The Negative Impact of Traffic Tickets

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

While 10 percent of Americans will receive a traffic ticket each year, most likely do not realize how much that ticket could end up costing them in the long run. Depending on the type of offense the associated fine can vary, but the national average fee for a speeding ticket is $150. The face value of the ticket is only the beginning of the headache, which is why fighting the ticket is so important.

Once the ticket is issued, the driver has a specified time frame to pay the fine or challenge it in court. Failing to address the traffic ticket could result in license suspension. Inevitably, courts tack on additional surcharges and processing fees to the original fine that can add up quickly. Some drivers will opt to attend traffic school to negate the effects of the ticket, but traffic school is not cheap and there is often a limit on how many times one can use that option.

Some courts will grant a "deferred adjudication," which gives the ticketed driver a chance to show their good behavior during a probationary period. The ticketed offense may be reduced or thrown out at the end of probation, but it may require paying twice the original fine up front. If that option is unavailable and the driver opts to pay the ticket, it will put points on the driver's record that could last three to five years. The more serious the offense, the more points on the record.

The Impact on Insurance

Insurance companies check their insured's driving records. When they discover points, they raise that driver's premium rates. Different types of driving offenses result in different rate increases. The Wall Street Journal reports that reckless driving will increase a premium by 22 percent, while driving without a license will result in an average 18 percent rate hike. Less egregious offenses, like driving without a seat belt, may cause an increase as little as three percent.

The issue boils down to risk. The riskier the behavior and the greater possibility the insurance company will have to pay out for the driver's risky behavior, the higher the rate. Insurance companies and state laws vary; however, Michelle Magna of Insurance.com says increased rates could stay in place for up to seven years. Take for instance a reckless driving ticket: a 22 percent increase over a seven-year period could result in nearly $4,000 in extra insurance costs.

Fight It

Because of the long-term impact, it is crucial to fight every ticket. Fighting it gives the driver leverage in getting a reduced fine or charge, potentially resulting in fewer points and a lower impact on insurance rates. The prosecution must prove the driver committed the offense and that requires a trial with evidence, including the testimony of the ticketing officer. In exchange for not tying up all of those resources, the court and the prosecution may agree to a reduced fine or violation.

In preparing to mount a defense, a driver should request the evidence against them to know exactly what will be used. Knowing what will be used and whether there are holes to poke in it will give a driver a better understanding of their options. There may be reason at that point to consider the different possible plea offers. Depending on the potential consequences, consulting with an attorney may be a good option.