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It pays to avoid a ticket -- or fight one
MSN Money ^
| July 15, 2003
| Chris Solomon
Posted on 07/15/2003 11:22:14 AM PDT by mvpel
The best advice is simply not to speed, at least not brazenly. But if you get nailed, fight it -- because a $50 ticket can cost you thousands once your insurer gets wind of it.
By Chris Solomon
Now is a very bad time to have a lead foot.
States facing yawning budget gaps are finding new money by pinching speeders more frequently -- and pinching them harder, too. Texas lawmakers recently added $30 to fines for speeding tickets. California has added a surcharge of between $7 and $20, depending on the severity of the violation. And the Illinois Legislature is set to tag an additional $4 to the cost of a minor speeding ticket.
True, four more bucks wont change your life, but the fine is usually the least of your worries. Even one speeding ticket can begin to turn your name to mud in your insurers eyes. More than one can cost you thousands of dollars in higher premiums.
Insurance companies say punishing speeders is well warranted: In one study, California drivers with one speeding citation in a three-year period had a crash rate 50% higher, on average, than those with no infractions -- and the crash rate more than doubled for those who had two or more tickets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, industry-sponsored research groups.
A ticket from Johnny Law does seem to slow people down, at least for a bit. A study of Ontario traffic statistics, published in the British medical journal the Lancet, found that a conviction for a moving violation cut the risk of a fatal crash in the following month by 35%. The benefit evaporated by four months after the conviction. Assigning penalty points to a drivers license -- especially for speeding tickets -- reduced the risk of fatal crashes more than convictions without penalty points.
Keeping your nose clean
Still, as long as running late is an American pastime, people will speed. And there are ways to protect yourself and your premiums. First, reduce your likelihood of getting snagged by the speed gun in these ways:
- Know thyself. Spend $5 to request your driving record from your states Department of Motor Vehicles. Is it accurate? Could you face a suspension hearing if you get convicted for one more violation? Then call your insurer. Find out what a slip-up would mean to your rates.
- Penny-wise = pound foolish. Police will frequently key on an auto that has problems such as broken headlights, taped-over taillights or a missing front license plate. Spend $3 to replace a burned-out license plate bulb and you may save hundreds of dollars later, says Matisyahu Wolfberg, a policeman-turned-traffic defense attorney in New York.
- Stay incognito, Part I. Driving an arrest-me red sports car doesnt guarantee youll get pulled over, but it doesnt help avoid police, say defense attorneys. Ditto -- albeit to a lesser degree -- any expensive car. Consider a Camry over a Corvette and you may save money in more than the showroom.
- Stay incognito, Part II. Ignore the general pace of traffic at your own peril. Youre a pack animal; dont stick out of the pack, says Casey Raskob, a Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., attorney who focuses on traffic-related cases. Passing police cars is verboten. Stay in the right lane when possible.
- Keep your eyes peeled. Scan your rear-view mirror often while driving. Look for possible spots far ahead where a patrol car could hide. Also, watch how professional truckers drive, and slow down when they do; theyve got far more experience detecting Smokey.
- Dont be sticker shocked. Pasting a Police Benevolent Association sticker to the rear window isnt a license to speed. That jig is long up, says Raskob. Wisecracking bumper stickers -- Bad Cop; No Donut -- wont endear you to The Man, either.
The traffic stop and its aftermath
You get pulled over anyway. Now what do you do?
- Be polite. Most of the time, the motorist has very little chance. The officer has already has made up his mind, says Wolfberg, the former cop. The only real chance the driver has is to be nice. Act peeved and a trooper may give you the full fine. Some will also flag the citation with a notation, like ND -- a note to a prosecutor or to himself (in some states, law-enforcement officers act as prosecutors in traffic court) to give a loudmouth no deal in court.
- Dont admit guilt. The absolutely fatal question is, Do you know why I stopped you? says attorney Mark Sutherland, co-author of the book Traffic Ticket Defense. Authorities can use any admission of guilt against you when you contest the ticket (see below). For other things to consider during a traffic stop, see hints on the Web site of the National Motorists Association, a drivers rights group (see the link at left under Related Sites).
