Whether you're traveling on vacation or driving to work, nothing spoils a trip like a speeding ticket.
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Besides carrying a fine, a ticket can add points to your driving record and jack up your car insurance rates, particularly if this is your second or third offense.
Here are 10 steps to minimize the damage -- from the time you get pulled over to your day in court.
1. Stay safe and calm.
Don't do anything stupid. When the officer signals for you to stop, put on your turn signal and find a safe place to pull over out of traffic. Once you've stopped, turn on the hazard lights and stay in the car. Keep your seatbelt fastened until the officer has seen you wearing it, advises the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Meanwhile, stay calm, keep your hands on the steering wheel, and ask everyone in the car to keep their hands in plain sight, too. If you're asked to get out, do so slowly.
2. Be civil.
Answer questions, and be civil. Don't argue -- save that for a judge. On the other hand, don't admit to anything that could be used against you in court.
In most states, you'll be asked to sign the citation, which means you received it, not that you admit any wrongdoing, the NHTSA says.
3. Review the ticket.
Take a few moments to review the information on the ticket, and check for mistakes. A small mistake, such as two letters in your name transposed, doesn't necessarily mean a violation will be dismissed.
"But if there are mistakes, you should know what they are," says attorney Scott Feifer, a partner with Feifer & Greenberg LLP in New York, which practices traffic law throughout the state. "And sometimes cumulatively three or four small errors could perhaps be a sign of inattention (by the officer)."
His firm got a ticket dismissed once because the officer mistakenly listed the driver's father as the defendant. The father was far away working at the time the ticket was issued.
4. Understand the charge.
"Research the nature of what you're charged with," says John Bowman, vice president of the National Motorists Association, a driver advocacy group in Waunakee, Wisconsin. "You want to crack into the specific language of the statute. There will be a series of requirements that have to be met for you to be guilty, so you have to ask yourself, 'OK, did I do all these things, and I can I provide that didn't do all these things?'"
An inexperienced officer might charge you with the wrong thing or might not know the letter of the law.
5. Consider hiring an attorney.
Bowman advises hiring an attorney for a serious offense, such as a DUI or reckless driving.
"For a garden-variety speeding ticket, it depends on the individual's ability to do this on his (or her) own," he says. "Some people simply don't have the time to do the research that's necessary."
6. Learn how traffic court works.
Traffic court procedures vary by jurisdiction. New York City, for instance, doesn't offer plea-bargaining for traffic cases, but many cities do.
You could try to cut a deal by requesting a pre-trial conference with the prosecutor. The prosecutor might agree to reduce the fine and knock the charge down from a speeding ticket to a non-moving violation, which could save you hundreds of dollars later on your car insurance.
If you plan to fight the ticket in court, observe a few cases. Don't assume you can talk your way out of a ticket.
"Do your homework before you wander into court," Feifer says.
7. Gather information.
"Gather up as much information as you can about the circumstances of the traffic stop," Bowman says. "Most cases are won and lost based on the preparation that's done."
Take notes right after you get the ticket, and take photos of anything that may help your defense, such as obstructions that could have caused the officer's radar gun to malfunction.
Bowman recommends filing a "request for discovery," which is a formal request demanding access to information about your case. In many states you have the right to get a copy of the officer's notes, for instance, or information on how the equipment used for tracking speed is tested and maintained. Ask the court clerk for information on how to file a request.
Not all traffic courts honor discovery requests, however, Bowman says. In that case, he recommends filing a public records request to get relevant information.
"Putting the traffic justice system through its paces is never a bad thing," he says.
Plan your defense carefully. A wealth of information is available online to help, such as "Fight that Ticket: Winning Strategies for Fighting Traffic Tickets," an e-book published by the National Motorists Association.
Resist overconfidence. Says Feifer: "People always tell me, 'I have an easy case.' There is no such thing.'"
8. Get details on the radar gun.
During your discovery process, find out if a radar gun or other speed-tracking device was used by the officer. It's prudent to ask for literature provided by the manufacturer that explains how the device is properly used and maintained. You can ask the police department for maintenance records for the past six months to see if they match up.
You may not get all the information, but what you do get could help your questioning. For example, is the officer's training recent, and does it actively reflect the radar gun maker's requirements? Any doubt raised is good for your defense.
9. Delay the court date.
If you able to put off the hearing date for your infraction, you may have a better chance of it being dismissed. The more time that goes by, the more likely it is that the cop who issued the citation may not show up. He or she could be transferred to a different division, could find another job or get promoted or move to a different city. If the officer doesn't show up, the violation will be dismissed. Also, over time, the circumstances that caused you to be ticketed may become hazier. Any equivocation on the facts could convince a judge to throw out the ticket.
10. Shoot for summer.
Here's another tip -- if you can, schedule the hearing for summer. Officers are less likely to appear for a hearing if they are on vacation, which is typically during the summer, and there are more no-shows in the warm months, traffic lawyers have told CarInsurance.com.
What happens to you car insurance rates if you don't win
Your car insurance company might give you a pass if this is your first infraction, but if you already have a ticket on your record, then you'll face a surcharge -- a percentage increase in the premium. The surcharge typically lasts at least three years.
An analysis by Insurance.com found that your rates would increase by an average of 12 percent for speeding 15 to 29 mph over the limit and an average of 15 percent for traveling 30 mph too fast.
It gets worse if you're a repeat offender. With your second speeding ticket, the premium jumps 34 percent, and with the third, 53 percent, according to Insurance.com.
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