The Most Expensive States for Speeding Tickets 2007
by Tom Van Riper
Taking a road trip home for the holidays this year? Be sure to go easy on the gas pedal, particularly if your travels take you up or down the East Coast.
According to stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the I-95 corridor between the southeast and New England includes five of the 10 U.S. states carrying the highest fines for speeding - Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Maryland and New Hampshire. All hit up speeders for a maximum of $500 or more for a first offense. Judges in Carolina and Georgia, not to mention 16 other states, have the discretion to add jail time.
Tough for travelers? Sure. But nothing compared with what can happen to residents. Virginia, this year's lone newcomer to the list, instituted a $1,050 surcharge to state residents on top of its traditional $300 speeding fine in July. The law is designed to raise money for infrastructure projects throughout the state without raising taxes. Thankfully, the penalty only applies to locals.
Spearheading the new law was Virginia state legislator David Albo, whose law firm, Albo & Oblon, specializes in defending drivers against traffic violations. Critics have railed at Albo for what they see as an obvious conflict of interest, though he scoffs at the idea he's made any money from the legislation.
"Who's going to pay $1,500 to go to court with a lawyer for the non-guarantee of getting out of a $1,000 [or so] speeding fee?" he says. He points to stats from Virginia's Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission showing an 11% decrease in reckless driving arrests since the new law passed, while speeding tickets have dropped off slightly.
The national median for a first offender's top-end fine is $200, according to the NHTSA. And even states with lower standard fines sometimes have exceptions. Connecticut, for example, generally caps fines for first-time speeders at $50, though exceeding 70 miles per hour on a "multiple lane, limited access highway" will usually bring double or triple that amount. In Massachusetts, anyone caught going more than 10 miles per hour above the limit is socked for $10 for every additional mile, over and above the state's $50 minimum.
And be on the lookout in financially strapped rural areas and beach towns thick with tourists. Both are notorious for raising revenue by sticking lots of people with speeding tickets.
Getting stopped by a police officer for speeding doesn't necessarily mean you'll get written up. Those with the skill and know-how to talk or act their way out of a ticket have saved themselves a lot of money over the years. Rule No. 1, of course, is being polite to the officer. No need to antagonize someone who's in a position to set you back hundreds of dollars.
"The guy has a gun, badge, Billy club and a ticket book, so be nice to him," advises Alex Carrol, author of the book Beat the Cops, which offers tips on getting out of tickets. Others include little things like removing sunglasses, turning off the stereo and pulling over far enough so that the officer isn't practically standing in the passing traffic while he quizzes you at the driver's side window. A little consideration can go a long way.
Also, Carrol points out, don't ever volunteer information. Wait for the officer to tell you why he pulled you over. Launching into an immediate apology for speeding can bring an extra charge if the officer had initially stopped you for a faulty tail light.
How hard a speeding ticket hits you in the wallet can vary according to several factors, including how fast over the limit you were going, no matter where in the country you're caught. Is it your first offense, or are you a multiple offender? Half the states in the U.S. use a "points" system to measure drivers' moving violation history. Piling them up increases both fines and insurance rates. Also, were you caught zipping too fast through a school zone or construction area? If so, expect to pay as much as double the normal fine in some states, thanks in part to targeted efforts by the Governors Highway Safety Association.
"We're recommending enforcement in certain areas, like school zones and work zones. The idea is to go after the worst offenders first," says Jonathan Atkins, an Association spokesman.
Not surprisingly, young males are nabbed for speeding more than anyone else, NHTSA figures show, with 38% of men under 21 caught in the act last year. In fact, it's not until you reach the men's 35 to 44 age group that the number of speeding incidents comes in below that for 15- to 20-year-old women.
When it comes to trying to get out of a ticket, some people really know how to get creative. Carrol relays a story of a woman who carries a camera in her car, purely as a prop to show cops as she tells them she's rushing to the hospital to meet her pregnant sister, for whom she promised to take pictures during delivery. Then there's the guy who always drives around with a full water bottle. Anytime he's pulled over, he pours a little out onto his lap, and then tells the approaching officer he's been trying to rush home ahead of a bladder emergency.
"He always gets out of tickets," Carrol says.