- Once home, dont immediately pay the ticket. Simply paying the fine, an admission of guilt, could cost you dearly in insurance rates. Doubt it? Lets say youre an experienced driver in California with a single-car policy and a good driving record, who is paying the average rates statewide for liability, collision and comprehensive coverage, $765 annually. If you were a Prudential Financial customer youd get a 25% good-driver discount and pay only $574. One speeding ticket would mean a roughly 27% increase from the base premium, says Prudentials Laurita Warner -- a $207 annual increase, or $621 more over three years. (Surcharges usually last for three years.)
Get a second minor conviction and your premium would rise an additional 40%, and youd also lose your good-driver discount, says Warner. Suddenly, a premium that was $574 has ballooned to $1,071. After the third conviction, expect to pay roughly 63% more than you originally did, or $1,247. Over three years you would end up paying $2,020 more than if youd kept your nose clean, or much more than the fines themselves. Clearly, getting pinched leaves a painful scar.
The pain can be even worse if youre a teenager or young adult. Getting even one speeding ticket, much less two, can cause a dramatic spike in your insurance rates -- sometimes doubling and even tripling those rates -- and jeopardize your ability to get preferred insurance rates, says Karl Newman, president of the Washington Insurance Council, a consumer education group funded by member insurance companies in Washington State. That could require you to purchase high-risk insurance.
Luckily, youve got several initial options once busted:
- Ignoring the ticket isnt one of them. It used to be if you obtained a ticket in New York, it didnt get back to New Jersey, but thats no longer true, says Raskob. Avoid a ticket and a warrant may be issued for your arrest -- a warrant that appears even on the computer system of your hometown cops.
- Special state programs. Talk to your states DMV or local traffic court to find out about ways to erase your ticket. In Rhode Island, for example, if you havent had any vehicle-related violations in three years and then receive a minor one (for example, for exceeding the speed limit by less than 20 miles an hour), you can ask that the ticket be dismissed. It usually is. In some southern states, authorities will agree to defer judgment, if you dont get any more tickets for the next six months.
- Traffic school. Often your best alternative is to take a six- to eight-hour safety course for drivers. Policies vary by state, but often a minor speeding conviction can be wiped from your record and therefore go unseen by your employer or insurance company. Youll still have to pay the fine, plus an additional $50 to $80 in tuition and other costs, and invest a Saturday. Some states such as California let drivers take the course online. Traffic school has its limits, however. In some states, its an option only once every 18 or 24 months. In others, those caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 15 to 20 mph may not be eligible, says David Brown, author of the book Beat Your Ticket.
Should you go to court?
If the above options arent available, go to court. Court doesnt have to be a Perry Mason experience. Simply asking for your day in traffic court can save you money. Count the ways:
- Showing up is half the battle. Only about 3% of all tickets are contested, estimates Brown, which means even a few people showing up to challenge a ticket can jam the system. A lot of times the courts will change the ticket for you, to encourage you not to go to court -- sometimes reducing a moving violation to a lesser charge that your insurance company wont penalize you for, says Eric Skrum, spokesman for the National Motorists Association.
- Cop no-shows. If you show up on your assigned date, defense attorneys say that in 20% to 25% of cases the ticket-writing officer won't. If the officer is required to show up (jurisdictions have different rules), no appearance usually means the ticket is thrown out. No-shows by police happen even more in summer, when even they take vacations.
- Errors matter (sometimes). While courts will often excuse minor errors on a ticket -- a misspelled name, a quibble over whether your Jag is ochre or orange -- if the officer cites the wrong statute on the ticket, or grossly misidentifies the highway or your make of car, you may to get your ticket dismissed, says Skrum. Its often best to keep mum about the gaffe until you go to court, however, and reveal the mistake after the officer has recounted the wrong information.
- An 'A' for effort. If you do get all the way to a magistrate or traffic commissioner, any reasonable objection you have to the ticket is likely to at least reduce the amount of the fine, and perhaps change it to an infraction that wont hurt your rates. Youve got to fight every ticket, because the only thing anyone will ever know is what you reduced it to. The accusation will be lost in the courthouse, says Raskob.
The above, soft approach often works, but some people prefer to aggressively contest the ticket, which they usually do with at least some success. When [Freeper] Michael Pelletier, a 32-year-old computer systems engineer in the Bay Area, got a ticket a few years ago, he rented the nine-pound (!) legal defense kit from the National Motorists Association. (The rental cost of the packet, which is tailored to the requesters state, is $50 per month, with a discount for NMA members.)
