Can You Beat a Traffic Ticket?

Can You Beat a Traffic Ticket?
Photo (cc) by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Blue and red lights start flashing in the rear-view mirror and with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, you realize the lights are flashing for you. It’s a traffic stop and you’re about to get a ticket. Not only will it cost a big fine; the resulting points on your license could cost you big on your insurance too.

While it may seem there’s little you can do to change the outcome of this scenario, that’s not true. We did the following video on how to beat a traffic ticket by hiring an attorney.

While that story was basically about hiring a lawyer, that’s not the only way to get out of a traffic ticket: You might be able to persuade the officer to let you off with a warning. You may have a legitimate, legally recognized excuse, called a “substantive defense”. You might be able to persuade a judge to reduce your fine/points by making a sympathetic plea. Or you might challenge something technical about the method in which you were pulled over.

Persuading the officer

Before the ticket is even written, there are a few things you can do that might help you get let off with a warning.

  • Pull over as soon as you notice that a police officer is behind you.
  • If it’s dark, turn on the lights inside your car.
  • Turn off the engine after you’ve pulled over.
  • Don’t move around inside the vehicle. Don’t reach for your driver’s license, registration or insurance information until asked for it. According to attorney Joseph Hazelbaker, “Moving around prior to the officer reaching your vehicle can put them on edge or make them suspicious.”
  • Roll down your window and have your hands on the wheel when the officer gets to your car.
  • Give your excuse courteously, as the officer asks for your identification, before they have begun writing the ticket.

The main thing to remember is to be polite, without making the officer feel anxious or nervous. While a traffic stop is an inconvenience for you, it could be a life threatening encounter for them, so don’t give them any reason to worry about you.

Legitimate, legal excuses

In some states, there’s something called a “necessity defense”. It means that, if you’re doing something illegal (like speeding) because it was necessary, you won’t be punished for it.

Typically, acceptable necessity defenses will be cases where you were rushing someone to the hospital or trying to get away from a dangerous dunk driver.

Sympathy from the Judge

This one involves what it sounds like it would involve: asking the Judge for a little leniency. There’s certainly no guarantee this will work, but it’s worth a shot. Explain your circumstances and why you were speeding. Maybe you just didn’t see the sign reducing the limit. You can talk about how you’re traditionally a great driver, this is your first ticket, it wont happen again, etc. Try to keep lies to a minimum and respect and manners to a maximum.

Technical reasons

You might also be able to have your case dismissed in court for technical reasons. Suppose you were speeding, but only by a little bit, and within the margin of error for the device the officer used to measure your speed. The fact that you might not have been speeding after all is a decent argument to have your case dismissed.

That device used by the officer might not have been calibrated well, or maintained as regularly as needed. It’s within your rights to request this type of information from the police department where the ticketing officer works.

Finally, the officer might not have filled out the ticket correctly. Even a small mistake might give you leverage for a dismissal. The attorney we interviewed, Anthony Mallo, said that in his experience it happens often.

Don’t drive fast

The point is, you do have options if you get a ticket; options that don’t involve paying a lawyer. But the best way to beat a traffic ticket is to never get one in the first place. Leave home a little earlier, allow yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going and avoid road-side encounters with the cops.

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