One of the worst feelings in the world is seeing the flashing lights of a police car in your rearview mirror. You pull over, the officer walks up to your window, and asks “Do you know how fast you were going?”
You know how fast you were going. Probably too fast.
But this is where you need to be careful. I've gotten a ticket before and in my case, I decided to pay the fine. For me, fighting the ticket wasn't a wise use of time and so I paid the fine.
But what if you want to contest the speeding ticket? What if the impact of the ticket, on your auto insurance or some other area of your life (employment?), is much greater than a financial penalty?
While most speeding tickets are legitimate, you may have one that's worth fighting.
If so, here are some steps you can take to build a case.
Never Admit Guilt
Rule #1 is to never admit guilt to the police officer — but do not lie. If you attend your court hearing, the officer can use your admission of guilt against you.
Remember that you have the burden of proof if you decide to fight your ticket. You are not “innocent until proven guilty” with a speeding ticket. You need to provide enough evidence or present a compelling argument to convince the judge to dismiss or reduce the charges.
Another point to remember is that signing your citation doesn't imply guilt (the officer should tell you this). You're simply acknowledging that the police officer is citing you for at least one traffic violation. You have the option of contesting the citation in court where the charges can be reduced or dismissed, but for now you sign the document to confirm you received it.
The following steps can help you explore every angle to strengthen your defense.
Look for Citation Errors
Start disputing your speeding ticket by looking for errors in the citation.
If you find a potential error, you may need to file a dispute within a certain time limit. For instance, you may have 20 days to dispute your ticket and schedule a court hearing. Each legal jurisdiction has different procedures and you may need to wait for the court date to dispute your ticket.
The judge might dismiss your ticket if there are reporting errors on the citation. A single error doesn't mean an automatic dismissal or penalty reduction, but it's worth mentioning.
Here are some of the details to inspect:
- Date and time of the incident
- Street or highway name
- Posted speed limit
- Your vehicle information
- Officer's written summary of the incident
Minor typographical errors most likely won't affect the final outcome. One example is if the officer misspells your name by transposing two letters.
However, you may have a valid argument if the officer writes the incorrect legal speed limit, location, or time of day.
You should also look for which violations the citation mentions. For instance, were you in a school zone, residential area, or construction zone? Do you have reckless driving charges even though you weren't excessively speeding or exhibiting erratic behavior?
Each city and state have different traffic laws. Review the laws to see if you can contest the charges.
What's Your Reason for Speeding?
You may have a valid reason for speeding. It's worth telling the judge why you were speeding and provide proof to back your testimony.
Potentially credible reasons for speeding can include:
- Medical emergencies
- Avoiding a potential accident
- A trailing vehicle is stalking you
- A natural object (i.e., a tree) blocks the speed limit sign
- The speed limit sign is missing
Try to get third-party documentation or a witness statement to prove you're being honest about your excuse. You need to show factual proof to back your claims.
To contest obstructed views of the speed limit signs, take pictures of where the sign is (or should be). It can also be worth your time to draw a diagram of the intersection or road to describe your viewpoint and the police officer's viewpoint.
Willfully disobeying the speed limit because you're late for work or simply not knowing the legal speed limit most likely won't dismiss your ticket. Forgetting that the speed limit reduced shortly before the radar test, likely, isn't a good excuse either.
Is Your Speedometer Accurate?
A faulty speedometer (the device that tells you your current vehicle speed) may reduce your penalty.
For instance, the Commonwealth of Virginia defines reckless driving as exceeding 80 miles per hour (MPH) on any road or going 20 MPH over the posted speed limit. Reducing your recorded speed by a few miles per hour can drop the reckless driving charges as you're in a lower fine tier. A lighter violation can also mean you lose fewer points on your driving record; however, this excuse alone may not dismiss your speeding ticket.
To validate a faulty speedometer, you will need to calibrate it at a valid repair facility. You will then need to provide documentation that your speedometer was indeed faulty but now fixed. Also, you're responsible for paying all costs to test and calibrate your speedometer.
