NMA E-Newsletter #173: Pleading Guilty or No Contest Could Cost More Than You Think

What’s at stake when you get a traffic ticket? A fine. Maybe a couple of points on your license. Pay up and move on, right?

What if you found out later that you had to pay an additional penalty due to the nature of your infraction? Would you have fought a little harder?

A frustrated member called recently and told us about a traffic stop in Georgia. As he was passing through the Peach State, he was pulled over and ticketed for speeding. He paid the ticket and moved on, not wanting the hassle of returning to Georgia to represent himself in court.

Little did he know that his offense (exceeding 85 mph on I-95) classified him as a “Super Speeder,” and under Georgia law, he was required to pay an extra $200 beyond the original fine. However, he didn’t find out until he received the bill weeks after the fact.

Unfair and predatory? You bet. But not uncommon. The NMA’s website forum is full of stories from unsuspecting motorists who dutifully pay their fines only to be blindsided by Georgia’s Super Speeder fees down the road. Many, like our member, state they would have fought their tickets if they had truly known what was at stake.

Illinois’ “Excessive Speed” law also ups the ante on speeding tickets. Passed in 2010 it creates a category of excessive speeding for drivers who travel 30 to 39 mph over the posted limit. Conviction is punishable with a fine of up to $1,500 and up to six months in jail. Fines and penalties increase for those exceeding the speed limit by 40 mph or more.

Other states fill their coffers through so-called “driver responsibility” programs. Billed as a deterrent, these schemes heap surcharges onto existing fines for certain infractions or for accumulating excessive points. (Drivers who can’t pay often lose their licenses and must pay reinstatement fees to get them back.)

For example, New Jersey assesses a $1,000 surcharge (paid annually for three years) for a DUI conviction. Michigan charges an extra $500 (paid annually for two years) for a reckless driving conviction. Michigan also charges $100 for the first seven points and $50 for every point after that.

Also in the “gotcha” category, most states participate in the Driver License Compact. This means that information on moving violations committed by out-of-state drivers will find their way back to the home state. The home state can then penalize the driver according to its own statutes. This is in addition to any penalties the driver has already been subjected to in the state where the infraction took place.

The point is once you pay the fine or plead guilty (or no contest), you can’t go back. Before you do so, find out what’s really at stake. Are you subject to any excessive speeding penalties? What about surcharges from a driver responsibility program? Additional home-state penalties for an out-of-state ticket?

You may realize you have a lot more to lose than you thought.

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