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Beat a speeding ticket to keep your rates down

The basics of beating a speeding ticket (and the best ways to fight speeding tickets in and out of court) are outlined in this article.

An expensive speeding fine may be only the beginning if you get nailed for speeding. Your auto insurance can add charges on your policy that can increase your insurance rates for years.

Sometimes, you'll be pulled over for a traffic violation, and have no idea what traffic signal or speeding law you've violated. Other times, you know that you are being pulled over because you're about to be issued a speeding ticket. Either way, you then find yourself at the side of the road, with your flashers on, and the officer comes to your window to ask you the inevitable question, "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

If you try to protest your speeding ticket or traffic violation as the ticket is being issued, the best an officer is going to tell you is that you should tell it to a judge.

And you should.

You should go to trial, and know the traffic laws that will help you to escape your ticket for your traffic violation. More often than not, you can win. However, it will be difficult for you to know all the traffic laws which will help you to defend against a speeding ticket. After all, you could familiarize yourself with all the laws of your state, only to receive a ticket while driving in another state with entirely different traffic laws, so your ticket would be from an out of state court. Even if the ticket is from your home state, it will be difficult for you to know all of the traffic laws which will help you in fighting your speeding ticket.

One of the best ways to prepare, is to get access to an attorney by signing up for prepaid legal services. Prepaid legal services do for legal issues what health insurance does for hospital and doctor bills. You have to have it in effect before your ticket (and if you already got a speeding ticket, before reading this article, it's quite likely that you might get one again. You might want an attorney on hand the next time around, so definitely check out the information!). You pay a monthly fee, and you have access to premium legal help and are able to ask questions of actual lawyers about traffic laws in your state. These top-rated attorneys will help you over the phone and, if necessary, will actually come to court with you to defend you against the ticket. If you happen to receive the ticket out-of-state, these prepaid attorneys will go to your court trial for you in the out-of-state location and do their best to get the charges reduced or dropped. (Find out more about signing up for a prepaid legal plan.)

Another option is to invest $29 in a membership with the National Motorists Association. This is a group based in Waunakee, Wis., that helps drivers fight for their rights.

If you don't want to spend $26/month (or less) for prepaid legal services, which will allow you to have an attorney for free, who will go to court and represent you, then you'll have to do your homework to be able to fight your speeding ticket. Be prepared with traffic laws when your court date comes. Oftentimes, the police officer will never show up, and when this happens, the judge will often dismiss the case. But if not, you'll end up fighting your speeding ticket in order to keep your record clean, and your insurance rates low.

When should I just pay the fine for my speeding ticket and take the reduction in points? Even if you are caught with a lead foot, don't automatically pay the ticket. With a little effort, you may beat paying the speeding ticket fine plus the higher premiums on your auto insurance policy.

One example is the Maryland man who found himself before a judge using the defense of "guilty with explanation." It seems that a protest against China's repression of the Falun Gong had created a hopeless traffic jam as he tried to pick up his daughter at camp. Once traffic opened up, his foot went down, a cop pulled him over, and issued him a speeding ticket.

As proof of his predicament, the man handed the judge an article about the protest. "You're invoking the Falun Gong defense?" the judge asked. "I don't care what your excuse is, mister, you've got to slow down."

But then the judge gave him a special incentive. The driver was given "probation before judgment." If he keeps his record clean for a year, it'll be as if the whole thing never happened. There's no record for his insurer to use to jack up his rates. The speeder paid more than $100 in fines and court costs but figures he saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars by avoiding insurance surcharges. This is one way to beat a speeding ticket.

Don't judge yourself
There is not an exact count of how many speeding tickets are issued each year. One estimate is that the number is about 14 million. Most of those who have been issued a speeding ticket admit their guilt and either pay a fine or take advantage of a "re-education program" to beat or erase the overall effect of the ticket. Only about 3% of ticketed drivers go to court to challenge the ticket and try to fight the traffic ticket with the law.

More people should fight speeding tickets though. One estimate suggests that more than 50% of contested speeding tickets result in dismissal, a reduced fine, or a finding in the driver's favor.

Considering the long-term financial effects, don't treat a speeding ticket lightly. You won't face jail time unless your offense is more serious, and you can put your license in jeopardy by piling up tickets. Most states suspend or revoke the license of a person who regularly receives speeding tickets, and violations generally stay on your record for about three years. However, even an occasional speeding ticket can be very expensive.

The charges start with the speeding fine. Depending on where your foot becomes lead, speeding fines range from $5 to $1,000. An example of fines shows that in Massachusetts, the minimum is a $50 fine for speeds up to 10 miles an hour over the limit, plus a $10 fine for every excess mile per hour. In California, you pay up to a $100 fine for a first speeding ticket, a $200 fine for the second ticket and $250 for each speeding ticket after that. In many states, fines double in school or work zones.

