The need for speed can come at a hefty price — around $150, the average cost of a speeding ticket in the U.S.
But even if you’re reeling at the upfront fine, you might be forgetting a less obvious but potentially more expensive cost: the increase to your monthly insurance premiums. While insurance providers rarely reveal the precise formula they use to calculate premiums, studies have shown that a single speeding ticket could lead to a 20% rise in insurance premiums.
The good news is that knowledge is power when it comes to traffic citations and speeding tickets. You have options, and understanding what they are can help you reduce the cost of the ticket, the impact to your auto insurance, and other negative effects, like points on your license.
Citation vs. Ticket
Many people think that a citation and a ticket are different ways a law enforcement officer can penalize a driver. But in general, the two terms are used interchangeably and generally mean the same thing.
Most jurisdictions don’t have two separate categories for citations and tickets, so essentially, a citation is a type of ticket.
The document that an officer provides after a traffic law violation is a citation. The citation will state the offense, the consequences, and any required follow-up actions, such as a court appearance.
Some common citations include:
- A speeding citation for driving over the speed limit
- DUI and DWI citations, which are considered severe violations
- Reckless driving, for behavior in traffic that can endanger other motorists
- Citations for breaking traffic laws such as running a red light or stop sign
- Distracted driving, such as driving while using a cell phone
What Is a Speeding Ticket or Speeding Citation?
A speeding ticket or citation is issued by law enforcement for driving in excess of the speed limit. The ticket will state how far above the speed limit you were, as measured by tools such as LIDAR. The faster you were going, the higher the ticket fine.
Each state has its own penalty system for speeding levels, so punishments and fines for speeding violations vary. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports maximum punishments ranging from $100 all the way up to $2,500 with the potential for jail time.
How a Ticket Affects Your Car Insurance Rate
If you receive a moving violation, it could raise your insurance costs. The magnitude of the impact, however, depends on a few factors, such as whether this is your first violation or one of multiple offenses.
“A ticket is one of the many variables that go into rating someone for their insurance, and it certainly impacts the amount of their premium,” says Charlie Wendland, head of claims at Branch Insurance. “We also factor in how long ago the incident took place, and whether it was a serious or minor violation.”
Getting a ticket can also add points to your driver’s license, which can lead to additional consequences. Driver’s license points are given out for certain traffic violations and can stay on your driving record for several years. Accumulating too many of them can have legal consequences – like having your license suspended – and financial consequences through fines and an increase to insurance premiums.
The exact regulations surrounding driver’s license points, including the point values for specific offenses and the point threshold for consequences, vary by state. Similarly, it’s hard to tell the exact effect of points on your insurance rates since each insurance provider calculates premiums differently, but getting too many points usually results in a jump in rates.
If drivers are worried that a ticket has driven their insurance rates up, many insurance companies have begun offering data-based programs to monitor defensive, safe driving practices. These software applications share data with your insurance provider, and if the data shows a positive driving record, they may reduce your premium.
“We think the tech is in its infancy, but it is maturing rapidly because there is a demand in the market for usage-based insurance,” says Wendland.
We also recommend checking with your insurance provider and local Department of Motor Vehicles to see if your state offers any defensive driving courses you can take to reduce the points or fines you get from a speeding ticket. The National Safety Council offers a great resource to check the availability of these programs in your state. If your insurance provider allows it, participating in these programs might also help reduce your insurance premiums after a traffic violation.
What to Do If You Get a Citation or Speeding Ticket
If you are pulled over, make sure to be respectful, honest, and forthcoming. This can help the interaction go more smoothly. Ask questions respectfully if you don’t understand an aspect of a ticket, but otherwise, be prepared to move forward.
Afterward, you can consider whether you are better served by accepting the consequences, usually a fine, or if you want to contest the ticket in court. Whichever route you decide to take, make sure to follow the instructions on the ticket or citation carefully. Appear in court at the time and place you are scheduled to appear. Failing to appear in court or pay the fine can result in much more severe consequences, such as a revoked license.
You have the right to contest your ticket in court if you feel like it was wrongly issued, but be sure to weigh that choice against the potential for additional penalties if you lose your case — or are found in violation of other traffic laws. Take into account the risks and actual costs, and consider whether it is a better option financially to simply make the payment without contesting the ticket at all.
In some jurisdictions, you can negotiate a speeding ticket to a lower level speeding ticket or a non-moving violation which could give less points or no points on your license and lower impact on car insurance costs.
If you’re given a ticket in a state that’s not your state of residence, contesting the ticket can be tricker. It’s important to consider factors like whether you can contest the ticket from afar or if you need to appear in court in person, says Sheila Dunn, communication coordinator for the National Motorists Association. In some cases, it might make more sense to hire an attorney in the state where you received the ticket to represent you in court rather than travel there yourself.
Can You Negotiate a Speeding Ticket?
There are circumstances where you can negotiate down a speeding ticket, though the jurisdiction matters a lot in what is possible. Some tickets have greater potential for negotiation than others, according to attorney Ben Luftman, who focuses on traffic violations and criminal law at Luftman, Heck, and Associates LLP in Ohio.
Factors that could make a case promising for negotiation are: “the client’s record traffic-wise or lack thereof; whether there were any issues with the ticket, like errors on it; and whether there are evidentiary or proof issues with the case,” says Luftman.
If you think you could negotiate your ticket, take detailed notes of the circumstances as soon after the citation as possible before you forget anything.
Some states have programs that will dismiss the case if a certain amount of time passes with no further traffic citations, says Luftman. Other states have defensive driving courses that you can take to have your ticket reduced or dismissed.
For specific guidance about contesting a traffic ticket in court, we recommend consulting an attorney who’s knowledgeable about traffic law in the jurisdiction in question.