The only thing I did was crank the legal crank, says Pelletier. That meant asking for continuances and requesting records -- proof of when the officers radar gun was last calibrated and when the officer was trained in its use -- in hopes of finding a flaw in the authorities case, or simply wearing them down until they offered a deal.
A pre-emptive strike
Battling in court can be time-consuming and complicated. Pelletier estimates he invested nearly 50 hours in the year 2000 to fight his ticket, which he received driving his motorcycle 47 miles an hour in a 25 mph zone. He got it dismissed seven months later based on an esoteric legal definition of a local street or road.
In Pelletiers eyes, the struggles are worthwhile despite the time commitment. He has also helped his wife and brother keep three citations from their records, and his insurance company recently upgraded him to a superior driver, which means he will pay $70 less in the next six months than he had been paying. And by keeping his driving record clean hes ensured that his next ticket -- if it sticks -- wont hurt him so much as it might have.
If you dont have the time to do all of this research, consider hiring an attorney who frequently deals with speeding tickets. Such an attorney will know how to get the best deal for you and can often appear in court for you, so you dont have to take a day off to do so. Fees can vary from $75 to $750, in part depending on whether theyre already frequently in the courthouse dealing with such matters.
The free piece of advice they give, however, is the same: Confront your speeding ticket, even if its your first, and do your darnedest to make it disappear. After all, they add, you never know when youll get your next one, with higher premiums close behind.
TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Editorial; Government
KEYWORDS: insurance; police; speeding; tickets
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posted on 07/15/2003 11:22:15 AM PDT
2 other pieces of advice:
Don't tell your insurance company, lag time between you getting the ticket and them finding out about the ticket can be as much as 6 months, but the surcharge clock starts ticking the minute you get the ticket which leads to #2
Remind the insurance company when the surcharge should end, they tend to have the same lag time (or more) taking charges off as adding them, unless you bug them about it, find out what their surcharge period is for a ticket (2 or 3 years depending on your company) and the day after the appropriate anniversary call them
posted on 07/15/2003 11:28:48 AM PDT
(the train that won't stop going, no way to slow down)
In parts of Florida you have bulk firms which represent people for as little as $35.00.
It pays to fight tickets in certain states. It pays to ask.
Ps buy a license plate sheild.
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posted on 07/15/2003 11:29:56 AM PDT
by Support Free Republic
(Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
When I was young and foolish, I fought two speeding tickets in court...Won one when the cop didn't show and lost one 'cause, well, I was guilty.
posted on 07/15/2003 11:34:01 AM PDT
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I served on the Grand Jury for the first time in my county about 10 years ago. Since then, the few tickets that I have gotten (I use to drive about 70,000 miles a year) I ALWAYS fight. They almost never get through the grand jury unless someone was injured or it was a DUI. Most of the time the DA would call and try to "settle" with me, I respectfully say no then they let me "sweat" for a few months and then drop the charges. the down side? We have an illegal court system that you have to go to first. You are always found guilty then you can contest it, request a jury trial, pay your "bond" (= to your fine), and then the legal court process starts. You miss a day's work to go to this sham traffic court and then they keep your "bond" for up to two years when the statue of limitations runs out.
posted on 07/15/2003 11:37:38 AM PDT
To: mvpel; Catspaw; LouD; Crow; steveegg; afraidfortherepublic; petuniasevan
Any advice for my husband who recently received a speeding ticket from a rent-a-cop in the Town of Ripon in Fond du lac County?
He was on his way out of town and apparently started his acceleration to the highway speed before he completely cleared town. Was clocked at 49 in a 35.
1) Driving a rental car.
2) Rental car with Illinois plates.
3)Unfamiliar with the area, he was on his way home from calling on a customer in Green Lake.
His court date is this Thursday. I want him to try to get it changed to a non moving violation of some kind or at least get the miles over speed limit reduced, he just wants to pay it and be done with it. He's very embarrassed. Been driving 25+ years with no traffic violations.
To top it all off, our insurance premiums are already sky-high because we have 2 teeneged drivers!!
