Updated on 04.23.07

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

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. CrMo says:

    You can always try and plead down the ticket by calling up the court listed on it. I had a speeding ticket reduced to a “failure to obey a traffic control device” which was significantly less costly that the speeding ticket would have been.

  2. martha in mobile says:

    Good for you for taking responsibility for the consequences of your (unintended) speeding.

  3. 25 says:

    If you were sure that according to your speedometer you weren’t speeding you may want to go have it checked/recalibrated. It probbably won’t get you out of the ticket but it can save you more tickets.

    I love that argument people use to not speed. While it is true that in the situation you described above the time savings really aren’t as big as one would hope. However the real time savings from speeding are making lights.

    How many lights do you have to sit at that take at least 1-2 minutes to cycle? If you can just make this light then you save 1-2 minutes probbably without even having to speed very much. The problem is that during most peoples commute there is to much traffic to really be able to do this at every light.

    The key here is not to do 90mph in a 45mph, but to go just fast enough to make the light and to know what lights you have a chance of making when you need to. This requires you to pay attention to the timing of lights.

  4. Tim Marman says:

    61 in a 55? Wow, you must have done SOMETHING to piss him off :)

    Seriously, most give a leeway of 5mph because, if I remember correctly (an old friend was a state trooper in NY) the margin of error is 5mph. Did you ask what type of radar gun he was using?

    It will cost you more time, but it might be worth fighting the ticket – if nothing else, to avoid points on your license which will hurt on the insurance much more than the $75 ticket.

    Just saying.

  5. Derek says:

    At minimum, you should appear on the court date and try to get the ticket down to a non-moving violation. You’re probably stuck paying the fine (the city/county/state needs its money), but it isn’t reportable to your insurance. Worst case, you lose the time of standing at the courthouse – best case, the issuing officer doesn’t show and the ticket is dropped (don’t bank on that one though).

    The county where I got my last ticket was only interested in the money. I paid a lawyer $225 and $25 over the original fine and my speeding ticket became a parking violation. I went the lawyer route as I’d been told it was more affective, and I didn’t have the time. All told, I’m positive I’ll save $250 over the period that ticket would have been on my record.

  6. Lisa says:

    Every state/jurisdiction is different. But, I would agree with Derek, go to court. You pay the ticket and court fees (if any) but you usually won’t get any points. I did this once and I did not use a lawyer, but its not necessary around here. Check with others who have had tickets in your area. This is a big positive for your car insurance. It seems a 50/50 on whether the officer will show up around here. Other areas may be different. Its worth a try.

    Good Luck!

  7. domestika says:

    Mmm, love the irony of losing time by speeding. Lost time is at least as valuable as the price of the ticket, as you say…

    And that’s not to mention the ridiculous drop in fuel efficiency as soon as you go a few clicks over 90 kph, er, rapid conversion frm metric… 55 mph. Between your 55 and 61, there, as I understand it, your fuel efficiency drops by something in the order of 5% or more — and exponentially thereafter! Gah!

  8. Lifeguard says:

    Sorry about you getting a ticket. Personally I set my cruise for 65 mph (speed limit = 70 mph) since my entire commute is on an Interstate. All the tickets I have gotten the past few years are for stupid items: forgetting to update the inspection stickers. After $75 fine, you can be sure I don’t forget anymore.

  9. Alex says:

    wow, a speeding ticket for 6 miles over 55m/hour…you’d think those police officers don’t have anything better to do, like there’s not enough crime in this country, but instead they decided to stop someone who’s obviously in a hurry to get to work during morning commute hours…
    So, you’re kid was in there with you too? Did he/she realized what’s going on?

  10. alex says:

    Legally, you might not be in the right, but morally, you were only going 6 miles over the speed limit, and as a practical matter you were not being unsafe nor did you represent a danger to anyone.

    That cop should really have better things to do than harass small fries like yourself when there are so many other more serious criminals and unsafe drivers out there which he should be focusing on.

