Maybe you had to be somewhere in a hurry. Maybe you were daydreaming. Or maybe you just like to drive fast. Real fast.
But you ended up with an expensive speeding ticket. And if it was your second or third infraction, your car insurance rates could rise dramatically.
Is it time to call a lawyer?
The cost of an additional traffic violation on your driving record could be several thousand dollars over the next few years. A lawyer might cost a fraction of that, sure, but the outcome is far from certain.
"Most speeding tickets and traffic charges are difficult to beat," says Warren Redlich, who runs a law firm in Albany, N.Y. "The police usually do a good job, and most defendants are guilty. Still, the police sometimes slip up."
The best outcome, of course, is outright dismissal of the charge. But a lawyer who knows the ropes can find the levers that could result in a lesser charge, a plea bargain to a nonmoving violation, or probation.
Consider the stakes as well as your likelihood of winning, says Redlich.
"The main reason (to challenge a ticket) is if you already have several points," Redlich says. "Also, if your job requires a clean license, it may be cost-effective."
What's at stake? A lot
A speeding ticket falls into the "moving violation" category, which also includes DUIs or DWIs, careless or reckless driving, running red lights and stop signs, and fleeing from the police.
First-time speeders have options such as going to traffic school to remove from their records the points associated with a violation.. Many states offer this solution, with some even providing classes online. (Your state's department of motor vehicles can give details.)
But recurring speeders could have their license suspended or even revoked by the court, especially if an accident or injury is involved. Fines can also be high, sometimes in the hundreds of dollars, depending on the conviction and length of your motor-vehicle record. Some states layer fees on top of fines: Georgia's "Super Speeder" law levies a $200 fee on anyone caught doing more than 85 mph, and Michigan demands a "driver responsibility fee" of at least $100 for those with multiple violations.
All violations are financially painful, as shown by a report from Insurance.com.
By studying 32,000 car insurance policies bought in 2010, the report found that premiums jumped 18 percent with a confirmed one-time conviction. The increases get more dramatic from there: with two convictions, the rate jumps 34 percent (from a national average of $1,119 to $1,497) and by 53 percent (to $1,713 a year) with three.
Certainly, the more you currently pay for car insurance, the more multiple convictions will cost you.
Robert Passmore, a spokesperson for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, says the penalties are reasonable because insurers face higher risks when they cover repeat speeders or those with numerous other moving violations.
So, a lawyer helps how?
Experienced traffic lawyers spend their days in court, which means they know two things you don't: the technicalities and the system.
Speeders are ticketed for the obvious reasons: They can hurt themselves and others. But those policing you are human, and despite extensive training and experience, can make mistakes. The lawyers know where to look for weaknesses.
"Winning your case depends on several things, including whether your speed was recorded by camera, radar gun or other devices," says Amir Soleimanian, who likes to go by "Mr. Ticket" and heads law firms in Los Angeles and San Diego. "Also, the weather and road conditions are very important."
An ongoing relationship with the court system is just as much an advantage.
Andrew Flusche, a traffic attorney from Fredericksburg, Va., recommends finding a lawyer who regularly handles cases in the courthouse where your case is scheduled. You want someone who knows all the local players, including judges and district attorneys, to get the best outcome possible.
"Even within the court, the case can differ a lot depending on the prosecutor that's working on your file and … the judge that your case will be going before," says Flusche.
What to ask a lawyer about costs
- Do you charge by the hour or a flat fee?
- What is your rate?
- What does the rate cover? Not cover?
- How and when do you expect payment?
The cost of representation varies widely. Redlich, for instance, charges a flat fee of $500, while The Ticket Clinic, a firm operating in Florida and California, says it typically charges $150 to $250 per case.
In bigger cities where there may be many lawyers competing for business, some may charge as little as $75.
If you're on the fence about cost, consider getting auto insurance quotes, either from your agent or online, that reflect the additional ticket. (Your insurer won't levy any surcharge until the conviction actually appears on your motor vehicle record.)