The Economics of Speeding, or How I Got A Ticket This Morning

This morning, on my way to drop my son off at daycare, I was pulled over for speeding (61 in a 55) on an empty road. The police officer must have been waiting somewhere, because he came almost out of nowhere to tag me and produce a ticket. The ticket will set me back $75 and probably also trigger an insurance rate bump (we pay every six months, so we’re actually already paid until near the end of the year). Most interestingly, it was my first speeding ticket since high school.

Here’s another interesting piece of the puzzle: I was pulled over with my cruise control engaged. I set the cruise control every morning in an effort to save gasoline and I try to get my speed such that my truck drives efficiently (somewhere between 50 and 60 miles per hour). The route I normally take in the morning is flat and straight and often empty and many miles long, so there is great temptation to speed, but I keep my cruise control set to prevent that very thing from happening. I guess I set it a bit high this morning – I’m not really begrudging the ticket all that much, because that doesn’t gain me anything at all, just bitterness.

So, what did I learn from this once I had some time to crack the numbers?

I need to set my cruise control more carefully. I set it when the needle was slightly above 55 and then ceased to pay any attention as I listened to the radio and chattered with my kid. When I pulled over, I was truly surprised to find out that I was getting a speeding ticket – I figured I had a light bulb that was out on my truck.

When you’re commuting, the time lost is at least as frustrating as the ticket itself. This development pretty much tossed my timeline for the day in the trash, causing me to arrive at daycare several minutes late and then arrive at a meeting just in the nick of time instead of the ten minutes early that I had planned.

Even if I were hypothetically going 20 miles an hour over the speed limit, I only save about one minute for every three and a half minutes on the road. Over the length of my morning route, that would be a savings of roughly three minutes. I use that as part of the justification not to speed, because being pulled over would eat up that three minutes and more and also cost me $75 and more.

Most importantly, that’s $75 that won’t be going towards a home purchase. That money could have been part of an appliance purchase or something like that. Now, it’s just going to go to the state.

The time I save in speeding is simply not worth the money lost, or even the potential of money lost. My plan is to be more diligent with how I set my cruise control in the future.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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