10 Practical Tips For Avoiding Traffic Tickets

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Not many of us know someone who’s been in the clink for a serious crime — but almost everyone knows someone who’s been on the receiving end of a traffic ticket, or received one themselves.

This fact tells us that good, honest conduct is no sure guarantee of avoiding interaction with the police — at least when it comes to traffic violations.

But you can improve your odds; here’s how:

1) Try not to drive faster than 9 mph over the posted limit on the highway and about 5-6 mph above the posted limit on secondary roads.
In most places, most cops will not ticket you if you’re within this range. Part of the reason is simply that most car speedometers are not perfectly calibrated and so it’s easier to challenge such a trivial ticket in court. The other is the unwritten rule most cops follow that “spots” traffic a few mph over the posted limit — because the cops know (even if they won’t say so publicly) that the speed limits are generally under-posted, too — and for the most part don’t like to harass people for exceeding them by just a little bit. Exceptions to this include 25 mph/school zones — where you should never drive even a single mph faster than the posted limit.

2) Don’t drive significantly faster (or slower) than the traffic around you.
If you do, you’ll stick out — and if there’s a cop around, he will notice and focus on you. Learn from the prey animals of the African savannah: There is safety in numbers. Even if you are driving faster than the speed limit, if you’re one of a dozen cars in a pack, there’s only a one in twelve chance the cop will target you.

3) Never speed at night, especially after midnight.
There are more cops on the road during these hours — and fewer cars. You will stand out. And the cops are looking for any excuse to pull you over, because night-time is DWI time and every car a cop comes across will be closely scrutinized. Give him a reason — any reason — to pull you over and he will pull you over.

4) Make sure your car’s registration, license plates and state inspection are always up to date.
Cops are trained to look for passed-due inspection stickers (and also things like cracked windshields and dead headlights/brake lights, etc.) and if you’re speeding, even a little bit, your car will be the one that gets pulled over. And once pulled over, odds are you will end up with a ticket. The number one goal is to avoid getting pulled over in the first place.

5) Pay close attention to the behavior of other drivers, especially if you’re driving in an unfamiliar area.
If you see cars ahead suddenly slowing down for no apparent reason (or oncoming cars are flashing their lights at you) it’s likely there’s a radar trap up ahead. Slow down now.

6) Be on your guard driving through small towns you don’t know, especially small towns just off an Interstate or when a major road goes directly through a small town.
Speed traps are a reality of life and you’re most likely to encounter one when driving through a small town in the middle of nowhere. Some towns get a large percentage of their budget from traffic tickets and the local yokel cops are on the lookout for cars with out of state plates because they know the driver is not likely to come all the way back there to try to fight the ticket in court — no matter how trumped-up the ticket might be. It’s unfair, but it’s the reality on the ground.

7) Be on the alert for sudden (and often poorly indicated) reductions in the posted speed limit.
On many roads, the maximum will drop from say 55 to 45 for no obvious reason — and sometimes, there’ll be a cop just after the sign change, waiting for you with his radar gun. Watch for work zones — where the limit may drop by half (and the fines double).

8) Educate yourself about photo radar, or automated tickets.
If you’re traveling to say Phoenix, AZ or Washington, DC — be forewarned that these areas use automated cameras to ticket people for both red light running and speeding. You may get no warning — and have no idea you just got a ticket — until it arrives in the mail a few weeks later.

9) Familiarize yourself with the makes/models of cars that cops tend to drive.
The most commonly used cop cars (marked and unmarked) are the Ford Crown Victoria, the Chevy Impala and the Dodge Charger. The nice thing about the Vic is that it’s very easy to pick out because it’s very large and pretty much only cops and older people drive them. The Impala’s harder to sniff out because they are anonymous-looking and really blend into the crowd. The Charger’s even worse because it’s a popular car and also a car that younger, sporty drivers favor. But in general, be on the alert whenever one of these cars is around; be extra wary if you see telltale signs such as multiple low-profile antennas, large tires with inexpensive-looking trim rims/hub caps and a spotlight on the driver’s side door.