For many drivers, though, the biggest 'fines' don't come from the judge but from the insurance company. A speeding ticket can drive up insurance premiums for three to five years. Some insurers will ignore your first speeding ticket, but with many companies, one speeding ticket makes a big difference in rates.

Here's an example of the impact speeding tickets can have:








single-car policy (Massachusetts)

liability, collision and comprehensive coverage




First speeding ticket
(Goodbye $123 good driver discount)


Second speeding ticket

($370 rate 'fine')


Third speeding ticket

($565 rate 'fine')

 


$1,549 a
year


 


$1,672 a year




$1,919 a year




$2,114 a year


 


This extra $565 a year, or $2,825 over five years, is far higher than the official fine imposed for speeding by the state. Wherever you live, it's likely your insurer will ratchet up the surcharges as you rack up tickets. So the stakes get higher each time you receive a speeding ticket.

If you are ticketed, use the two weeks you're generally given before you must take action to do some research. Police officers, even with radar, can make mistakes. There may be mitigating circumstances, such as speeding up to avoid a potential accident caused by another driver's erratic behavior. At this point, you should ask yourself how much your time is worth, and how much you can really know about the law. To get a prepaid legal plan. (which offers you many more services than just helping with speeding tickets) is less than $26/month. If it takes you 10 hours to research traffic tickets in your state (it will take you more time than this), isn't it worth it to have a lawyer through a prepaid legal plan who will tell you what you need to know and attend court with you, or go to court for you if you can't make it? Just something to consider.

If you do decide to defend yourself in court, one thing to realize is that not all speed laws are created equal. David Brown, a lawyer in Monterey, Calif., and author of '”Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court and Win,” notes that the District of Columbia and 32 states -- including Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania -- have absolute speed limits. Drive even one mile per hour over the speed limit and you're breaking the law.

Most drivers assume there is some leeway. And in reality, there is. John Moffat, director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, concedes that driving seven to eight miles over the posted speed limit on a highway generally won't get you pulled over. The results of a recent study in New Jersey seem to support that view: Over 36 months, 85% of the traffic on 65-mph roads was speeding at 74 mph. Clearly, the police can't, and don't, pick up everyone going over the speed limit.

George Hartwell, a California Highway Patrol spokesman, says, "If you exceed the limit by a few miles per hour, the officer has discretion." But don't push your luck. CHP lieutenant Wayne Bridges says 98% of officers will give you a speeding ticket you for traveling 15 mph or more over the limit. In the New Jersey study, 81% of tickets were given to drivers doing less than 20 mph over the limit.

Kentucky, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Texas have presumed speed limits. If you are clocked going 50 mph in a 40-mph zone, it is only presumed that you were speeding. If you can persuade the judge that your speed was safe given the conditions, you may beat your speeding ticket. Other states -- including California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana and Ohio -- have a combination of absolute speed limits for interstates and larger state roads and presumed speed limits for other roads.

Make sure that you read both sides of your speeding ticket. It will tell you how to go forward. The options usually include everything from writing a check to fighting your speeding ticket in court. It's definitely a good idea to have an attorney in court with you if you want to beat your speeding ticket. The middle ground may include taking a safe-driving course; if you complete the course, the speeding ticket won't go on your record. These courses can cost $40 to more than $100. This is on top of any fine you may have to pay. Typically, they last four to eight hours. In some states, including California and Florida, you can take these courses online. There is a limit, however, on how often you can use this option to protect your record; once every 12 to 24 months is typical.

Judges may have the authority to keep a speeding ticket off your record and away from insurers if you fulfill certain obligations. These may include paying the fine and court costs; avoiding violations for, say, six months to a year; and possibly performing community service or attending a driver's safety school. You can use such an option only once in three years in North Carolina (for a whole household), and once in seven years in Washington. However, if you hold up your end of the bargain, the ticket disappears. Florida will forgive one moving violation a year -- and up to five in a lifetime. To keep your record clean in the Sunshine State, you must pay a fine, court costs, and go to traffic school. (If it sounds complicated, it can be. It just depends on your state.)

If such options are not available, you may still be able to limit the damage of the speeding ticket by plea-bargaining. Request a court date to present your case -- perhaps to show that your speedometer was faulty -- and then ask the prosecutor for a deal. To avoid clogging the docket, a prosecutor may offer to reduce the fine and points, especially for first-time violators, says former New York prosecutor Marcia Cunningham of the National Traffic Law Center.

Before you decide how much effort to go to, call your insurer to see how the ticket could affect your rates. The more severe the consequences, the more important it is to take advantage of ways to hold down the damage.

If you think you can defend yourself in court, without having thoroughly studied all the traffic laws of your state, you might be in for a surprise when you get to court. But sometimes, you won't need to consult with a lawyer. If you're going to ask for a deferral or a reduction in your fine or points, or if you want to see if you can work out a deal with prosecutors, you might not need an attorney. However, if you have inexpensive access to an attorney, you can go to court with assurances that there will be someone there on your side who knows the traffic laws. If you think that your case is a strong one, you can plead not guilty and go to trial on your own, but it would be better to have an attorney present who knows the best ways to fight a speeding ticket in your legal jurisdiction, and in your particular legal situation..