To: Trust but Verify
The website where I describe my ticket-fighting experiences is http://www.aidoann.com/
As for your husband's situation, take a look at the laws regarding the setting and posting of speed limits, the 35mph limit at that point might not be legal.
posted on 07/15/2003 11:45:36 AM PDT
Sure-fire method to avoid speeding tickets:
I'm 40 years speeding ticket-free.
posted on 07/15/2003 11:52:59 AM PDT
To: Trust but Verify
Also, the fact that he was driving a rental car with Illinois plates are not pertinent to the issuance of the ticket. That he was unfamiliar with the area is something to say to the judge to try to get him to go easy on you. The fact that he's got a 25-year clean record would also be a pretty large mark in his favor in front of most judges.
Given that, I think he'd have a pretty good shot at getting it kicked down or out, unless the town in question is running a ticket mill. Where is Ripton anyway?
posted on 07/15/2003 11:54:00 AM PDT
I hope you're not one of those obnoxious people who drive exactly 65mph in the leftmost lane and create a dangerous traffic situation for everyone else. :-D
posted on 07/15/2003 11:54:44 AM PDT
Cops can pull you over and give you a ticket for *anything* they want. They were pulling over cars 3-4 at a time last week. I got pulled over as well, the cop claimed that I was driving on the "zebra" lines (shoulder, basically) which was a lie. I had a passenger in my car, so I am fighting it.
I hope you're not one of those obnoxious people who drive/ride at highway speeds on residential streets and create a dangerous traffic situation for everyone else.
Strange are the ways of insurance companies. I got a ticket for 75 in 55 MPH zone, owned up to my insurance company. I also said on the questionaire that I drove 5500 miles per year.
They paid no attention to the ticket, and reduced my insurance rate because of low mileage.
But I don't fancy another...
The point about the Illinois plates is this: Wisconsin cops have it in for Illinois drivers. And let's be honest, all municipalities are using traffic and parking fines to fill their budget gaps these days.
Ripon is just outside of Fond du lac, Wisconsin. There is the City of Ripon and the Town of Ripon. A friend of my husband's who is more familiar with that area said the T of Ripon cops are Rent-A-Cops and have an overinflated sense of their importance.
To: Trust but Verify
He wasn't ticketed in Rosendale? That's a shock. Rosendale is the #1 speed trap on our side of the state. Ripon must be taking lessons from them.
You can take it to court, but make sure you've got your evidence--did this happen where the speed is reduced from 55 to 45 or 35 in too short a distance (that's Rosendale's trick)? If so, what is the distance between the two signs? Is the officer's radar gun working correctly?
I can come up with more, but if the officer doesn't show up for court, have your hubby ask for a dismissal.
posted on 07/15/2003 11:59:52 AM PDT
To: Trust but Verify
Agree with #8.
Also, read VERY CLOSELY into the State's, counties and City's traffic laws. I have beaten a ticket for exceeding the recommended speed limit during incement weather ( I was doing 40 in a 55 but hit water and hydroplaned) - because the officer did not write on the ticket his recommended speed limit as required by State law.
It wasn't Rosendale but it sounds like the same set up. They perch themselves in a spot where they can catch people as they are leaving town and ratcheting up their speed and they pounce on them. The jackass even said something to him like, "I bet you thought because you left the curbed streets behind you were in the clear, didn't you?" What a jerk.
To: Trust but Verify
The point about the Illinois plates is this: Wisconsin cops have it in for Illinois drivers.
That bit of anecdotal evidence doesn't carry any legal weight in court, is what I was trying to say.
posted on 07/15/2003 12:04:04 PM PDT
To: Trust but Verify
Considering that it's 14 over, I doubt that the "deal of the day" that some courts do for those that just show up will completely wipe it off the record. Even if the court does offer it, it will usually simply be changing the citation to something that offers less points but still offers the same fine. Example, more than 10 years ago, I was pulled over for doing 16 over. The "deal of the day" in my case was to reduce my 4-point 16 over ticket to a 2-point defective speedometer, but the fine remained unchanged.
As for actually fighting it, the only circumstance that MAY be considered is the fact that it was a rental he was driving. Even then, it's likely that the most that would be done is to reduce the ticket to a defective speedometer. That would require a testing of the speedometer, not an easy task with a rental.
posted on 07/15/2003 12:04:30 PM PDT
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