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Stop a traffic ticket from raising car insurance rates

Craig Guillot

You got snagged for speeding and are staring at a $300 fine. However, your car insurance doesn’t have to go off course as a result. If you don’t immediately admit guilt and pay the fine, you could avoid your car insurance premiums rising by as much as 20 percent over the subsequent three years.

Most jurisdictions expect drivers to quickly pay traffic fines and move on. But some experts say that by merely showing up in court and taking a few steps, you stand a good chance of cutting the fine — and perhaps getting out of the ticket altogether.

Just show up

According to the National Motorists Association, an advocacy group for drivers, fewer than 5 percent of offenders fight their traffic tickets.

Many jurisdictions have special “no contest” pleas for first-time offenders. This often will keep the ticket off your driving record and may pave the way for a reduced fine. Call the court and ask.

Fewer than 5 percent of drivers fight their traffic tickets.

The National Motorists Association publishes “How to Fight a Speeding Ticket,” a 250-page e-book that that helps drivers fight their citations. The association’s executive director, Gary Biller, says that immediately paying a ticket not only ensures you’ll be slapped with the top fine, but that the ticket will be put on your driving record. Biller says a single violation can cause a driver’s premiums to rise by 20 percent, adding roughly $500 to your premiums over the following three years.

Traffic courts are designed with this in mind: The overwhelming majority of offenders simply will pay their tickets and move on. With hundreds of cases moving through a traffic court every day, there simply aren’t enough funding, staffing and time to prosecute cases and take them to trial.

Merely showing up to court can make a big difference, because judges and prosecutors don’t want you to clog the system.

“By simply showing up, a lot of things can happen in your favor. You give yourself a lot of leverage by contesting it,” Biller says.

Alex Carroll, author of “Beat the Cops,” says that in busy traffic courts, prosecutors often will meet in hallways to strike plea deals to cut down on the number of cases. These offers could include a big discount on your traffic fine or a promise that this ticket won’t appear on your driving record, Carroll says.

Taking it to court

If you don’t get a generous deal, you can do a number of things to help your case.

Carroll says the first thing you should do is try to reschedule the trial, increasing the likelihood that the police officer who caught you won’t show up in court. If the cop is a no-show, that may result in dismissal of your case, since you have the legal right to question your accuser.

Carroll also recommends filing a “discovery of motion” to request everything about your case, from the officer’s notes to calibration certificates for the radar gun that clocked you doing 50 mph in a 35 mph zone.

“Often, one of those documents will show up out of date, inaccurate or missing, and you could win by default,” Carroll says.

Then, be sure to document the alleged infraction yourself. Take photos of the traffic scene and collect any other evidence that supports your stance.

Another option is to fight the ticket by mail — a “trial by declaration.” Carroll says a “reasonable, coherent argument” often can end up in a dismissal, as police officers are unlikely to submit written rebuttals.

As the use of red-light cameras continues to grow across the country, Carroll says, many people are successfully beating these tickets by demanding to face their accusers. When the officer who viewed the red-light ticket testifies, anything he or she says could be ruled as hearsay evidence and be thrown out.

“The guy that viewed the photo wasn’t there. He didn’t witness you running the light, and he can’t legally testify,” Carroll says.

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