Traffic courts are relatively informal as far as courts go. Most jurisdictions treat speeding tickets as petty criminal offenses, with no right to a jury trial. Other places treat tickets as civil offenses. In either case, if the officer doesn't show up in court, you almost always win. (In some places, though, the officer doesn't have to be there.)

In many jurisdictions, you have a broad right to ask for the officer's notes, records about the radar unit used and other information to help prepare your case. A prepaid attorney, (for $26/month or less) can help get this information, look for discrepancies in the description of your car's make and color; the lane you were in; road, traffic and weather conditions; and where the officer was when s/he tagged you. "If you can raise doubt, you can win," says Judge Peter Evans, head of the Florida traffic-adjudication program.

One good source of information about the system and procedures is the clerk of the court with jurisdiction over your case. Other good resources include Brown's book, other books from legal self-help publisher Nolo Press, and for state speed laws, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

You can also get a packet of materials on how to fight a speeding ticket from the National Motorists Association. The packet rents for $30 for one month; you'll also need a $155 deposit, which you get back when you return the materials.

If all this sounds like too much work, you can hire a lawyer for anywhere from $300 to $1,000 or more (if you go to trial). Be sure to get one familiar with the traffic laws and practices where you were ticketed. If that sounds too expensive, just do what we've been advising you to do all along and beat your speeding ticket by having a prepaid legal plan. One thing to keep in mind is that if you have already gotten your speeding ticket, you can't get a plan today and expect the lawyer to go to court to cover your current ticket, because you didn't have coverage at the time of your ticket. What you will be able to do, however, is call an attorney and have them tell you what to say, how to act, and what cases to cite when you get to court. Then (heaven forbid), should your foot get heavy again, say nine months down the road, you will have an attorney. That's why it's important to have a prepaid legal plan in force before any legal situation arises. You never know when you'll need it, but one thing is for sure. You will need it.

Don’t try these excuses

Martin Kron, a former judge turned traffic lawyer in New York City, muses over a case that came up in his court.
A fellow who was representing himself on a speeding violation called his mother as a witness. She testified that her son had been bringing her a set of family-heirloom china. Since the china arrived without a scratch, the mother explained, her son couldn't possibly have been speeding.

Here are some other gems that won't work:

"Everybody was going the same speed."
Marcia Cunningham of the National Traffic Law Center says, "Many times I've heard a judge say, 'The river is full of fish. You can't snag them all.'"

"He's picking on me because I drive a red sports car."
This is a nonstarter.

"The radar was wrong."
It's possible, but the odds are against beating a radar-based citation, especially if you don't have the radar records as evidence and can't point to specific errors the officer made.

"I was going to see my sick [fill in the blank]."
This never works unless the judge dies laughing. Even then, the case would probably be rescheduled.

Even if you do have a prepaid legal plan, you should know what to do when you're pulled over for speeding (or for any other traffic violation).

Do you know why I pulled you over?
If a patrol car pulls up behind you with lights flashing, the key to the next few minutes is keeping things safe for you and the officer. Slow down and carefully pull over to the right shoulder, making sure to use your turn signal.

If you are uncomfortable stopping in a relatively unpopulated or unlighted area, slow down, turn on your hazard lights and indicate by a hand signal that you are going up ahead. Then pull over as soon as you get to a more populated area. Police officers understand this concern.

If it's nighttime, turn on your dome light once you have stopped. Stay in the car, unless you are told to get out. "It's a challenge to the officer when you get out," says Rich Whitcomb, director of driver training for the American Automobile Association.

Roll down the window and keep your hands in view on the steering wheel. If you have to get your driver's license, registration or insurance card from the glove box, a purse or other enclosed area, tell the officer before you do it.

In an ordinary speeding case, the decision whether to issue a warning or a citation is left to the discretion of the police officer, who has probably already made up his mind. Be polite, but don't volunteer any information. "The officer is going to try to get you to say you were speeding," says Eric Skrum of the National Motorists Association, a motorist-advocacy group. "If you admit guilt, it will go in his notes and be used against you if you go to court."

When asked if you know why you were stopped, do not commit yourself. Just say something like, "I'm not sure." If the officer says you were speeding, respond with, "I see," or say nothing. Silence doesn't equal an admission of guilt, nor does signing the ticket. You are simply acknowledging receipt of a copy of the ticket.

If you are pulled over out-of-state, don't assume that paying the ticket promptly will prevent the infraction from being reported to your home state -- even if the officer suggests that that's the case. Just about all states share information about driving infractions.

Honestly, on this issue, we really recommend a legal plan. Read this.

"I just got back from court. The judge dismissed the case. My prepaid legal attorney beat the ticket by pointing out to the judge how the officer's RADAR gun wasn't calibrated by a certified technician for over four years. Thank-you!"


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