then, limit your answers.
When the officer fills out the citation, read it over and ask about anything you don't feel is fully accurate. The key word there is ask - don't argue. Signing the citation is simply a promise to pay the fine or make a court appearance - it does not mean you agree with the citation.
If it's not noted on the citation, ask what made the officer think you were speeding (radar gun, traffic camera, speed relative to other cars, etc.).
Before you leave the scene, make a note of the exact location.
Go back and carefully drive the route you took. Observe any speed limit signs, including how visible they are. Ideally, have a companion drive you over the route so you can take notes as you go.
Take the time to write down everything about the incident and what you observed about the scene as soon as possible. Memories fade quickly, so there's nothing like getting a fresh account in writing.
Your next move should be to research your state's traffic penalties and see what you'll be facing for the violation described on the citation. The severity of the penalty could help you decide whether to simply pay the fine, try to get it reduced or argue your innocence in court.
If You Decide To Pay the Speeding Ticket
If you realize you have no good basis for arguing the ticket, your next step is to figure out the best way of handling the penalty.
Can you attend defensive driving school instead of paying the fine?
Many states give you the option of taking a safe driving course to reduce or even eliminate the fine for speeding. This could also save you negative points on your license.
Those negative points can be critical. They can affect what you pay for insurance, and if you accumulate enough points your license could be suspended.
Note the payment terms and comply carefully
If you decide to simply pay the fine, note the required method and deadline for payment to make sure you comply properly.
If you pay by check or credit card, save a record of the transaction. If you pay by cash, be sure to get a written receipt.
If You Decide To Fight the Ticket in Court
If the penalty is harsh enough, you may decide it's worth fighting the ticket in court. This may raise the stakes by making you liable for court costs, and you might also incur legal fees if you hire a lawyer.
Given what's at stake, if you decide to fight the ticket make sure you're fully prepared.
Be prepared with all the relevant details
Remember those notes from the day you pulled over? Figure out which ones might be relevant to your argument.
For example, if you were speeding because the speed limit dropped suddenly and the sign noting the change was obscured by a tree branch, bring a picture.
If you believe you weren't going as fast as the police officer says, state when you checked your speedometer and what it said at the time.
In this process, mention that you are working off notes you made immediately after the traffic stop. This could help the credibility of your statements.
Keep your questions relevant and geared towards factual answers. Cover such things as how far away the officer was from your car, how clear the line of sight was given traffic and other obstructions, and when the radar gun was most recently checked for accuracy prior to your ticket.
Throughout, keep the tone polite and respectful.
Know the different level of penalties
Many states have different penalties for different levels of speeding. Know what these are as you prepare your argument.
That will help you know what arguments are worth making. Suppose the police officer says you were going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit and you believe it was 10. If you live in a state where the fine is the same either way, the difference may be worth noting but it shouldn't be the main point you make.
However, if there is a substantial difference in the fine for being 20 miles per hour over as opposed to 10, this is worth making a point of emphasis.
Negotiating the Penalty
Fighting a traffic ticket isn't an all-or-nothing, win-or-lose proposition. If you can simply get the charge reduced, it could save you money.
If you are charged a fine, you still have some room to negotiate. See if the judge has any leeway on the size of the fine. Ask about taking a safe driving course as an alternative to paying a fine.
If you are levied a fine that would be difficult to pay all at once, ask about an arrangement that would give you more time to pay. Or, ask about doing community service instead.
In summary, there is a range of possible outcomes after you are issued the traffic ticket:
You can simply pay the fine
You can try to get the fine reduced based on the circumstances
You can appeal for extra time to pay on the basis of financial hardship
You can ask for an alternative to paying a fine, like taking a defensive driving course
You can see if there are other alternatives available, like community service
When To Notify Your Insurance Company
Most likely, when your policy is up for renewal, your insurance company will ask about any changes to your driving status, including traffic tickets. They also might periodically scan your driving record for any new developments. The ticket would then be factored into your insurance rate at renewal time.
Under no circumstances should you lie to an insurance company about your driving record. Doing so could invalidate your insurance policy.
After the Ticket: Bring Your Auto Insurance Costs Back Down
The long-term impact of a speeding ticket comes from the increased cost of auto insurance. The effect on your premiums can last for years.
Here are some ways you can bring your insurance cost back down:
Take a safe driving course. Check with your insurance company to find out which courses might make you eligible for a discount.
Enroll in a telematics program. This is a type of auto insurance policy that uses GPS data relayed from your car to monitor your driving. If you demonstrate consistently safe driving habits you should see your premiums start to come down.
Shop around. Comparison shopping is always important when it comes to insurance, but especially if you've had a speeding ticket. Insurance companies penalize drivers for speeding tickets to different degrees, so even if you comparison shopped before your ticket, the company with the best deal might be different now.
If you've recently had a speeding ticket, this would be a good time to take a fresh look at car insurance rates available to you. You can start a free quote comparison by entering your zip code below.