10) Don’t exceed the posted in adverse weather such as heavy rain or when it’s snowy.
Not only is it unsafe, it may also be a moving violation even though you may not have been driving faster than the posted maximum. Keep in mind that the speed limit is just that — the lawful maximum — under ideal conditions. If a cop sees you driving faster than he deems safe for conditions, he can still pull you over and give you a ticket. And besides, this is a case where slower really is safer. Even if you have a 4WD vehicle, it takes longer to stop (and the vehicle is more prone to skidding out) if the roads are wet or slicked from snow/ice.

Finally, be courteous and calm if you do get pulled over. You’ve still got a 50-50 chance of not being ticketed. Sometimes, a cop will let you off with a verbal warning — but your odds of getting one plummet to Absolute Zero if you’re confrontational, uncooperative or disrespectful.

Even if you believe the cop is being unfair, it does you no good to argue with him. He has all the power; you’ve got none — and any belligerence on your part will only make things worse. You don’t have to bow and scrape — or incriminate yourself. Just answer his questions politely and provide your ID/insurance/registration paperwork. A friendly attitude can go a long way.


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44 Responses to “10 Practical Tips For Avoiding Traffic Tickets”

  1. Randy says:

    All you stupid nitwits just have to learn that if you DONT SPEED YOU WONT GET TICKETS. this isnt hard. I ve never gotten a speed ticket in my life because i don't speed. if I did speed I would be dead by now.

    • Randall says:

      "if I did speed I would be dead by now." if this is true why are we all still alive?

    • Randy says:

      Randall maybe you should be. You are a threat to all school kids. School zone limits are meant to be broken as you put it. Why not speed, a 50 lb kid would do little damage to your vehicle.

    • George [C] says:

      I have never seen a desk or a chain in a school zone.
      Speed doesn't kill, stupidity does.

      Maybe you should open a driving school Randy?

    • Randy says:

      George you are stupid. I suppose you think your stopping distance is the same at 40 mph as it is at 25mph. You show your stupidity daily.

  2. Jef says:

    I always drive 10-30mph over the limit. This is the 85th % speed.

  3. Doug says:

    Last week, I was flashed 3 times by speed cameras in Arizona. Since I was driving to central Mexico in my car with out-of-country license plates, I'm not concerned. It would be a money-losing effort for the State to try and collect the fines.

  4. James says:

    I've found that highway cops at night tend to be lenient about the 10mph buffer, just as much as those in the daylight.

    I also recommend the "rabbit" method – which I am certain has saved me from a ticket. Whenever you see a faster car behind you (or even a slightly slower car in front), just follow them at a half-mile back. Chances are, they'll get the ticket, and you'll be scot-free. If not, you should see them braking – hard – and you'll know to slow down.

    @jef – I always (note to randy: conditions permitting) drive 5 (residential) to 10/15 (interstates) over too, but 30 will get you automatic citations in some states (like VA).

    @doug: Lucky!

    • Randy says:

      James is wrong as usual. Eric was actually right in that after midnight or even earlier the police often stop you for almost anything to check you for DUI (DUI is a serious problem) and going 10 mph over the limit is a perfect excuse to stop you and give you a warning or a ticket if they find nothing else.

      Also Randy, it looks like you are taking over my job. It also was not me that was stopped and given a nonspeeding ticket below.

    • Bill says:

      Randy is wrong as usual. if everyone got stopped after midnight for speeding, nearly all speeding tickets would have been issued between midnight and 5am. Obviously, that is not the case.

    • Randy says:

      Bill you are wrong again. I said nothing about everyone getting stopped for speeding after midnight. Show me the statement where I said such a thing? It is kind of like driving way over the speed limit and getting in an accident, it does not happen all the time but your chances are far greater. Drinkers already know to try to follow the laws such as speed limits so they do not get caught with DUI unless they are too drunk to know what they are doing.
      Bill I guess you and others here do not have any common sense.

    • James says:

      Well, when I say after midnight, I mean 3am-ish… Just after midnight there tends to be more of a DUI pressure, but late-late no one wants to get out of their cars, and I know I've hit with radar at exactly 10 over many times in md/pa, and those cops never made any motion to come after me.