  11. kev says:

    I say you show up to court so you can put the SYSTEM on trial!!

    Just kidding. Kudos on taking responsibility. I ditto the remarks from those who say show up to court. My girlfriend had a similar incident late last year, and the charges were dropped. You might not be as fortunate, but the potential upside is worth giving up a random Tuesday morning in order to show up to court.

  12. Mukesh says:

    Trent, you should have given the officer your computer consulting or this blogs card and made the money you lost with the ticket. Basically, you could have made the opportunity to sell the officer some of your services :-) “Hey officer, does that pc in your patrol car have Windows on it”?

  13. eR0CK says:

    I second what Derek said.

    I’ve never had an unsuccessful try when going to court.

  14. Kevin says:

    Seriously – 6 miles over in a 55? On an empty road? You are not endangering anyone.

    Go to court and fight it. Get it down to a non-moving violation.

    Good grief… gotta love quotas.

  15. I agree about going to court. 6 miles over the speed limit – I can’t believe you got pulled over for that. Why is it 55 on the highway anyway?

    And, at least here in Raleigh, I see alot more people pulled over at the end of the month. Cops like to say there are no quotas, but I don’t see nearly as many flashing blue lights once the calendar hits the first of the month. (I’m not saying that so people speed at certain times of the month, but be extra careful towards the end!)

  16. Don says:

    Sixty-one in a fifty-five. Go to court with a smile.

  17. Todd says:

    I received a speeding ticket a few years ago, for 41 in a 35. Totally legit, and in fact, the cop was sitting completely in the open. I was just on auto-pilot on a route I drove every day and I didn’t see him.

    Anyway, I went down to the courthouse to pay it; I wasn’t going to fight. The clerk informed me of the “deferral program”. If I paid the stated fine + $20, it would get deferred and as long as I didn’t get another ticket in 12 months (IIRC), it would disappear and my insurance company would never know.

    I never checked to see if it disappeared, but my insurance never went up.

    It’s definitely worth a phone call to check that out.

  18. Laura S says:

    Since you were only caught going 6 mph over the limit, it’s entirely possible that his radar gun hadn’t been calibrated correctly. You should go to court and ask him when the last time he calibrated the gun was. If it wasn’t within a few days of your ticket, you should be able to get the charges dropped on that count alone. The argument is that if they can’t be sure the radar gun gave an accurate reading, then he would have to rely on visual cues. And isn’t it possible that he could have been wrong by 6 mph just by visually estimating your speed? Of course it’s possible.

  19. Toby says:

    I hate to sound like a n00b, but “Me too!”, ahem, I mean, I suggest you fight it as well.

    A speeding ticket for going 6 over! What a joke! As you and numerous poster’s mentioned, it will be costly in the long rung to simply “take responsibility for the consequences” as martha put it. It’s better to fight it and attempt to get it reduced in severity so you can avoid the hit to your insurance. Don’t let a $75 setback mushroom into one costing hundreds if not thousands over the long term.

    Where I live, the cops don’t look twice unless you are doing more than 20 over. That is, unless it is speeding enforcement da…I mean speed-trap day:

    Just an example of how insidious cops can be. On speed-trap day during the morning rush, I’ve seen a dozen highway patrol cars lined up on a tollway on-ramp. Their “buddy” is tagging speeders a couple miles up and calling the plates and descriptions over the radio to his friends on the on-ramp. One-by-one they take off down the ramp and pull people over a mile or two up. They then proceed to return to the on-ramp and line up a again. This repeats for a couple hours.

    Still think they’re not just filling quotas?

