Fight Your Speeding Ticket, Save Yourself Some Dough
I've never fought a speeding ticket before. I usually just pay it and forget it. By "usually", I mean, for the two tickets I got before when I was 16 and 19 years old.
My recent ticket was an anomaly for a couple of reasons. And I've decided that I have to fight it, so I've been researching ways in which you can fight your tickets. Here's what happened to me, and what I found out about fighting the system.
Country Road, Take Me Home, Late at Night, With a Big Truck Following Me....
I was driving home to Seattle from my parents' house, which is a few hours' drive. I had gotten a late start, and had chosen a quieter, more remote route to avoid the death race that is I-90 westbound. I was driving behind a small car that was going well under the speed limit. When I reached a passing lane, I passed him, going over the speed limit to ensure that I made it past him (the passing lanes weren't that long).
As I was slowing down in the passing lane, a large truck came zooming up the left lane, so I pulled into the right one to let him pass. He didn't.
The truck followed me at an uncomfortable range for the next 2 miles. His headlights were shining in my rearview and side mirrors, and it was making me nervous. I sped up to get away from him, but he kept pace with me. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I was scared. This was a huge truck that appeared intent on sitting on my car's tail for the rest of the drive.
I am female, driving alone, on a more-or-less deserted road, at 11:30PM. My cell phone just died, so I couldn't call anyone. I couldn't pull over, as it was a narrow, twisting road and there wasn't much of a shoulder, and besides, what single woman would pull over and let some nutcase in a giant Chevy kill her in the mountains? I tried a few times to speed up and get away from him, since he didn't want to pass me, but he wouldn't pass.
Finally, as I was reaching a small hamlet with a gas station, and preparing to pull over, the truck behind me began flashing police lights.
That really threw me for a second. Police lights? On a truck? Oh. State patrol. Washington State Mountain Patrol.
I pulled over, and got all my papers ready. I have to admit that I was in shock. Looking back, the reaction that my have been more appropriate would have been to shout, "What the hell were you thinking? Why were you following me like that? You scared the living daylights out of me, you sonofabitch! You don't do that to single women late at night on a mountain road! Give me your badge number!" Not that I advocate screaming at cops. But righteous indignation might have gotten me farther than silent stewing.
But instead, I was fuming. I was mad at him for following so close that I couldn't see his police lights. And it was all I could do to KEEP from shouting, although I'm sensing now that a bit of outspoken anger may have been a better response to his questions than quiet, seething rage. I probably came across as someone who was angry to get caught, rather than someone who was infuriated that she was being intimidated into speeding.
My explanation that I thought he was trying to kill me apparently wasn't enough, and I felt too drained to fight. I also sincerely believed that my clean driving record would mean that I would get a warning. But I was handed a $132 ticket.
I'll Fight the Law, But Will the Law Win?
I have several options:
- Pay the damn ticket and forget about it. This is a tough one for me, because I feel like I don't deserve it. This will save me time and effort.
- Plead guilty but explain the circumstances. Perhaps pay a lower fee, perhaps have a point added to my driving record. If I'm lucky, I might be able to request deferred adjudication, where I pay a fine, but no point is added to my driving record should I be convicted of no further violations for a specified period (usually one year) thereafter.
- Fight it in court on my own. Plead not guilty and tell them why I'm not guilty. This requires significant time and effort, and may or may not result in a dropped ticket or a reduced fine.
- Get a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer will cost a decent chunk of money. In my case, a flat fee of $350 for a successful lawyer who may be more apt at explaining to a judge why it's not cool for a cop in a large truck to tail someone on a dark mountain highway for several miles. I'm wary of this because $350 is a heftier hunk of change than $132. However, I'm unable to determine how much my insurance would increase by (if at all), should I plead guilty to a speeding ticket. My insurance agent attempted to run the numbers for me, but admitted that even if the system doesn't seem to want to increase my premiums now, they most likely would do so once the traffic conviction was processed and would MANUALLY enter an increase into their system.
Tips for Fighting Your Ticket
- While the incident is still fresh in your mind, write down everything that you remember. You can take pictures of the scene if you want to. If the officer was particularly nasty (mine wasn't, but I had one before who was), make note of that.
- Send in your paperwork within a week. I know you have 15 days, but do it within 7. Don't let it wait, or you're screwed.
- If you chose to fight it, when you get your court date, ask for an extension immediately.
- Subpoena the officer, and request all of the evidence that will be used by the prosecution.
- If you don't receive this paperwork within 3 days of the court day, request another extension.
- Some states let you challenge the radar gun's accuracy. In other states, you can try to establish whether or not the gun was accurately calibrated.
- Look for discrepancies on your ticket and between your ticket and the officer's notes. I'm curious about mine, for instance, because the officer gave me one explanation for assessing my speed, and noted a different method on my ticket. Discrepancies are nearly a sure-fire way to get the charges dropped. The color of your car wrong? Dropped. The time was wrong? Dropped? Your address was wrong? Dropped.
- The notes you took earlier about the incident. Type them up, and keep them with you. Make sure that it's all true (it's harder to remember a lie than it is to remember the truth, and plus, you don't want to lie in court). Bring all of your evidence with you, labeled, and in a folder.
Here are some links with speed-ticket fightin' advice (none of it is legal advice, just tips, so don't go thinking that you're getting actual law advice).
As usual, Lifehacker is a good source of info on how to charm your way to what you want.
FYST (Fight Your Speeding Ticket)
NMA (National Motorists Association)
Fun story about how Google Maps exonerated a driver.
Nolo.com gives 5 strategies for fighting a ticket.
Remember, time is money, but sometimes you lose out on both. As Fringeweb points out:
Losing isn't terribly traumatic. Yes, you'll have to pay the fine and get a point on your insurance. On the bright side, the assessed fine will often be less than the standard penalty, and you have the right to appeal. Of course, you're already out the time you put into the case...
I think I'd rather waste the time and know that I tried to fight something that I find injust, rather than to just give up. But I'll update as the case goes on.