    • Randy says:

      Well done James. If you are wrong and finally figure it out you change your story to something that someone may believe. If it is after 3 am the policeman may have been asleep in his or her vehicle. Why are you on the road so much at 3 am and why would you be driivng only 10 mph over the limit?

    • James says:

      When was 3am ever not after midnight?

      I have a girlfriend who lives an hour away. Why do /you/ think I'm on the road at 3am?

      And, surprisingly on-topic, I'm only doing 10 over (in vulnerable areas, 15 in safer areas) because I don't want to be pulled over.

    • Jef says:

      How do you get an automatic citation when using a radar detector, CB radio, and laser jammer? Using these devices gives ample warning.

    • Randy says:

      James that is the wrong answer on this board saying you are driving slower "because I don’t want to be pulled over". Everything I have heard from this board says that law enfocement has no control over the speed that people drive. I do not believe that and it is obvious that you are the only other person that believes that the same as I do that they do have control over most peoples driving speeds.

    • Randy says:

      Jef why do you need all of that equipment so that you can drive faster? Then with all that extra time you save you come onto this board? Does not make sense to me.

  5. Randy says:

    Also be careful who is behind you, not just directly, but also two, three, or even more cars behind. It is not enough to know who is ahead of you. Just got a non-speed-related ticket from a cop who followed probably a few cars back on a winding country road, because I reviewed my dash video-cam afterward and verified that he was not sitting anywhere up by the side of the road lying in wait. I have been vigilant watching my rear-mirror but, guess what, not vigilant enough as I was only watching who was directly behind me.

  6. Bill says:

    "Exceptions to this include 25 mph/school zones"

    So if the school zone speed limit is 30 mph, I can drive recklessly?

    A lot of the "Practical" Tips depends on the state. In many states, 14 over the limit on the interstate is OK. It mostly depends on the flow of traffic.

  7. Baja Joes says:

    One common question drivers being ticketed are asked by the officer is:
    "Do you know how fast you were going"?
    How should a person give a reasonable answer without incriminating oneself or appearing argumentative towards the officer.
    Bearing in mind that this is a hypothetical question for the purpose of this board and the person may or may not have been speeding.

    • George [C] says:

      Answer a question with a question.
      'Am I free to go? Officer traffic history, oh sorry Sergeant Cosine Error'

      Am I free to go is what you are legally required to ask to determine if you seizure is over.
      All states, if I am not mistaken, require an officer to have a visual history of your vehicle moving against traffic, then they pull out their "speed measurement tool" to 'obtain' your speed.
      Most police don't do that.
      and the last part lets the cop know that you aren't worth his time, because you will contest this alleged "crime" of moving safely & quickly.

    • Bill says:

      George, you are very mistaken, because all you would have to do is view each states' laws to see that no such law exists.

    • George [C] says:

      What are you referring to Bill?

      Asking are you free to go applies to the entirety of the US. The US Supreme court wrote that you have the least protection when you are seized, versus being arrested or just talking to police.
      The cosine error applies anywhere the laws of physics are valid.
      Having a peace officer make a visual estimate of a vehicle's speed is a precursor to taking an instrumented reading, that is taught in the police academy.
      Well at least the absurd of absurd isn't allowed http://www.thenewspaper.com/news/29/2986.asp
      'I heard him speeding, honest'

      The point is, when a police officer asks a loaded question s/he is looking for you to self-incriminate [don't, go have a look at the Bill of Rights].
      That is laziness, and also extremely condescending. I won't stand for it.

    • George [C] says:

      Forgot to add, never talk to the police. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

      As an organization, they no longer protect and serve the public. [doesn't mean that there aren't good men & women in the ranks]

    • Randy says:

      Good George. I had not heard the latest news that we can throw you in jail for speeding or any other traffic offense. Thanks for letting us all know.

