Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest travel times of the year and nothing can ruin a vacation more quickly than an undeserved speeding ticket. As people prepare for their holiday trips, they should be on the lookout for record-high traffic enforcement efforts.
The National Motorists Association, a motorists' rights organization founded in 1982, reports that the numbers of drivers asking for help with their traffic tickets has recently reached its highest level in over a decade.
With the budgets of local governments across the country stretched extremely thin, many cities have turned to traffic enforcement as a way to add a quick influx of cash. Traffic stops that previously would have resulted in a warning are now leading to tickets that are costing drivers hundreds of dollars.
Smart drivers can avoid becoming "budget-balancers" for local government by following this short guide to contesting a traffic ticket.
How to avoid being stopped for a traffic violation:
* Drive with your attention focused at least a quarter mile down the road (about two football fields in length).
* Use a good quality radar/laser detector (legal in all states except VA and Washington D.C.) but don't totally rely on it. Continue to monitor the roadway and traffic around you.
* Don't drive in a way that attracts attention. This includes things like tailgating, frequent lane changes, and other forms of aggressive driving.
* If you are visiting a new area, find out where traffic enforcement is at its highest. Check the national speed trap registry at www.speedtrap.org for a listing of popular speed traps across the country.
If you do get pulled over:
* Be civil. Do not debate or argue with the officer.
* Do not admit to exceeding the speed limit or violating any other traffic law.
* Do not refuse to sign the ticket when the officer asks. Signing the ticket is not an admission of guilt, it simply means you agree to pay the fine or show up at court to contest the charges against you.
* While you wait for the officer to finish writing out the ticket, you should already be preparing your defense. This means you should be busy taking note of your surroundings. Some things to write down include:
1) Road conditions
2) Time of day
3) Traffic density
5) Surrounding buildings, other structures
6) Nearby signage
7) The type of police car and the car's license plate number
8) The location of the officer's car when he/she first witnessed your alleged violation
9) The location where he/she finally stopped you.
After you get home:
* No matter the degree of your innocence or guilt you must plead "Not Guilty" to effectively challenge the ticket.
* The only leverage you have to negotiate a lesser fine or reduction in points is your "Not Guilty" plea.
* The date on your ticket is not your trial date; it is your arraignment date.
* At your arraignment, the prosecution and/or the judge will encourage you to plead guilty, or no contest, and may even offer you an incentive to do so, such as automatically lowering your fine or reducing the points for the violation. They may even give you an opportunity to explain why you believe you shouldn't be charged with this violation. This is not a trial. If you plead guilty or no contest you do not receive a trial.
* Usually you can avoid attending the arraignment hearing by sending in your not guilty plea in advance and asking to be notified of your trial date.
* If you plead not guilty a trial date for some time in the future will be set and you will have to return, at that time, for your trial.
* There are many books and multiple websites devoted to instructing traffic ticket defendants on how to build a credible defense. Spend some time in study and prepare your strategy.
Tips for your day in court:
* The day of your trial may be nerve wracking, but stick it out. This is the time the prosecution is the most likely to offer you an attractive plea bargain.
* No matter how weak you feel your case may be, remember, the officer that gave you the ticket must be there to testify against you.
* If the officer is not there you can make a motion for dismissal and most likely the judge will agree to your motion. However, if you don't request a dismissal the case will simply be rescheduled to later date.
Win or lose at trial, you have created a foundation to build upon. No longer will you feel obligated to just suck it up and pay the fine. As more and more motorists fight traffic tickets, the governments that use traffic enforcement for revenue generation will find the practice unprofitable and they will return to using legitimate taxation to fund their services.