How to keep a traffic ticket from becoming a conviction

Gina Roberts-Grey

Nothing can ruin your day faster than getting a traffic ticket, but it turns out that getting a ticket may not be the end of the world – or the end of relatively low auto insurance rates. If you fight a ticket for a moving violation like speeding or improper lane usage, the charges might be reduced or the ticket might result in being convicted by a judge.

About one-third of tickets written in California never become convictions. And in New York City, roughly 27 percent of tickets written don’t result in convictions.

“Insurance companies rate drivers based on moving violations that show up on a driver’s motor vehicle record, so if a ticket is thrown out or the driver isn’t convicted, then the policy premium would not be affected,” says Marlene Gerboth, a State Farm agent in California.

Still, your driving record could be affected. In addition to being fined, you could rack up points on your driving record, says Judah Fuld, an attorney at the Law Office of Elliot H. Fuld in New York. If you accumulate too many points, your driver's license could be yanked.

These points can raise your auto insurance rates. “The rate increase for the first moving violation is about 10 percent to 20 percent. A second violation would result in an even greater increase and loss of any good driver discount of applicable in your state,” Gerboth says.

Those higher rates can hang around for three years or more. That's why it's advantageous to fight a ticket so that the traffic charge can be reduced or wiped out.

What can you fight?

You can fight any type of traffic ticket. The easiest tickets to fight are those that require some type of documentation or "quick fix," says Matthew Weiss, an attorney at Weiss & Associates in New York City. Weiss says tickets for a car being unlicensed, uninsured or unregistered, or tickets for something that can be easily repaired like a broken taillight, are the easiest to fight. 

But this doesn’t mean you can’t fight a speeding ticket or other type of moving violation.

Starting the fight

Fuld says that in most places and most cases, traffic cases do not carry potential jail time, so there's no "right" to an attorney, even if you can’t afford one. Traffic courts are designed so drivers that can represent themselves and receive a fair trial, Fuld says.

However, in the following situations, Weiss suggests hiring a traffic attorney:

  • If several tickets are issued at once.
  • If you receive a speeding ticket for going at least 31 miles per hour over the posted speed limit.
  • If you already have one or more traffic convictions within a three-year period

    In these situations, your license could be in jeopardy, so getting professional legal help may be beneficial. Other situations that might call for a lawyer: You think you’ll get stage fright arguing your case before a judge or you live far away from where the case is being heard.

    Yet another advantage in hiring a traffic attorney is that he or she is familiar with local prosecutors and might be able to negotiate a favorable resolution, Fuld says.

    Whether you defend yourself or hire a pro, you may be able to get a plea deal, which typically lessens the severity of your punishment. “A motorist can either accept the offer or make a counter offer,” Weiss says.

    Representing yourself in traffic court can be tricky. “Most motorists are unskilled at cross-examination. They don’t know how to present a defense or ask questions of a police officer,” Weiss says.

    If you do plan to go it alone, Weiss says, the best defense is good preparation: 

    • Make sure you have witness statements, photographs and documentation in hand
    • Don’t repeat yourself when you’re explaining your case.
    • Resist the urge to get irate or interrupt the judge.
    • Don't stray off the topic.
    • Be concise and direct. 
    • Listen carefully to the cases that precede yours. That way, you can learn how the judge conducts business.

    All is not lost

    If your traffic ticket does results in a conviction on your record, you still may be able to avoid a hike in your insurance premiums, Gerboth says.

    “We encourage our clients to go to traffic school, if eligible, so that a moving violation will not result in a premium increase,” she says.

     

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