If you have a clean driving history, a speeding ticket doesn't have to result in a huge fine, a black mark on your record or soaring car insurance rates.
Instead, if you're willing to perform community service or give up a day to attend traffic school, you may be able to cut your costs or put a shine back on your once-spotless driving record.
"With the economy the way it is, it's a way to lessen the financial burden," says Peter Moraga, spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California, a nonprofit organization designed to keep consumers informed about the insurance industry.
The options for dealing with a speeding ticket depend on the severity of the infraction, the jurisdiction where the violation occurred, your previous driving history, and where you live. They can allow you to keep a violation off your driving record, or they can allow you to pay a fine you otherwise couldn't.
Why fight it? The "points" on your record matter
Your track record as a driver is extremely important when it comes to determining your auto insurance rates. USAA, for example, provides a premier operator discount, saving you about 5 to 7 percent on a typical auto insurance premium, if you've had a cleaning driving record for the past five years, spokesman Michael Sherman says.
Moraga says infractions typically remain on your record for three years and auto insurance companies may review your driving record every six months, every year, or even every two years.
The number of points assessed against your driving record for each moving violation can vary widely from state to state. Going less than 15 mph over the speed limit may earn you three points in one state and one point in another.
Moraga says California motorists with no more than one point can receive good-driver discounts on auto insurance rates. But if you chalk up a second point, the discount is removed.
California allows you to attend traffic school to keep points off your driving record.
By opting for traffic school, if it is an option, Moraga says, "you'll still pay for school, plus for the ticket, but it won't affect your insurance rates."
Your mileage may vary
Of course, each state has its own insurance regulations. If you opt to attend traffic school to reduce your points in California, you'll have to pay a fee for the course, and you'll typically have to cough up the cash to cover any fine that accompanies your ticket.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles allows you attend traffic school to reduce the number of points you receive for a ticket, if you didn't receive the citation in another state.
While many jurisdictions offer traffic school as a way to protect your driving record, there often are restrictions about who can take part. In Miami-Dade County, Fla., for example, you can attend traffic school only once every 12 months, and only five times in your lifetime.
Dallas County, Texas will let you attend a driver safety course once every 12 months, but you can't take part without judicial approval if you've gone 25 mph or more over the speed limit.
However, if you can afford to pay extra bucks, you can keep your record clean after receiving a speeding ticket in Bartholomew County, Ind. Instead of paying a fine for speeding, you can pay a higher amount to take part in a deferred prosecution program. If you don't get another moving violation for the next 12 months, the ticket won't be reported to Indiana's Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
You'll need to check with the court processing your ticket to see your options, which may go by widely varying names: defensive driving, driver improvement, traffic safety school, deferred adjudication, or our favorite, North Carolina's prayer for judgment.
But what if I can't pay the traffic fine?
Some counties offer alternatives that may make it easier for you to foot the bill for making mistakes while driving. In Marin County, Calif., each hour of community service at a nonprofit organization knocks $10 off your fine.
The Marin County Superior Court has a list of approved community service organizations. If your fine is $300 and you put in 30 hours, you won't have to pay anything out of pocket.
If you're in Shasta County, Calif., you can get your fine reduced by $50 for every eight hours of community service you put in.
Tyler, Texas, will give you a break if you're unemployed or a full-time student. Rather than paying your fine, you can work off what you owe through the city's community service program.
And Pasco County, Fla., offers a similar alternative, allowing residents who can demonstrate financial hardship to pay off fines through public works or community service projects.
While performing community service will reduce or eliminate the amount you owe for your ticket, it won't affect the points you accrue or have any influence on your auto insurance rates, Moraga says.