Over the weekend, I got a speeding ticket. According to the deputy who pulled me over, I was going 65 mph in a 45 mph zone.
The worst part is that I got busted in a known speed trap — a short stretch of highway where the speed limits drops from 55 mph to 45 mph and then goes right back up.
While the ticket will eventually show up online, I found myself near the courthouse yesterday so I thought I’d stop in to find out how much this will cost me. No, those details aren’t included on the citation.
Dollars and points
The damage? I’ll have to pay a $185 fine and I’ll also get three points against my license. Either that or I can show up in court in early August to fight it. Curious about the legal consequences of having three points on my license, I looked it up.
Around here, points stay on your license for two years and you have to rack up 15 points in that time period for there to be any real consequences (i.e., getting your license suspended). Since traffic tickets are a rarity for me, there’s almost no chance of that happening. (Knock on wood.)
But those aren’t my only concerns…
Effects on insurance
What about our car insurance rates? Will this speeding ticket result in a rate increase? I’m especially concerned about this since our premiums will be going up later this year when my son starts driving.
Unfortunately, there are no generally applicable answers to this question. It all depends on where you live, your past driving record, the nature of the violation, your insurance company, and your claims history. That being said, I can tell you what I learned about my case in particular.
After I left the courthouse, I stopped by our insurance agent’s office. We use State Farm and his office is right down the street. I explained the situation and asked about the possible consequences for our auto policies if I let the ticket stand.
His response was that, given our claims history and my otherwise clean driving record, there will be no effect whatsoever. He said that the underwriters hadn’t pulled my driving record since 2006 (at which point it was clean) and that they likely wouldn’t pull it again for years.
“It costs money to check motor vehicle records,” he explained. “So, for low risk drivers such as yourself, they just randomly audit a small number each year. The odds of you getting checked in any one year are extremely low.”
Okay, that sounds good. But what if they do happen to check my record?
“Even if they do check your MVR and see the ticket, it won’t matter. With your otherwise clean record and claims history, it would require multiple violations in a short time to have an effect,” he said.
I’ve had a policy with State Farm in some way, shape, or form since I started driving (a little over 25 years) and I’ve never had an at-fault accident. The same is true for my wife — long history with State Farm and a great driving record.
All in all, this was a very re-assuring conversation.
The way forward
So now I’m left with a choice. Go ahead and pay the ticket, effectively admitting guilt, and get the points on my license. Or fight it, Either in an attempt to get it dismissed, or to get the violation (or points) reduced.
Unfortunately, there’s no option for taking a defensive driving course in return for getting the ticket expunged — though it might be possible to strike a deal with the prosecutor or judge, getting it reduced to a lesser violation in return for taking a defensive driving course.
Or secret option #3…
In our state (and perhaps others), it’s possible to plead nolo contendere (no contest) and pay the fine without admitting guilt. You’re only allowed to do this once every five years but, when you do, you don’t get any points against your license.
The downside of pleading no contest is that I still have to show up in traffic court to do it. Plus, I’ll have used up my proverbial “get out of jail free” card for the next five years. Why does this matter?
Well… In theory, if there are no real consequences to just paying the ticket, it could be beneficial to save the nolo plea for the future. Under what circumstances might this course of action be better?
The main scenario that I can think of would be if I’m involved in a car wreck and I receive a traffic citation as part of it. Being able to plead no contest in that case would far better than having to plead guilty if the situation resulted in a lawsuit.
So, to summarize, I can:
- Just pay the fine and be done with it,
- Fight the ticket in court — though I don’t have much in the way of a defense, or
- Plead nolo contendere to avoid getting points on my license.
As things currently stand, I’m leaning toward option #1. Yes, I’d be effectively admitting guilt, but there’s very little in the way of consequences if I do so.
As for going to court, that would take a good bit of time, I might (?) incur court costs, and (as noted above) I don’t have much in the way of a defense. I suppose there’s a chance that the deputy won’t show up, in which case the citation might get thrown out, but this otherwise doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
I guess the other possibility if I went to court, mentioned above, would be to strike a deal for a lesser violation in return for taking a defensive driving course (or some such thing). I’ll need to check into this further.
And pleading nolo contendere doesn’t make much sense, either, since there’s not much in the way of tangible benefits (sure, no points, but the points don’t really matter in my case). Moreover, I’d still have to pay the fine, I’d have to waste my time going to court, and I’d lose the ability to plead nolo for the next five years.
I’m curious. If you were in my shoes, what would you do?