By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
The best way to fight a traffic ticket is to avoid getting one in the first place.
In addition to developing the habit of constantly scanning your surroundings and being on alert for cops — and radar traps — every driver should invest in a top quality radar detector, such as the Valentine 1 (see: http://www.valentine1.com/).
The appx. $400 cost may seem steep but I guarantee that if you routinely drive 5-10 mph faster than the speed limit (and most of us do) you will recover your investment before a year’s out. A typical speeeeeeeeeding ticket — just a routine, radar trap-type ticket — costs about $150, on average, in fines plus court costs.
In most states, the ticket remains “live” on your record for three years — meaning it is actively held against you in the form of demerit points ( three or four points is common for the typical minor speeding charge). If you accumulate too many points within a given period of time (12 in a 12 month period is typical) the state DMV can suspend your driver’s license.
But the more serious problem for most people comes via their insurance company. Many companies will hold a ticket against you — that is, use it as a pretext for raising your insurance rate — for as long as five years.
So, if your premium goes up by say $50 per year (a low figure) then the true cost of that one minor speeding ticket is at least $400 over three years — or about the cost of a good radar detector like the V1.
But the real trap is that second ticket many people get during that 3-5 year period when the first ticket is still “active.” While some insurance companies won’t raise your rate for one traffic ticket, most will absolutely do it if you get two within a certain timeframe.
And it’s that second ticket that could really cost you.
If your annual premium is $800 (again, a low figure for many people) and as a result of a second speeding ticket, your insurance company decides to hit you with a 10 percent “surcharge” — you’re looking at an additional $80 per year for as long as those tickets remain active.
Over five years, that’s an additional $400 (not counting the original fine itself) or significantly more than what you’d have spent for a good radar detector that might have helped you avoid those tickets in the first place.
And bear in mind, we have so far only been talking about trivial, minor tickets — the nuisance type without a mandatory court appearance, where you can just sign the form and send them the money.
Many people have no idea that they are potentially in line for a much more catastrophic scenario. For example, in my home state of Virginia, a driver can be (and often is) charged with “reckless driving” merely for being caught doing in excess of 20 mph over the posted maximum. It sounds like a lot, but on a highway or secondary road where the limit is 50-60 mph, it really isn’t.
Often, it’s the normal flow of traffic.
Worse, you can be hit with the “reckless” charge for driving faster than 80 mph, period. On the highways, almost everyone is already doing 70-75. So doing 80 is pretty common. If you’ve been on I-95 or I-81 on the east coast — or I-10 out west, you know that already.
But get caught doing it and your day will be most unhappy.
The “reckless” bust usually carries with it a mandatory court appearance and, if you are convicted, six demerit points are usually levied against your driving record. And when the insurance company gets wind of it — and they will get wind of it — expect your premium to be “adjusted” upward by 20-50 percent, if they don’t cancel the policy outright.
Now we are into serious money.
A single “reckless driving” conviction on your record can cost you not hundreds but thousands of dollars in fines and court costs, lawyer bills and 3-5 years of jacked-up insurance premiums.
If this happens to you, the price of that radar detector you decided not to buy will seem like a sweet deal.
And it was.
A good radar detector will probably help you dodge several speeding tickets each year if you routinely drive faster than 10 mph over the posted limit — more than earning its keep. I won’t get into the rightness or wrongness of routinely exceeding the speed limit; it’s just a fact of life that most of us do it frequently and are thus at constant risk of being hit with a piece of payin’ paper.
State and local governments are more desperate for cash than they have ever been and so traffic enforcement (manned radar traps as well as automated speed cameras) is becoming more vicious and harder and harder to avoid — unless you always drive within 2-3 mph of the posted maximum (even as little as 5 mph over will put you in the crosshairs these days).
For many of us, that’s just not realistic. And the fact of the matter is that even drivers who don’t “speed” are increasingly running afoul of deliberately under-posted limits (where the posted maximum is set well below the normal — and reasonable — flow of traffic) or nasty speed traps, such as where a cop hangs out just after a small, easy to miss sign that denotes a 10 mph drop in the lawful maximum.
A radar detector is the one thing that can save your bacon in such a scenario. Which is why I never leave home without mine.
And neither should you.
Radar detectors are legal nationwide, except for Virginia and Washington D.C.