The Hidden Costs Of A Simple Speeding Ticket

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Virginia’s recently repealed “abuser” fees got a lot of coverage in the press — but few people understand that a standard-issue traffic ticket can have repercussions just about as lethal to your pocketbook.

The difference is that with the “abuser” fees, the anvil fell on your head all at one time. With a standard-issue traffic ticket, it’s the death of a thousand cuts — each one inflicted separately (but cumulatively) so that over a period of say three years or so, you end up being relieved of just about the same amount money as would have been snatched away from you via a one-time “abuser” fee.

Consider the typical ticket for “speeding.” The tab (fine plus court costs) is around $150, usually. Not so bad, right?


Because once your insurance company finds out about the conviction (and they will; insurance companies routinely monitor our DMV records and can access them at will, without our having to give prior approval)  you can expect your premium to be “adjusted.” Two tickets in any three to five year period all but guarantees it.

How much can you expect to pay? Let’s consider one real-word example:

If you have an $800 annually full-coverage policy and they raise you by 20 percent (very typical) that means an additional $160 per year, courtesy of Mr. Ticket. Over the course of three years — the amount of time the typical moving violation remains on your record and can be “held against you,” that would work out to $480 — plus the original $150 for the actual fine and court costs. So, $630 — as a consequence of a single minor speeding ticket.

But the fun doesn’t end there. Add a second ticket while that first one is still in play (three years from the date of conviction) and you could see a 40 percent jump in your premium. Now you’re staring down more than $1,200 in surcharges as a result of a couple of minor traffic offenses — an amount that is actually larger than the $1,000 “abuser fees” Virginia was trying to sock people with last year.

According to the insurance companies themselves, on the order of one in four of us will get a speeding ticket this year. The more you drive, the more the odds eventually tend to work against you. Because virtually every single one of us drives faster than the posted speed limit on most roads — because the posted speed limits are invariably set anywhere from 5-10 mph or more below the natural flow of traffic on that road. One day, we have some bad luck — and sail past a cop running radar.

Hello, Mr. Ticket.

Unfortunately, most people don’t realize, per all the above, that even a minor league traffic ticket can have big league consequences, long term. The system is set up in such a way as to reinforce that impression, too. Just “sign here” — and you can mail in your fine, sir. No need to come to court if this box is checked. Whew! I don’t need to take a day off to hassle with the judge — or worry about hiring a lawyer. I can just send ’em a check and be done with it.

Except, of course, you’re not done with it.

Which is why you should fight every ticket — every time.  The stakes are simply too high — and you have absolutely nothing to lose, other than a few hours of your time and (maybe) the cost of hiring a lawyer to wheedle and deedle the system on your behalf.

But even that is not necessary.

Often, you can get a ticket reduced to a non-moving violation (or “dropped” altogether, provided you agree to attend a court-sanctioned DMV driving school) simply by showing up and asking the judge to do that. Provided you seem contrite, don’t have a particularly bad rap sheet — and the offense itself is a no-biggie kind of thing — this approach almost always yields results.

The essential point is to avoid at all costs being convicted of a moving violation, such as “speeding.” Try to get the charge changed to “defective equipment” or some such — and be ready to pay a fine. It won’t be half-bad, because it’ll be just a one-time hit. Even spending an entire Saturday in one of those tedious “driver improvement” classes is time well spent.

What is one lost Saturday compared with a moving violation that follows you around like an STD for the next several years?

Even paying for a lawyer is often well worth the expense. For most ordinary traffic cases — speeding, running a red light, etc. — a lawyer will want around $700 or so. Not cheap — and yes, it’s roughly in the same ballpark as the potential costs you’d incur via increased premiums that would come your way if you simply pled guilty and the offense became a part of your DMV record.

But the real payoff comes if you happen to get another ticket at some point within the next three years. If the cheesy lawyer got you out of the first ticket, the threat posed by the second one’s not nearly as great. You basically get to start from Square One — instead of starting out with one strike against you to begin with.

Bottom line, don’t give in without a fight. And don’t forget that even one seemingly harmless speeding ticket can ruin your day for many days to come.


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11 Responses to “The Hidden Costs Of A Simple Speeding Ticket”

  1. Garagravaar says:

    Our city has put radar camera's everywhere. The fines for speeding are about $200 but no driver is blamed, the owner is and it does not affect his license since it may not be him driving. Now, two years later, the traffic flows at the posted speed. The city is disappointed that this new source of income did not keep rising like they thought it would.

  2. […] ri­ght? Eri­c Peters­, wri­ti­n­­g on­­ the National M­­otoris­t As­s­oc­iation bl­o­­g, to­­tal­s u­p­ th­e d­amage […]

  3. Doug says:

    After arriving from Germany last week, my Wife and I drove to our Winter home in Guadalajara Mexico. South of Hermosillo, I was stopped by the Federal Police for driving 160Km/h in a 100 Zone (100MPH in a 62MPH Zone). The cost of the Ticket was approximately 23 US Dollars. In Mexico (as well as Germany), it is illegal for the Government to share a person's driving records with Insurance Companies.

  4. Randy says:

    Garagravaar it sounds pretty good then. No police needed for giving out tickets so that saves thousands of dollars. If everyone is now driving the same speed it is much safer also. Sounds like it met its objective.

    Doug I am glad I live in the US so I do not have to help pay the costs of an erratic unsafe driver.

    For Eric Peters the speed limit is not set 5 to 10 mph below the flow of traffic, the traffic flows 5 to 10 mph above the set limit. There is a difference.

  5. Jeff says:

    Traffic flows above the posted speed limit because the speed limit is illegally underposted. For example, the speed limit used to be 75mph on the Ohio Turnpike, but now the limit is only 65.

  6. Randy says:

    Jeff yes i have read there have been a lot of accidents on the Ohio turnpike. That is usually not a time to increase limits.

  7. Jeff says:

    The number of accidents on the Ohio Turnpike have decreased since the truck speed limit was raised from 55 to 65.

  8. Randy says:

    Jeff that is not what I read. The accident numbers were up for trucks by a large percentage even compensated for increased miles driven.

  9. Jeff says:

    Randy read wrong. Accidents are way down.

  10. […] The Hidden Costs Of A Simple Speeding Ticket The Hidden Costs Of A Simple Speeding Ticket […]

  11. Ric says:

    This is an excellent article about the hidden costs of paying your traffic ticket. Most people pay their tickets figuring they are guilty and assuming they have little recourse in Court. I am an NJ traffic ticket attorney in New Jersey, where we have the highest car insurance in the land, and the cost of the ticket is only the beginning. There is no hard and fast formula for computing the additional insurance cost (variables include your insurance company, your driving record, your age, etc.) but it is usually VERY cost effective to go to Court and deal with the Prosecutor. He/She usually has your case and dozens others and is inclined to offer you some form of plea bargain just to get the case resolved. It doesn't hurt to have an attorney if you have a high point ticket or a number of moving violations as an attorney will frequently be able to get your a better disposition than you can yourself.

    Another good article was posted on MSN Money at

    The moral of the story is DON'T JUST PAY YOUR NJ SPEEDING TICKET. There is a way to cut the bleeding and avoid all that added insurance cost.

    Again, great article!

    BTW you can contact my office and submit your NJ Traffic Ticket to me at my website