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Beat a speeding ticket (or at least take the sting out)

A moving violation can cost you more than $1,000 in fines and higher auto insurance premiums — or much less.

Jerry Kronenberg
by Jerry Kronenberg

A moving violation can cost you more than $1,000 in fines and higher auto insurance premiums, but here's some advice that's just the ticket for minimizing the damage to your wallet.

"If you get a speeding ticket and your car is a 2005 or newer with full coverage, you can expect to not only pay a fine but also see your insurance to go up around $500 a year for three years," says Mark Schraeder of TheTrafficTicketAttorneys.com. "For many people, that's worth fighting."

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Schraeder's Los Angeles law firm, which specializes in contesting California traffic tickets, claims a 90 percent success rate in getting cases either dismissed or plea bargained to the point where clients don't face higher premiums.

"Most people who fight tickets on their own lose because they go to court and say: "Judge, here's why I'm innocent,'" Schraeder says. "The trick is to go in there and say: 'Judge, here's why the cops can't meet the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.'"

Here are five tips on how to beat tickets or at least avoid the higher insurance rates moving violations often entail:

Be polite during traffic stops

A judge will usually dismiss your ticket if the cop who pulled you over fails to come to your hearing or can't recall such details such as what kind of car you were driving.

But Schraeder says that if you mouth off to the officer during the traffic stop, "the cop is going to be motivated to show up in court and remember everything."

Don't admit anything

Police who pull you over for speeding often ask: “Do you know how fast you were going?” — leaving you unsure whether admitting guilt will get you a warning or sink any chance you have of contesting your ticket.

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Schraeder believes the latter is usually true, as many cops are under pressure these days to generate ticket revenues for their cash-strapped municipalities.

"Admitting guilt doesn't hold as much sway as it used to," he says. "The cop will probably just say: 'Thank you for admitting your guilt. Now here's your ticket.'"

So Schraeder suggests that if a cop asks if you know how fast you were going, simply say: "I thought I was going the speed limit."

Take advantage of “traffic school”

Many states offer defendants who haven't gotten tickets in the past 18 months a chance to avoid insurance surcharges by attending "traffic school," typically an eight-hour driver-education course that's conducted either in-person or online.

Drivers who use this option usually plead no contest to their tickets and pay the required fines, plus modest court costs and traffic school tuition. (Schraeder says Californians typically spend an extra $75.)

Once drivers complete traffic school, judges in most states will generally either dismiss tickets or order "confidential convictions" not reported to insurers.

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Plea bargain

If traffic school isn't an option because you've gotten a ticket in the past 18 months, Schraeder suggests trying to plea bargain.

In most states, this involves contacting the officer who wrote you the ticket and offering to plead guilty to a lesser violation that won't hike your insurance costs. For instance, Schraeder's firm often negotiates speeding tickets down to "coasting violations" that entail fines but no insurance increases.

He says police often agreed to such deals "because they know they can't meet the burden of remembering every single detail of your traffic stop."

Fight in court

You can always contest your ticket in court, either by yourself or with a lawyer's help.

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Schraeder says attorney's fees typically start around $100 in Florida and other states that treat moving violations as civil infractions, but can reach $1,500 if you go 110 mph in California or other locales that consider tickets criminal offenses.

Again, the expert says winning usually involves raising reasonable doubts about your guilt by showing that the officer can't remember specifics of your traffic stop.

"If you try to just argue that you're innocent, you're usually going to lose," he says.