If you've been ticketed for speeding, you may be wondering if it's time to pay up or lawyer up.
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, a personal injury and criminal defense lawyer in Albany, New York. "The police usually do a good job, and most defendants are guilty. Still, the police sometimes slip up."
You may want to consider hiring a lawyer to fight a ticket if you already have recent moving violations on your driving record. The move also makes sense for those who think a lawyer can prove the officer made an error in issuing the ticket.
The best outcome, of course, is outright dismissal of the charge. But a lawyer's expertise can also help by knocking the offense down to a lesser charge, a plea bargain to a non-moving violation, or probation.
Car insurance and speeding tickets
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.
But recurring speeders could have their license suspended or even revoked by the court, especially if an accident or injury is involved. Fines can be 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.
Your car insurance premiums are also affected by moving violations. Car insurance companies consider many factors when setting your rates, and your driving record is chief among them. They typically review your record when setting your rates and then upon policy renewal.
Your rates would jump by an average of 12 percent for speeding 15 to 29 mph over the limit, according to an analysis by Insurance.com. Get ticketed for going 30 mph too fast and the hike could reach 15 percent, on average. You will generally have to pay the higher rate for three to five years, depending on your state's laws and your car insurer's surcharge schedule, which is one reason it's wise to compare car insurance companies.
For repeat offenders the numbers are more harsh. 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, according to Insurance.com.
Robert Passmore, senior director of personal lines policy with 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.
Lawyers know where to look for mistakes
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 say they know where to find them. For instance, the officer may have written incorrect information on the ticket when filling it out, or, there may be some way to contest details in the particular speeding law you're accused of violating.
"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. You can also provide witnesses, photographs and documents for proving your own facts in the court."
Attorneys like to note that an ongoing relationship with the court system can be an advantage.
Andrew Flusche, a traffic attorney from Fredericksburg, Virginia, 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 when hiring one to fight a speeding ticket
- 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?
- Will I have to appear in court?
The cost of representation varies widely. Redlich, for instance, usually charges $500 a case, but the charge can rise to $2,500 if it's more complex and goes to trial. The Ticket Clinic, a firm operating in Florida and California, says it typically charges about $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.