Traffic Tickets: Ten Things You Should Know

You hear the siren and you see the police officer motioning for you to pull over. Uh-oh …. Here are some things to keep in mind as the officer pulls out the citation book.

1. Hate those red light cameras? Nevertheless, they’ve been shown to reduce red light-running violations by about 40%. Still not impressed? Consider that about one out of ten accidents involve red light running and that motorists (and occupants) are more likely to be injured in these accidents than in other types of crashes.

2. Just don’t tick him (her) off. If it’s legal to have a radar detector in your car, and it is (except in Virginia and the District of Columbia), why do so many people hide them? Because most drivers believe they’re more likely to be ticketed if an officer sees the device in the car.

3. No gray area. Most states have absolute speed limits; that is, one mile over the speed limit violates the law. You’ll have only three defenses: attack how your speed was determined, claim you were forced to exceed the limit to avoid serious injury, or say the officer mistook you for another.

4. There’s only one correct answer. If you’re asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?” or “Do you know why you were pulled over?,” say, “No.” Let the officer show you were speeding, not the other way around.

5. If you get a ticket following an accident, don’t plead guilty. If anyone involved in the accident sues you for damages, your admission of guilt could be used against you.

6. Fighting a ticket may be easier than you think. If you show up for a court date and the ticketing officer doesn’t, the ticket is usually tossed.

7. Air attack. If you challenge a ticket for speeding detected by aircraft, you can ask that each of the air and ground officers be excluded from the courtroom while the other is testifying (preventing them from "remembering" based on each other’s testimony). If the aircraft officer targeted many cars simultaneously, he might not recall if your car was one of them without the ground officer’s verification.

8. Traffic school ain’t what it used to be. In many states you can wipe your record clean by attending comedy, online, or even pay-only-if-you-pass traffic schools.

9. No way out. If you can’t challenge your ticket and traffic school isn’t an option, you can probably expect a hike in your insurance rates. To save money, you may want to revisit your policy and consider alternatives such as higher deductibles.

10. On the bright side. Be glad you didn’t get your traffic citation in Finland. There, traffic fines are proportional to a driver’s income. Fines as high as $100,000 can be leveled on wealthy offenders.

Some People Have Too Much Money

True story: A California Highway Patrol Officer pulled over a new Porsche going 120 miles per hour down a barren stretch of California freeway. To his surprise, the driver greeted him enthusiastically. "I’m trying to join a Porsche club, and I have to get a ticket going at least 100 miles per hour," the driver explained. "I’ve been driving up and down California, trying to get pulled over!"

The officer gave him a ticket—for 99 miles per hour.

The article was excerpted from Nolo's Little Legal Companion. You can get a free copy by signing up for one of Nolo's Legal Newsletters.

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