What is a speeding ticket?
A speeding ticket is given for driving faster than the posted speed limit, including on roads with variable speed limits, which change with conditions.
The process from beginning to end
Speeding tickets can be anything from a minor annoyance to a costly hassle. But knowing what to do from the moment you get pulled over can help you avoid the worst consequences of a ticket.
If you get pulled over
How you respond to getting pulled over plays a big role in any speeding ticket case. If you find yourself in this situation, you should:
- Be polite, and keep your hands where the police officer can see them. If the officer feels threatened, you could face worse charges than speeding.
- Promptly hand over your license, registration, and proof of insurance when asked.
- The officer can ask you basic questions—such as your name—but you don’t have to offer any further information. You can choose to remain silent.
- If the officer asks to search your vehicle, you can refuse the request.
- If the officer asks you to step out of your vehicle, you must comply.
There are also some things you should avoid doing when you get pulled over:
- Don’t try to argue your way out of a ticket. You can try to explain yourself if you want, but this usually won’t help. Most officers have already decided whether to give you a ticket by the time they step out of their car.
- Don’t talk first. Let the officer start the conversation.
- Don’t act like you’re trying to hide anything. This may give the officer probable cause to search your vehicle.
Factors that affect what you’re charged with
“Speeding ticket” is a catch-all phrase that covers several different types of offenses. Each state has its own laws about speeding and its consequences. However, there are some things that will almost always affect the charge against you:
- Speeding in a school zone or construction zone.
- Driving too fast for conditions. For example, even if the speed limit is 30 mph on a particular road, driving 30 on that road when there is thick fog or heavy snow may still be speeding.
- Overall traffic conditions.
- The amount the speed limit was exceeded by. The penalty for going 5 mph over the limit is much less severe than the penalty for going 20 over, for example.
Consequences of a speeding ticket
The consequences of speeding tickets vary between states. Here are some of the most common outcomes of a traffic ticket:
A speeding ticket almost always carries a fine. The amount of the fine depends on how fast you were going and the circumstances of your offense. In Seattle, for example, speeding in a school zone can cost you around $200, while speeding in general is likely to incur a lower fee.
It’s rare for a single speeding ticket to result in a suspended license, but multiple tickets may lead to you losing your license. Each state has its own rules about how many citations you can receive before your driving privileges get taken away.
Most states use a points system. For each traffic violation, you receive a certain number of points. When you reach the state’s point limit within a given period, your license gets suspended.
In Colorado, drivers over the age of 21 can receive up to 12 points in 12 months or up to 18 points in 24 months. In New York, you can get up to 11 points in 18 months. However, different states assign different amounts of points for different traffic violations.
9 states do not have point systems. These are Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wyoming. However, multiple traffic offenses in these states can still lead to license suspension.
A speeding ticket on your driving record can have a significant effect on your insurance rates. If you’ve had previous driving offenses, you might lose your coverage altogether.
How much your insurance will be affected will depend on how far above the speed limit you were driving. Going 5 mph over the limit will bring a smaller increase than if you were going 15 mph above it.
Every insurance company has its own way of handling moving violations. Some will increase your rate for 1 year, while others will increase it for 3 years or longer.
Your coverage will almost always go up, however, because insurance companies view speeding as a risky behavior. They see you as more likely to get into an accident than someone with no speeding tickets on their record.
Options for dealing with a speeding ticket
When you receive a citation for exceeding the speed limit, there are several approaches you can take.
Pay the fine
This is the simplest, quickest way to deal with a speeding ticket. You admit your guilt and send the required amount of money to the proper agency.
For minor offenses, paying a speeding fine won’t be a heavy financial burden. The downside is that you might still see your insurance rates go up, which could end up costing more than the fine itself.
The more serious your offense, the more you should consider fighting a speeding ticket, rather than simply paying the fine.
Enter into a deferral program
Washington and some other states offer ticket deferral programs. Deferring your ticket means that you pay an administrative fee, and if you do not get another ticket within a certain period, the ticket does not go on your record.
The option to have a deferral is not guaranteed, but if you have a clean driving record when you go to court to combat your ticket, the judge may give you the option of deferring your ticket.
This can be a sound option if you’re confident you won’t get another ticket any time soon. Just bear in mind that if you do get another ticket within the specific time period, you’ll have no way to contest the first ticket, and it automatically goes on your record.
Lastly, different states have different deferral rules, so be sure to research the deferral options where you live. Even states that don’t have deferral programs might offer something similar that allows you to avoid having the ticket placed on your driving record.
Contest the ticket on your own
If you have evidence that you weren’t speeding, or if you think you will be able to offer a sound justification for why you were speeding, you can choose to contest the ticket.
Even if the judge doesn’t dismiss your ticket entirely, the fine and the severity of the charge could both be reduced. You might also be awarded an extended deadline for paying the fine.
However, there are some challenges to this approach. The court process can be intimidating and unfamiliar, especially if you’ve never been to traffic court before. For this reason, it can be helpful to observe a court session prior to your own. Most traffic court sessions are open to the public.
But keep in mind that contesting a ticket on your own isn’t necessarily free. You’ll often need to take time off from work, and factor in your travel costs for getting to and from court.
Contest the ticket with a lawyer
You might think hiring a lawyer to help you with something as seemingly small as a speeding ticket is excessive. However, traffic lawyers have experience with the traffic court system, and having an attorney on your side greatly increases the chance that you’ll be able to beat the ticket.
Hiring a lawyer can also give you insight into how the traffic court system works, and you’ll know before your trial what your odds of winning are.
Finally, if you received your speeding ticket after an accident, you should make sure to have a lawyer. Being found guilty of speeding after an accident puts you at significant risk if the other party decides to sue you.
How not to deal with a speeding ticket
If you receive a ticket, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. If you simply try to sweep the ticket under the rug, you could face an increased fine, more points on your license, license suspension, or even arrest.
You have several options for addressing a traffic ticket if you receive one. Learn about the laws in your state and take action to protect yourself from the hassles that come with a tarnished driving record.