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Car Insurance

Don't Pay that Ticket!

So you got a citation for a moving violation, like a speeding ticket, improper lane change, or running a stop sign, and you were thinking about paying it? Little did you know that the $100 or so you were thinking of paying is only a fraction of it will actually cost you not to fight that ticket! Find out how it can cost you as much as 20 times what you’ll initially pay for the the citation.

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So you got a citation for a moving violation, like a speeding ticket, improper lane change, or running a stop sign, and you were thinking about paying it?

Think again!

Little did you know that the $100 or so you were thinking of paying is only a fraction of what it will actually cost if you don't fight that ticket!

Below, I’ll explain how a ticket can cost as much as 20 times what you’ll initially pay for the the citation.

How much does a ticket really cost?

Cost of the citation

Obviously, the type of citation, and extents of the offense will determine the actual cost here.  The average cost of a moving violation is around $125 in most states, with speeding and careless driving tipping the scales higher.

License suspension

After you’ve received a certain number of “points”, your license will be suspended.  After that, you’ll have to attend expensive multi-day traffic schools and reinstate your license with the state.  This gets very pricey.

While a single ticket by itself won’t get your driving rights nixed, it does have an implied partial cost toward suspension.  On average, it takes 4-8 citations to get your license revoked, and the total cost of reinstatement is around $1,500. Divided by average 6 citations, that comes to $250 in hidden costs per ticket you receive (with heavy bias in implied costs for the last few).

If this is your first ticket, we can assess an implied traffic school and reinstatement cost of $100.

Car insurance premium increase

The average driver in America pays around $1,200 per year ($100 / mo) in insurance premiums.  Most people don’t know that a single moving violation will increase your premiums for 6 years.

Years after ViolationPremium IncreaseAdditional Cost (est.)
Total Cost$1,560

Total Cost of Paying a Ticket

This may seem a little shocking to you.  I know it was to me.  One little ticket can wind up costing you more than a full year of insuring your vehicle!

Line ItemCost
Traffic School / Reinstatement$100
Insurance Premium Increase (over 6 years)$1,560

The real cost of your ticket

This is a little crazy.

Fortunately, there’s a way to avoid these costs - especially if you’re a reasonably safe driver.

How should you handle a ticket?

If this was your first or second offense, there’s only one way to handle it: take it to court.  If you don’t have the time to go to court, spend $50-100 to hire a ticket lawyer to go defend you.  This is a no-brainer, as you should have already figured out given the costs outlined above.

There are a few potential outcomes of this situation.

  1. The cop doesn’t show up, and your case is dismissed.  Even though officers’ cases are usually aggregated together in a single court date, and they’re frowned on if they don’t appear, this happens more often than you’d think.  You can assume you’ll get lucky about 10% of the time.

  2. You maintain a “not guilty” plea, and prove the citation was improperly assessed.  Unless you’re a lawyer, don’t count on it.  Traffic court judges will give the cop’s testimony significantly greater weight than your own.  However, if you can get the officer to concede that he made some clerical error in the citation, or some procedural error in how he determined you committed the violation, you may sometimes win without a lawyer.  Expect 5% success here.  Personally, I wouldn’t even suggest you attempt to fight the ticket, as many traffic court judges are jaded, and take offense to the Joe Schmo defense, often times assessing penalties above and beyond the initial citation.

  3. In most states, you’ll usually be given the opportunity to change your plea to “no contest”, or “no lo contendere”, which means “I don’t admit fault, but I’ll throw myself upon the mercy of the court”.  To this plea change, in many districts, it’s standard practice for the judge to “withhold adjudication” (neither declare you “innocent” nor “guilty”), and often waive any penalty and points on your license, instead assessing a “court fee” of around 75% of the original citation cost (somewhere in the neighborhood of $100).

If this was your 3rd or 4th offense, I suggest that you opt for traffic school rather than defending in court.  Most states will allow you to attend traffic school once per year rather than taking the points on your license.  This will have the same result as taking the ticket to court, costing slightly less than the ticket, and resulting in no points assessed.

Beyond your 5th offense, I suggest you plead “not guilty”, and send a ticket attorney to court to defend you.  These attorneys know the judges personally, defending thousands of tickets per year, and will be able to bargain the best possible deal with the judge.  If you attend personally, the judge will often chastise and unfairly punish you, to teach you a lesson, especially if they see you’ve been abusing the leniency of the court system.  This may result in excessive fines or penalties, like a 3-day traffic school class.

Total Cost of Defending a Ticket

Below, I’ve outlined the total costs of defending a ticket with a lawyer, rather than paying it and taking the point penalty:

Line ItemCost
Citation$125  $0
Ticket Lawyer$75
Court Costs$100


This $175 average cost for defending is a mere 40% surcharge on the ticket itself.  If you defend yourself, you actually get a discount on the citation cost, though you lose time that you could spend at work, which itself has an implied cost.


As you can see, paying a ticket should almost never be an option you consider.

If you can change your plea to “no contest” at the time of trial in your state, and you don’t have a fascist traffic court judge in your county, you should defend every time.

I hope the information above helps you understand the real cost of paying a ticket, and gives you an idea of your options.

Good luck, and drive safely!