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Virginia’s recently repealed “abuser” fees got a lot of coverage in the press — but few people understand that a standard-issue traffic ticket can have repercussions just about as lethal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