Get stopped by a cop for something as minor as not using your turn signal, and you could end up with a ticket. And fines are just the beginning of your problems. Points on your license can lead to hikes in your insurance premiums that last for years.
If you drive for a living, citations can even cost you your job.
Yes, tickets have potentially serious consequences. Following are four ways to minimize — or even eliminate — a traffic citation.
Talk your way out of it
If you are pulled over, the officer might let you off with a warning. Whether that happens can depend on how you act.
For starters, remain still. Sit with your hands on the top of the steering wheel until the officer comes to the window. If you rummage around in your car, you could create suspicion and security concerns.
When the officer asks for your ID, make sure you present it to him or her. Never drive without your driver’s license, proof of insurance, registration and any other document your state requires. Keep them up-to-date and located somewhere in your car where you can immediately lay your hands on them when asked to produce them.
Above all, be polite. Traffic cops — like airline ticket agents — often deal with frustrated, angry or impatient people. Being antagonistic won’t take you where you want to go. Give the officer your information when asked, and keep a pleasant tone.
Don’t wheedle or whine, but there’s nothing wrong with looking the officer in the eye and saying, “I’d really appreciate you issuing a warning rather than a citation. My driving record is clean, and I’d really like to keep it that way.” Remember that once the officer goes back to the patrol car with your license, your opportunity to negotiate is over.
Prepare for court
If you do get a ticket, the game’s not over. You can still fight it.
Before you pull away from the scene of the ticket, take a few notes. Record what time you were pulled over, what the officer said you did, what you thought you did and anything else worth remembering. For example, if the officer said you were driving at 42 mph and you thought you were going 35, make a note. Take a few pictures of the scene if you can.
Check your ticket for errors. Judges sometimes drop tickets because of inaccurate or incomplete information. Make sure everything is correct down to the spelling of your name.
It also might help to ask for a continuance. The more time that passes between the day you were pulled over and your court date, the less likely it is that the officer will remember you and the details of the event. And if the officer doesn’t show up in court? Case dismissed.
If you fight and lose, it’s time to negotiate again — this time with the judge. Say something like, “Your honor, the points for this ticket will make my insurance increase to a level that would create a real financial hardship. My record has been clean. Would you waive the points?”
Consider hiring a lawyer
The problem with pleading not guilty and going to trial is that even if you win, you’ll lose a lot of time. Because traffic court is typically crowded, it’s not unusual to sit for hours waiting for your case to be called, especially in urban areas.
Hiring an attorney who specializes in traffic citations solves this problem, and could radically enhance your odds that the judge will dismiss the tickets or reduce the fines and waive the points.
Of course, the availability, price and success rate of lawyers can vary widely. Do a search for “traffic ticket defense (your city)” and see what comes up.
Enroll in traffic school
If all else fails and you have to pay fines, you may still be able to avoid points that could cause your insurance rates to rise.
In some states, signing up for traffic school allows you to skip the points in exchange for taking a driver’s education course. Your opportunities typically are limited — for example, you can only choose driving school once a year. Also, you’ll have to pay for the school in addition to your fine. But it’s still a better option than points. You can get a list of traffic school options at your local courthouse.
For more tips on lowering rates, check out “10 Tips to Cut Car Insurance Costs.”
Have you ever talked yourself out of a ticket or otherwise beaten the rap? How did you do it? Share your experiences in comments below or on our Facebook page.