      Constitutional Rights

      All individuals accused of a crime or traffic offense which carries the penalty of a jail sentence have the following rights:

      To have a lawyer present at all hearings.
      To have a lawyer appointed at public expense if the defendant cannot afford to hire one.
      To represent themselves without a lawyer.
      To a public, speedy, jury trial.
      To cross-examine any witness who testifies against you.
      To call witnesses to testify on your behalf, and have the court compel their attendance.
      To testify or not testify.
      To appeal to the Superior Court if convicted after a not guilty plea.

    • James says:

      "Faster than I thought I was" or "I'm not sure" – but this means you can't fight it via the "I was only traveling X mph."

      I tend to answer "good afternoon sir" or "am I being pulled over for speeding?"

    • Randy says:

      Also George it is very possible to hear someone speeding. I am sure that some people can determine your speed by hearing your car as much as seeing it. If you do not believe it stand by a roadway sometime and listen to the vehicles go by and notice the difference when they are traveling at different speeds. It is very easy to tell the difference in speeds if soneone is traveling 10 mph faster or slower than the others.. I would bet that many blind people or anyone else that uses their hearing a lot could with practice judge your speed within 5 mph and possbly better than anyone actually seeing the vehicle .

    • George [C] says:

      Randy, apparently you did not read the article.
      This was not talking about acoustical doppler. (as a vehicle approaches then passes)

      This is about an officer testifying that s/he can determine the speed of an APPROACHING vehicle, solely by the pitch of the tires, or the loudness of the engine/exhaust, or the noise of the aerodynamic wake. That is beyond ludicrous.

      I understand people want to be 'respectful' and polite to the police, but groveling/deference will not work. The police 'chiefs' have told the officers that they need to write X number of tickets, just to pay their own salary (which is a lie). So if you try to be 'reasonable' that will not work, and it will be an easy score for their quota.

    • Randy says:

      George about your quotas I think they need them in many places. When areas have drivers doing well over the speed limit and well over your 85% speeds and no tickets are given then there is a problem. They are not doing their job to keep cars moving in a safer manner. I know you and others always talk about the 85% speeds but you and others here also say it is fine to drive over that speed as fast as your car will go.

      As far as telling how fast a car is driving from the sound I still say that is very possible. You can tell when someone is flying by too fast just by listening. "I do not care how they describe what they hear" but the fact is anyone can tell when someone is driving very fast. People do not always know how to describe something up to your expectations or even know why it sounds as it does but they can still judge the speed. People do not always have a book or the internet with them to help them describe something like you do.

    • Hubcap says:

      I haven't been asked the question for quite sometime, but my prepared answer is "Dunno; I was busy looking out the front window and moving with the flow of traffic."

  8. Baja Joes says:

    Please how would you answer an officers question without admitting guilt and being respectful of the officer? Any mph answer regarding possible speed may be met with an assumption of guilt or presumed lying or ignorance. For the basis of a hypothetical question "do you know how fast you were going" I would like to know an answer that won't admit guilt or antagonize the officer.
    Unless you were not speeding and can prove it with the cars computer I would think almost any mph answer will antagonize the officer which people do not want to do.
    If there is an officer on this board is there any answer that will satisfy the officer without admitting guilt or insulting him?

    • Jef says:

      Just answer the question – "I have no opinion on that subject". Then ask the officer how fast surrounding traffic is moving. You can use this information against him. For example, if traffic is moving at 10+ over the posted speed limit, ask the officer why you were specifically pulled over.

    • Randy says:

      Only one problem with your solution is that it does not matter if everyone else is breaking the law. It does not give you the excuse to break the law. No court would go with your defense unless you could prove it is safer to be driving at the speed you were clocked at.

    • Bill says:

      Jef – no officer would ever answer your question.

  9. Kevin in PGH says:

    "Watch for work zones — where the limit may drop by half (and the fines double)."

    Here in PA it's even tougher! A violation of 11 MPH over the posted work zone limit can result in a drivers license suspension of at least 7 days. Also watch out for school buses with flashing lights: passing them is a 30 day loss of license!

  10. Phil Mckrackin says:

    I have a way to avoid traffic tickets
    1)Comply with the law!