Challenge Radar Gun Evidence
Most officers use a radar gun to test your driving speed. The officer should tell you at the traffic stop how he measured your speed and how many times he checked it to verify you were speeding.
It's possible the radar gun improperly measured your speed if it's improperly calibrated.
Police officers must follow certain procedures to verify the radar gun is displaying an accurate speed. For instance, the officer uses a tuning fork that vibrates at a certain frequency to resemble a specific speed.
If the tuning fork is preset to 50 MPH and the radar gun reads 52 MPH, then the radar gun registers your vehicle speed as 2 MPH above the actual speed. The officer needs to take this discrepancy into account when checking speeds.
Radar guns may also need routine preventative maintenance to ensure the device doesn't malfunction.
Before the court date, try obtaining details such as the radar gun make and model or maintenance records. If the information isn't up to date, you can contest the radar accuracy.
One final piece to look at, in regards to radar guns, is the officer's training history. Chances are the officer has documented training for using a radar gun for speed tests. If not, you may have another argument in your favor.
Question the Officer's Testimony
If you're lucky, the officer won't appear at the court hearing. You, then, stand a better chance of having your speeding ticket dismissed. This is rare because officers typically schedule all their court appearances on a single non-patrol day.
Your best opportunity to hear the officer's testimony is when you get pulled over. Leading up to the court date, use this time to build your defense. It's a tough task, so make sure you're well-prepared.
In court, you can give your account of what happened. If possible, consider providing this information to defend your observations:
- Witness statements
- Detailed diagrams, maps, and pictures of the incident area
- Legal codes or other signs of proof to show your actions were “legally justified” or necessary to prevent an accident.
When the officer gives their testimony to the judge, be respectful and listen to their side of the story. If you have the chance to rebut anything that's a matter of their opinion and not factual, try doing so in a professional manner.
Hire a Traffic Attorney
Complex situations, or if the ticket was issued in a place far from your home, may require a traffic attorney to represent you. For instance, you're involved in an accident and charged with a speeding violation.
An attorney has experience with the applicable traffic codes and building an effective defense. You might also consider getting an attorney if you're at risk of losing your driving privileges. The attorney may able to negotiate alternative discipline or a reduced penalty.
Traffic attorneys are expensive so you must weigh the potential rewards versus their cost. You might be better off accepting the judge's ruling by self-representing.
Consider Attending Driving School
Depending on the severity of your citation, you might be able to attend driving school to reduce the impact of your speeding ticket. This alternative means you won't lose driver's license points although the speeding violation remains on your driving record.
It's likely your insurance rates will still increase, even if you go to driving school (mine did).
In some cases, you can opt for school without attending court. You will need to complete driving school by a certain deadline to avoid additional penalties.
Other situations require you to attend court. The judge may offer driving school to avoid losing points on your driving record; however, you may still need to pay the fine for speeding plus court costs.
Most states require at least 6 hours of defensive driving training at a licensed driving school. Although you may need to sacrifice your free time. This alternative can be better than losing driving points.
Fighting a speeding ticket may not be worth it if it's your first-time offense. It's still worth exploring your options whether or not you're at risk of losing your license or paying steep fines.
Just Appearing May Lower the Penalty
If you have a spotless driving record, with no previous speeding violations, you could ask the court for a deferral. A deferral is when the court would've found you guilty but has deferred the ticket for a period of time. This period is typically a year.
If you're able to get through the deferral period without another citation, the first one is dismissed and never appears on your driving record. You may still pay a fine and court costs, but the ticket never impacts your insurance.
If the ticket is deferred and you are cited again, both tickets immediately go on your record.
If you have a good record and can't get a deferral, or choose not to, sometimes the judge may decide to lower the ticket to a non-moving violation. This would not impact your insurance and be a better result than pleading guilty to the citation and paying the fine AND getting dinged on your insurance.
There are a lot of different ways to contest a speeding ticket. Not all result in you getting off scot-free but most, given a good driving record, are a better result than paying the fine immediately.