You may not be aware of the financial ramifications of getting a traffic ticket. It’s more than just coming up with the money, paying the fine, and forgetting about it. Even a single moving violation can become a fiscal thorn in your side for years to come.
Why? Because your auto insurance company may start to view you as an unsafe driver and raise your rates as a result. These premium increases can remain in effect for one to six years, depending on the state and/or insurer. Though rate hikes may differ based on the individual infraction, you may be forced to pay anywhere from 3% to 22% more for your policy.
How can you avoid this blow to your bank account? Here are five strategies which can help you reduce those long-term costs associated with a traffic citation.
- Complete a defensive driving course. This is one of the only measures you can take that can help you with your insurance costs, keep the citation off your driving record, and reduce or eliminate your fine. The cost of the course varies from state to state, but it can often be taken online or via DVD, as well as in person. First offenders can often use the course completion certificate to wipe their record clean and prevent their auto insurance company from knowing about it — all while receiving a 5% to 15% discount on their premiums!
- Contest the ticket. If you live in a big city or any other jurisdiction with packed court dockets, you may be able to use that to your advantage. Instead of paying the fine, you can notify the court that you will fight the charge and initiate court proceedings. Since your case will probably be a low priority one compared to all the more serious violent and property crimes on the docket, you may get a better deal on your fine … or have the charges dropped entirely.
- Ask for deferred adjudication. This is just a fancy term for “traffic probation,” where you agree to avoid getting another citation for a period of time in exchange for having the ticket expunged from your record. You may have to pay some court costs and maybe the fine as well, but you won’t see your insurance rate increase as the result of points on your driver’s license.
- Talk with the judge and/or prosecutor. There may be an approach that you are not aware of that could help you get out of paying a fine and/or having the ticket entered onto your driving record. The court may offer community service, volunteer work, or other programs that may be more preferable to you. This is especially attractive to drivers who have more time than money.
- Revisit your insurance policy. If you think that a traffic ticket will affect your auto insurance premiums, then give your agent or insurer a call. Find out whether a single violation will boost your costs, and see if there’s any way such a hike can be avoided. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, you can always shop around for a different insurer — one which offers a policy that may be more forgiving to drivers with a citation or two on their records.
Chris Martin is a freelance writer about topics ranging from auto insurance to consumer finance to home improvement.