Knowing when to fight a traffic ticket could end up saving you hundreds of dollars for the offense itself and perhaps even more on your car insurance down the road.
But how do you know when to fight, and if you do fight it, when to hire a lawyer?
The National Motorists Association recommends drivers not facing a DUI, reckless driving or other charge that could carry serious penalties including jail time, to make an appearance in court and do battle.
What about hiring an attorney? Look at the financial bottom line.
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Expect an attorney to charge a flat rate of $250 to $400 for a one-time courtroom appearance to enter a plea and negotiate a reduced penalty. Other courts cost could apply, too. For a lesser ticket with a lesser fine you might not even break even by hiring an attorney.
However, if jail time is even a slight possibility, or your fines reach a thousand dollars or more, then an attorney can be money well spent.
Don’t feel, thought, that every traffic court appearance demands an attorney.
Who should fight a ticket in court?
Some motorists, such as commercial drivers, should fight all traffic tickets because any moving violation can jeopardize their ability to continue working, says Ohio attorney Michael E. Cicero.
Also, your age is a big factor when seeking your day in court.
“If you’re very young or very old, fighting the ticket is absolutely worth it,” Cicero says. “In those demographics, traffic tickets can cause significant jumps in premiums.”
If you do choose to fight a ticket in person you already have one advantage. Crowded courts face hundreds of cases per day and prosecutors are usually willing to negotiate a deal.
Also, you may have a slight advantage in court depending on where you live.
Some states, such as New Jersey, require a witness to testify at a court hearing if a police officer didn’t see it, so if the witness — who is usually the other driver — doesn’t show up in court, the ticket is dismissed.
California lawyer Christopher J. McCann says that one of the first tactics he uses is requiring an officer to respond on paper to a certain deadline, called a “Trial by Declaration.”
“Putting the ball in the court of a busy officer alone gets me many easy victories when they neglect to return the document in a timely fashion,” McCann says. “Even if they do, the officer may not state his case properly, giving you another chance to win.”
How much will a ticket raise my insurance rates?
Getting a ticket can boost an average auto insurance policyholder’s premium by up to 22 percent, so it’s worth fighting, says Ben Luftman, a criminal defense and traffic attorney in Columbus, Ohio who recommends to potential clients that they check with their insurance company to see how their rates will be affected by a ticket.
Speeding convictions in construction zones and school zones lead to the highest premium increases, Luftman says.
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An estimated 40 million speeding tickets are issued in the United States each year, though there is no central collection point for traffic ticket data, says Gary Biller, NMA’s president.
The organization estimates that the average penalty is about $135 to $150 and that less than 5 percent of people contest a traffic ticket.
Typically, tickets don’t appear on a driving record until the fine is paid or the driver is convicted in court. Having an attorney’s help to dismiss or lessen the fines can keep insurance rates from increasing.
One thing to remember about auto insurance premiums going up after a traffic conviction is that after they increase, they can stay that high for three to five years, Biller says. And having a second conviction during that same time period can boost insurance rates another 15-20 percent.
“That alone should provide more motivation for ticket recipients to seek their day in court,” he says.