What to Do When You Get a Speeding Ticket
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There’s nothing fun about the feeling you get when those blue lights flash behind you on the highway. Nobody wants to get a speeding ticket, and for good reason. If you’re convicted, a violation will:
Affect your driving record, possibly resulting in suspension of your license.
Cost money upfront: You’ll pay the speeding ticket and any court fees.
Cost more money long term: After a ticket, your car insurance rates can rise by hundreds of dollars per year.
It’s possible to lessen the impact of a speeding ticket or erase it, though doing so may be difficult. Here’s what to know about your options.
On the day you’re pulled over
It’s likely you’re reading this because you’ve already gotten a speeding ticket, so file away these tips in case it happens again:
Ask which method the officer used to determine you were speeding and write it down afterward.
Say as little as possible. Anything you say can be used against you if you go to court.
Be polite, don’t argue, and try to be unremarkable. If the officer can’t remember you, he or she might fail to recall details in front of a judge.
Afterward, write down everything about the incident, including the time of day, location and anything that might have affected the circumstances, such as obscured or missing speed limit signs.
You can then choose to fight the ticket in court, negotiate a lesser penalty or pay the speeding ticket and accept the ding to your driving record and the higher insurance premiums likely to result.
If you decide to pay the speeding ticket
Although paying a $50 ticket might not seem that bad, consider the true cost of a speeding ticket. Besides paying the initial fee, after a ticket, your car insurance rates can rise by hundreds of dollars per year.
For instance, NerdWallet’s 2020 rate study found that:
A 40-year-old driver with good credit and full coverage will pay $355 more per year after one speeding ticket, on average.
On average, a 40-year-old driver with good credit and minimum coverage will pay $148 more per year with one speeding ticket on their record.
If you do end up accepting the speeding ticket, it’s crucial to compare car insurance quotes; some companies will raise your rates more than others.
If you decide to fight the ticket in court
If you plan to fight the ticket, you’ll have to go to court, where a prosecutor will have to prove you were speeding. Even if you think the ticket is unjustified, speeding violations are hard to beat.
If the officer doesn’t show up at the hearing, you could be off the hook, but don’t rely on that. If you ask for a hearing, plan to make your case and be questioned before a judge. Check the ticket to find out whether a state, county or local officer issued it and search online for traffic procedures in that jurisdiction. Look up your state’s motor vehicle code, carefully read the speed law you allegedly broke and prepare to argue that you didn’t.
As you prepare for court, you can:
Delay the hearing. This will give you more time to build your case.
Gather evidence. Your best chances to win the argument will be if you have physical proof you weren’t speeding. Evidence could include dashcam video or GPS data from a smartphone app, or photographic evidence that a speed limit sign was obscured.
Research speed equipment. Look up the method the officer used to clock your speed, note its weaknesses and prepare to present them. Instruction manuals include maintenance schedules you can question the officer about, and they may note radar gun weaknesses, for example.
Make witness arrangements. You can call in witnesses, including any passengers in the car when the ticket was issued.
Plan your questions. You can question the issuing officer, including about his or her memory and training with speed-clocking equipment. Stick to questions with short answers and avoid asking “why” questions.
Deciding whether to get a lawyer
If all this sounds like more than you’d want to handle on your own, you can enlist a traffic lawyer to help you. These lawyers typically specialize in DUIs and more serious cases, but some take speeding ticket cases. Considering the costs, hiring a lawyer is likely worth the money if your ticket is particularly expensive or could result in the loss of your license.
A traffic lawyer costs between $250 and $350 on average nationally, according to Thumbtack, an online marketplace for service professionals. A speeding ticket costs anywhere from $50 up to $2,500 in some states in the severest cases.
If you decide to negotiate the penalty
“Mitigation” is making a deal with the prosecutor and court; it saves the jurisdiction money by avoiding a hearing while lowering your penalty for the ticket. You may be able to request a negotiation before or at your hearing, but it’s the court’s decision, so check on the court’s website or call to be sure. In some areas, you must request mitigation in writing.
Typically in mitigation, you admit to the offense and present information that would lead a judge to grant you leniency. Outcomes may include:
You pay all or some of the ticket, but it doesn’t affect your driving record.
You take a driving course instead of paying the speeding ticket.
The ticket is reduced to a lesser fine.
You’re given extra time to pay the fine.
» MORE: Compare auto insurance rates
Other possible outcomes
There are other possible ways your speeding ticket can shake out. For example, depending on where you live:
Your state may waive your first moving violation if you take a driving course.
You could receive a deferral, in which case typically you’ll pay a fine and your ticket will be dismissed after a period of time if there are no further offenses.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore the ticket. It won’t just go away on its own, and you’ll be in much bigger trouble with the law. How much trouble depends on your state: You could be arrested or have to pay larger fines, or your license could be suspended.
NerdWallet writer Philip Reed contributed to this report.