Avoiding Unpleasant Surprises at the DMV

Editor’s Note: A cautionary tale January 2015 has some good advice and a very good reason why every motorist needs to fight their speeding ticket every time!

NMA E-Newsletter #315: Avoiding Unpleasant Surprises

John Nettles probably didn’t give it a second thought when he got a speeding ticket in Ehrhardt, South Carolina, in 1997. Like most people, he simply paid it and moved on. But some 17 years later, that decision has cost him his job.

It seems that Nettles’ ticket was never properly processed so it never showed up on his driving record. That is until two years ago when the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV) caught the oversight and helpfully recorded it. Nettles’ job as a power line worker requires him to drive for a living. With the addition of this bit of ancient history to his record, he can’t get insurance, which means he can’t drive. And that means he can’t work.

The issue came to light after Nettles got a copy of his SCDMV driving record and was surprised to see the 17-year-old speeding conviction. He now faces an uphill battle with the court to get the matter resolved. Until then, he has to look for another line of work.

The lesson here is twofold. First, fight every ticket. Pleading guilty/responsible and paying the fine is the same as a conviction in the eyes of your state DMV and your insurance company. This applies to out-of-state convictions as well. They will likely hit your driving record and impact your insurance rates. Also consider notorious gotcha penalties like Georgia’s abusive Super Speeder law. Many out-of-state drivers pay their Georgia speeding tickets unaware that by doing so they may be subject to a $200 surcharge. Many say they would have fought their tickets had they known.

Second, go online and check your DMV record. Go back as many years as you can. It only costs a few bucks and it could save you a lot of grief later on. Also check the current status of your license. You’d be surprised at how many people are driving with suspended licenses and don’t even know it—until they get pulled over. Find out before that happens.

If you do get a ticket, you have access to plenty of online resources that can help you fight it. If you’re charged under a state speeding statute, look up the language. If the officer wrote down the wrong statute or if the specifics of the law don’t apply to you, you might win a dismissal.

While you’re at it, check to see what the penalties are so you know what’s at stake. Look for this information on your state’s DMV website or on the website of the court that has jurisdiction over your case. The court’s website may also tell you how to request a continuance as well as other procedural details about doing business with the court.

The goal of all of this is to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Much of the information you need to make good decisions about your case is available through the very agencies that make up the traffic enforcement infrastructure. Here are some other related NMA e-newsletters that may help:

Also, be sure to check out the NMA’s E-book, “Fight That Ticket!” It is the best place to start when planning your ticket defense. It’s available free to NMA Supporting Members and as a $9.95 download for others.

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