Everyone knows the dread when you look in the rear view mirror and see red and blue lights right behind you. But when travelers hit the road whether for a road trip or going to the office, experts agree most drivers do not realize just how much getting pulled over can cost them.
The cost of traffic tickets vary by location, infraction, and other variables such as whether you are wearing a seatbelt, your age, etc. Traffic offenses in most states have a range for fines which can be anywhere from $50 to $600 for the most common infraction: speeding. In addition to the ticket costs, some states charge state and court surcharges for processing tickets and civil “driver responsibility” penalties from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Out-of-state drivers may also face penalties from their home state. All told, one ticket in a costly area can easily cost more than $1,000.
It is estimated that nearly ten percent of American drivers are ticketed each year for a traffic violation of some kind. Not all traffic violations are considered a moving violation, but all can affect your insurance rates. On average, a reckless driving charge boosts insurance premiums by 22%. Even something simple like forgetting your license can add up to 18%, according to a recent analysis by Insurance.com. Depending on the infraction, the circumstances, your age, location, and the insurance company, some tickets will raise insurance rates more than others.
Drivers also often misunderstand how long those penalties stay in place. It varies by state, but in some areas the higher rates could stay in place for as long as seven years. In Louisiana, where Insure.com estimates the average premium is $2,536, the extra insurance costs for a reckless driving charge could mean $558 per year and a potential cost over seven years of $3,906.
Experts and drivers agree; the best course of action is to drive carefully, follow all speed limits and rules to avoid getting a ticket in the first place. But in the event that you find yourself handing over your license and registration, there are a few options for cutting the costs:
1. Fight It
This might be difficult for clear or obvious infractions, but statistics show that drivers who fight the ticket almost always come out ahead. The strategies for winning in court vary, but all drivers should send a “request for discovery” to the court, which provides details like what ordinance they were charged with and other information regarding the traffic stop such as whether the officer used a radar gun and when that device was last calibrated, which may help your case.
2. Take a Plea Bargain
If you’re not lucky enough to get off completely, consider a plea deal to negotiate fewer points or other conditions such as a defensive driving course or paying the ticket fine and not incurring more violations within a probationary period.
3. Look For A New Policy
The surcharges for traffic violations will follow you, even if you switch companies, but they are based off of your base insurance rate, so if you can lower your base rate, you can lower the surcharges. State laws vary, but generally experts say traffic violations can trigger insurance surcharges for about three years. More serious violations like DUIs and reckless driving charges could linger for five to seven.
4. First Forgiveness
Some insurers have forgiveness policies that can limit or eliminate extra charges for a first accident or ticket, but if a second infraction follows, the surcharges soar up quickly.
5. Driving Courses
Depending on the state, taking a defensive driving course can reduce the number of points on your license and in turn the surcharges your insurer might assess. Many courts will offer you the option of taking a course, with costs running as low as $25 for the entire course, which might even be available online.