  20. Jenn says:

    6 over is ridiculous. I second Tim Marman… there is at LEAST a 5 mph margin of error. I once got pulled over for going 57 in a 45 when I was going 52 (digital speedometer, cruise control, stock wheels. come on). I am the shyest, meekest person on the planet, but I managed to mumble that I was very sorry, but my speedometer said 52 and I had cruise on, and I got off with a warning. Those things just aren’t THAT accurate. Sometimes you really need to speak up, respectfully, in cases like this… If it had been for 11 mph instead of 6, you could end up with a point on your license depending on what state you’re in, which could lead to higher insurance premiums, etc. If you set cruise at 56 or 57 it’s HIGHLY unlikely you were going 61 unless your speedometer is really, really wrong.

    A friend of a friend is a cop and told us their motto: “9 you’re fine, 10 you’re mine.” But 6? Come on.

  21. lorax says:

    Hey, I feel for you. I make it my business to drive _just under_ the speed limit, although this does sometimes annoys drivers behind me.

    Despite this, I got pulled over once when a hummer-style truck behind me flashed the high beams to speed up. I drove at limit+5 and I was the one the cop pulled over. No ticket for me though, as I explained what had happened. Hopefully the cop went out looking for the truck instead.

  22. Ted says:


    The Economics of a ticket are much broader than just the few comments you made, but they do offer you a few opportunities and alternatives.

    First, you know that you might have an insurance bump. I do not know what you pay now, but I have been advised that the average “bump” will cost between 700 and 1K in a three year period. But, for a safe assumption, lets assume that your insurance will go up 100 dollars per year.

    So, now you are in the hole, 375 dollars. I make less than 25 dollars an hour, so spending 15 hours to try and get this case dismissed would be a positive for me. And often times it can be done. These tactics are based on a purely economical standpoint, and hold no regards to morality as pertains to a belief that since the law was broken, a price must be paid.

    First, I always recommend you pull up your state statutes on speeding. These can often be found easily.
    In my state, Texas, the Statutes are thus:

    (a) An operator may not drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances then existing.
    (b) An operator:
    (1) may not drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is
    reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard for
    actual and potential hazards then existing; and….(cont.)

    § 545.352. PRIMA FACIE SPEED LIMITS. (a) A speed in excess of the limits established by Subsection (b) or under another provision of this subchapter is prima facie evidence that the speed is not reasonable and prudent and that the speed is unlawful.

    What these mean, together, is that there is no speed limit in Texas. As long as you drive in a “reasonable and prudent” manner and can prove so with some inspection, then you did not break the law. A letter to the DA with this information, as well as weather and road reports, may very well get a case dropped.

    You state may or may not have similar provisions.

    If they do not, you still have other options:
    1. File an Informal Discovery Request – This can get officers notes, traffic reports, radar information, maint. records, etc. Send it to the police officer, the city police department, the city attorney, and the district attorney.
    2. Write the district attorney with information you have gathered, and request the charges be dropped.
    3. Delay the court case, if possible. And try to get it on another day. Police offers usually try and set all their cases on the same day each week. So, if it says Tuesday, try to get a Thursday. If the officer does not show, you are good.
    4. Ask for a Trial Jury if the case is not dismissed. You can often convince a jury of 12 that you were being reasonable.
    5. Get a lawyer. Sometimes paying 250 is better than paying 375.

    Hope this helps.

  23. plonkee says:

    I have no idea whether you may or may not be able to get the speeding ticket reduced, but if the law states that the speed limit is 55mph then you should be driving less than that. If you think that the speed limit is too low for the road, then try to get that changed, don’t break the limit.

    Having said that, I too would have been surprised and annoyed to get pulled over for speeding with the car set on cruise control. Live and learn I guess.

  24. rhbee says:

    Well, this is just weird. A couple of days ago, T and I had to drive up to Orange County on the 5 Frwy and since I had just read several blogs, including yours, about the ways to save on fuel, I put it in cruise control at 60. As we drove, we talked about our business, and generally relaxed. I noted the time and realized that we were travelling at a speed that let me time the trip easily. We both noted how comfortable it felt to not be in the race of cars just two lanes over. And since I usually do drive in that race, I guess we were really surprised when we still got to our appointment early.

