Flashing red and blue lights in your rearview mirror may bring a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, but if you don’t handle your speeding ticket properly or try to beat it, this roadside stop will also create a sinking balance in your checkbook.
Getting a speeding ticket is not fun, but it doesn’t necessarily mean doom for you and your driving record. Played wrong, it could lead to a boost in your insurance premiums. But played properly, you may just walk away with a great story for your next gathering of friends.
So, if you find yourself driving through a speed trap, follow these five steps to prevent that speeding ticket from turning into a financial nightmare.
1. Consider just paying the fine
Your first decision when it comes to a speeding ticket is whether to just pay it and be done with it, or go through the time and effort to fight the citation.
While fighting a ticket means you are going to either have dedicate dozens of hours to mount your defense, or shell out potentially hundreds of dollars to have someone else do it, the bottom line is that if you chose not to fight your ticket then you have already lost.
Some estimates show fewer than 5% of drivers ever bother to fight the ticket. And that could be a costly decision because the true costs of getting a ticket aren’t just the fine – which can be costly – but that ticket could also cause you to get points on your license and added premiums on your insurance.
There is no surefire way to tell in advance how a ticket will besmirch your insurance, but suffice to say, bigger fines and more flagrant violations will yield more painful insurance penalties.
How much it effects you depends on many factors, including the nature of your violation, your driving history, and which insurance company you have.
Minor violations may be overlooked completely, while repeat offenses can lead to your insurer to not renew your policy, or dropping you altogether depending on the nature of the offense.
A rule of thumb is that your insurance can go up by around five times the cost of your fine over time. So, a $100 fine could end up raising your rates by more than $500 over the next few years.
And if you make your living behind the wheel, such as a commercial driver, you could even lose your job after the first offense.
So, deciding to simply pay means watching your rates go up.
But, on the other hand, make sure you know the law because some tickets don’t land you in hot water with your insurer. For example, non-moving violations, such as parking tickets are typically ignored by your insurance. And in some cities, red light cameras and speeding camera tickets are considered municipal offenses and stay off your record.
But its best to make sure before taking that gamble.
2. Get ready to fight your ticket in court
So, you have decided to not give up without a fight? Great. The first step you need to take is to write everything down.
Where did you get your ticket? What was the weather like? What was the traffic like? You never know which details will come in handy later for mounting your defense.
Next, consider subpoenaing everything you can from the police department.
You want to find things like the officer’s training and disciplinary records, the manual for the radar gun, the maintenance schedule for the particular radar gun used for your ticket — everything.
One of the most common defenses against a speeding ticket is to challenge the calibration of the radar gun. Many people don’t know that a police radar gun must be calibrated at the beginning and end of every shift, and many departments fail to follow that procedure.
Calibration is done with special tuning forks that vibrate at set speeds. And even if the officers use those forks religiously, the forks themselves can be a target of your defense. That’s because even that tuning fork could be lying – for example, if it had been dropped, it could be out of tune and no longer reliable.
While you are filing subpoenas, you should also ask the department to prove the officer who wrote you the ticket is certified on the equipment they used that day. Ask for everything. You never know where your final victory will be found.
3. Do your homework
The goal when it comes time to fight your ticket is to find some reason why the citation is invalid. Simply going to court and saying “trust me your honor” just won’t cut it.
To fight your speeding ticket, you need to do your homework.
Start by going back to the scene and take notes and pictures.
Were there any obstructions on the roadway? Were there special hazards that might have effected your driving or the driving of people around you? Bring that evidence to court.
Was the speed properly posted? Could the officer properly see you? Again, prove it. Draw maps and make diagrams of everything.
In one famous case, the ticket was thrown out because the driver was able to show that from the angle the officer was sitting, a cooling fan in the background could have plausibly effected the radar gun’s reading.
Next, scour the ticket for discrepancies or typos. Anything wrong on that ticket could be grounds for dismissing it in court.
Then, look for evidence to support you. Obviously you weren’t speeding — RIGHT? See if you can find some evidence of your own to support you. Do you have a dash cam? Were there witnesses who were not in your car at the time?
An app that might have tracked your speed. Can you get those records?
Anything that is stronger than just giving your word will strengthen your case in court.
4. Consider lawyering up
Admit it, challenging the police can be scary. Now, add to that confrontation the intimidation of standing before a judge, especially if you have never done that before.
While you think you can be as cool as a cucumber, courtrooms are intimidating places. Having a professional there with you can go a long way to setting your mind at ease — and in most cases, if you hire someone who fights tickets regularly, could even give you a leg up.
Depending on your budget, your lawyers can do a lot of the homework and leg work for you – for a fee.
Filing a subpoena may seem daunting to you, but that is what the lawyers do every day. They deal with the agencies on a regular basis. And they know which avenues of attack work and which defenses are worth pursuing.
While you may end up paying more than the cost of your fine to hire that lawyer, if they can help keep that ticket off your record, you may end up ahead financially in the long run by paying for the professional.
One example of what a lawyer can do that you typically can’t do yourself is negotiating with the prosecutor.
In many cases, your lawyer can get the charge reduced so it stays off your driving record in exchange for a guilty plea. Tricks of the trade like that go a long way, especially if the violation you are facing would cause lasting damage to your driving record and your insurance premium.
5. Have your day in court
When it comes time to stand before a judge, make sure you know what you are doing. For one, dress the part. If you come into court in cutoffs and a t-shirt, you are sending the judge a signal and it isn’t one of respect.
Speaking of respect, make sure to address everyone overly respectfully. Being rude in court can land you with a contempt of court charge, which would just make everything worse.
Also, be honest. Remember, you are in court, and lying could land you in deeper hot water.
And whatever you do, never miss your court date or simply ignore the ticket – which could result in a bench warrant and land you behind bars if you are pulled over for another offense. Missing your court date can also get you contempt charges and even a suspended license.
That said, showing up for court has its advantages. Sometimes the officer doesn't even bother to show up. And if the officer doesn’t show up, move for dismissal. That would be the best of all worlds.