    Oh wait that would be too simple. I don't get these guys Randy they call revenue from traffic citations a "TAX" and they call Police officers "Tax collectors" or "revenue agents". If you were told that If you drove at 65mph you would not be taxed but if you drove over that 65mph you would be taxed, You'd need to be an idiot to drive at a speed greater than 65mph and then complain when you had to pay the tax. I guess the "TAX" the are refering to is the "idiocy TAX".

  11. Phil Mckrackin says:

    The NMA constantly says they are working in the name of safety then we see them post things like this that are absolutely ridiculous:

    "10) Don’t exceed the posted in adverse weather such as heavy rain or when it’s snowy."

    Shouldn't motorists be reducing their speed in adverse weather. In adverse conditions such as Heavy rain and snow the posted limit is usually too fast for conditions. But then I am sure that if one were to crash traveling at the posted speed limit during a snow storm the citation they recieved would purely be given as a revenue generating policy.

  12. Phil Mckrackin says:

    sounds like PA makes the motorist responsible for his/her decisions and actions. That is the only way to modify bad behavior.

  13. Phil Mckrackin says:

    I have seen upto 17mph graces.

  14. Phil Mckrackin says:

    I have found that most Highway or State cops are lenient past the so called 10mph buffer. I have seen enforcement graces of 15-20mph. Being part of a platoon of vehicles is always a good method of exhibiting that you are trying to be compliant and drive with the speed of traffic. You don't likely need to be as far back as a 1/2 mile. 4 seconds is plenty to insure he gets caught and not you and it also makes you look to be part of the pack and therefore traveling at similar speeds as these other vehicles. Also use of the right lane is suggested since most cops use the median as there RADAR/LIDAR set up point. When you are travelining in a pack towards the back and in the right lane the odds are your speed won't even be measured.

    I understand the 10-15 on interstates but 5mph over in residential areas is a bad idea. 1) speed limits in residential areas seem to be posted to insure certain travel speeds because of the specific presence of slower moving traffic, pedestrian trafic and Bicycle traffic. If you end up striking a pedestrian at 5mph over the posted limit it is likely you will be charged with vehicular assault or vehicular homicide if he dies. Is that worth the 1 o2 minutes you can save by traveling at 5mph over the limit?

    You noted that Highway cops are just as lenient at night and I would tend to agree and I would tend to assert that enforcement tactics don't change from day to night and what you observe on any roadway during the day will be similar at night unless that state uses a day limit and night limit system. I will point out that speeds in excess of 65mph at night create a phenomenon known as over driving your head lights. at 65mph a hazard in the roadway will not be illuminated until you are so close as to not be capable of stopping. I have had many discussions about this on this site and the usual responses are "I use the headlamps of the vehicle in front of me to scan for hazards". Personally I don't feel it is a valid methodology to reduce your risk of colliding with an object or animal in the roadway and I would advise against it.

  15. Phil Mckrackin says:

    James says: December 11, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    “Faster than I thought I was” or “I’m not sure” – but this means you can’t fight it via the “I was only traveling X mph.”

    I tend to answer “good afternoon sir” or “am I being pulled over for speeding?”))

    Phil 1/11((I just love to read the narcassistic answers of those who think themselves superior to the officer through class or intellect. If you lead off with the question "am I being pulled over for speeding?" the officer would write that in his notes serve you with a notice to use it against you in court and likely you'd have no clue why he would do that. Making the statements “Faster than I thought I was” or “I’m not sure” do not preclude you from using the defense that you thought you were traveling at any specific speed especially if the officer does not note the statement or serve you with a notice of intent to use the statement against you in court. I actually think that stating "am I being pulled over for speeding?" is a much worse answer than either of the two you suggest are inferior answers. When the officer asks you "do you know why I pulled you over?" he is not fishing for fodder to strengthen his case although you may very well give that to him if you respond with "am I being pulled over for speeding?" The intent of the officers question is to guage your level of honesty which will likely be used in the decision of whether or not you will recieve a citation. The only right answer is the truth.))