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The Hidden Cost of Traffic Tickets

It starts with flashing lights and a few chirps of the police cruisers siren and you find yourself on the side of the road fumbling for your license, registration, insurance and a reasonable explanation in the hope of getting out of a traffic ticket. Sometimes you get lucky and the officer lets you off with stern lecture and a warning. Other times you join the not so exclusive club of traffic law violators. Traffic tickets, aka moving violations are no fun and can end up being far more costly than being late for an appointment which is by far the most common excuse for speeding. When excuses and explanations fail and a ticket is issued and the patrol car drives out of view you are left with a piece of paper that represents only a portion, possibly a small portion of your cost for the event.

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The real cost of a traffic ticket depends on several factors including; the violation, your driving record, and your insurance company. You’re thinking insurance; I thought we were talking about a ticket not an accident. Well, a traffic ticket will result almost always result in an increase in your automobile insurance rate.

Many people mistakenly think of traffic violations as victimless crimes, that are little more than a means for municipalities and states to raise some extra revenue and as long as no damage was done there will be no effect on their insurance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Insurance companies base the rate they charge you on risk assessment.

Insurance companies measure the risk of your being involved in an accident by looking at factors such as your gender, age, type of car and past experience. Traffic tickets fall under both the experience header the behavior category. The faster or more reckless you drive the greater the chance of you being in an accident and the greater the likelihood that it will be your fault. Since your insurer has to pay when an accident is your fault, you have to pay for the increased risk.

How much a given violation will raise your rates depends on your record, first timer or repeat offender along with other factors, too numerous to list, so we’ll keep it simple and list the top 12, the dirty dozen if you like of traffic violations and what you could expect in terms of increase in premium rates.

Dirty Dozen Traffic Violations

Violation Percentage Increase Dollar Increase
Reckless Driving

22 %


DUI (1st Offense)

19 %


Driving without a License



Careless Driving



Failure to Stop (Red Light or Stop Sign)



Speeding 30 MPH or More Over the Limit



Improper Turn



Improper Passing



Following Too Closely (Tailgating)



Speeding 15-29 MPH or More Over Limit



Speeding 1-14 MPH or More Over Limit



Failure to Yield



Our handy chart is based on the nationwide average insurance premium for a 2013 vehicle. Remember this chart is a based on 1 ticket for a first time offender. Police will often issue more than one ticket for a single stop. For example if you were driving 31 mph over the limit an officer would likely issue a second ticket for reckless driving and if he caught changing lanes at that speed possibly even a third ticket.

Limiting Your Expense

Once a police officer starts writing a ticket there is no getting passed the fact that there will be a financial consequence even under the absolute best of circumstances, your ticket in dismissed. At the very least your cost will be your time spent having it dismissed.

Go to court and fight the ticket yourself or with a lawyer. While the old adage holds that a lawyer (non-lawyers) too who represents himself has a fool for a client, traffic court can be an exception. However if you choose to hire a lawyer, in most cases, in most of the country for most violations other than DUI a lawyer will cost between $100 and $200 to handle the matter.

Short of your case being dismissed outright because the officer fails to show up or a mistake on the ticket your aim is not always to eliminate the fine but eliminate the blot on your driving record that will result in an increased insurance premium. Traffic court judges are often willing to have you pay the fine associated with your offense while in exchange for you pleading guilty to a lesser, no record of the violation, offense.

If dismissal or fine and no points are off the table there is still a way to saving your preferred insurance rate. You can opt to attend traffic school. Thanks to the internet many courts and insurers allow you to take the required class online, at your expense, with the result being no increase in your insurance rate.

The Bottom Line

If all else fails, shop around. If this is your first offense and you are accident free another insurer may be willing to take you on without charging you a premium for your indiscretion. The bottom line is the best way to avoid any traffic ticket related expenses is not to get one in the first place.

Photo Credit: flickr

Frank Addessi
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