    Oh and by the by, the guy who wrote about timing the lights, someone should ask him how many red light T Bone accidents he has seen in his travels?

  25. Carl says:

    I had a friend in high school who was pulled over for 55 in a 35 (where it transitions from 55 to 35 mind you), and he paid a lawyer to go to court for him and go it reduced to a $100 littering ticket. hehe….seriously…littering? I never did understand how you can plead into something you didn’t do. I think it should be more like class X = moving violation, class Y = minor moving violation, class Z = non moving violation or something like that. I just have no idea how a speeding ticket gets turned into a littering ticket (i can already see the joke coming)

  26. Debbie says:

    I like the suggestion about getting your spedometer checked and your idea to be more careful when setting your cruise control. I have two more ideas for you.

    1) Can’t you take a defensive driving course to keep this course off your record? You’ll still have to pay for the ticket, but you won’t have to worry about your insurance rates going up. (Or is that something that varies by state? If not, I recommend that you don’t take the online ones because you have to keep getting up and checking things on your car I guess to prove that you’re taking your own course, and I recommend that you don’t take the comedy ones unless you have a source that says it’s actually funny–the other courses spend less time trying to be funny and more time comparing each other’s stories, which is fun–and if you take the kind where you get free pizza, note that you might be limited to two pieces.)

    2) If your insurance rates do go up, you should call your insurance agent and explain the situation. That person will probably be just as shocked at your getting a ticket for going only 6 mph over the limit as so many of your commenters and may be able to give you a break. Plus, straight empty road, trying to drive at an even more reasonable speed–you’re just not the kind of customer they have to be worrying about.

  27. mjcarrabine says:

    Conveniently, my other favorite website (besides this one of course) has an article on How to beat a speeding ticket.


    Good luck!

  28. Eric says:

    Lifehacker posted this a little while ago.. “How to beat a traffic ticket”


  29. Mrs L says:

    Have your speedometer checked. I just got a satnav, and it calculates my speed as it updates my location. My speedometer is about 5-10mph fast–it shows me going 70mph when I’m only going 60mph. You could probably borrow someone’s satnav for the day to save whatever a garage would charge to check it.

  30. Chutzpah! says:

    Definitely spend the time to go to court and fight it. The cop must have been bored if they bothered to ticket you for 6 mph over the limit. Not sure where you are, but here on the East Coast, 1-10 mph over will get you a warning unless you are being a real jerk. You seem like a nice bloke, so I can’t imagine he ticketed you out of spite. Go to court, and good luck!

  31. Justin says:

    Good article. That SOB gave you a ticket for 61 in a 55? Next time you get such a bogus ticket, take it to court and fight it. No sane judge will find you guilty of that. By the way, I did a little search online and found this website you might want to check out. I can’t say for sure that it really works, but of all the ones I visited this one definately makes the most sense.


    Currently they have a free report you can read. I didn’t, but someone here might want to.

  32. Macinac says:

    I think the margin-of-error should not be a fixed amount. 5 mph is 10% of 50mph but only 9% of 55. So, five over is a much bigger deal in a 20mph zone (25%) than in a 65mph zone (7.7%).

  33. Mike Hunter says:

    You might want to see if his radar gun has been properly serviced and caliberated. Police officers are suppose to calibrate their radar every couple of months but in many cases they rarely do it on time if at all.

    You can find out if his radar gun was properly serviced by requesting the information from your local police station. If he decided to slack (as many officers do) and he didn’t do proper maintance on his equipment then the judge will throw the ticket out. There’s a very real chance that you wern’t even speeding at all.

  34. Jade says:

    Everyone here is shocked about a ticket for going 61 in a 55? Puhleeze! Next city over from mine has very little crime per capita (like, one murder last year vs. 100+ in my city) and more cops per capita. This means that the cops in that city have nothing better to do than write traffic tickets. Tickets for stopping 2 seconds instead of 3 at a stop sign. Tickets for doing 27 in a 25. Tickets because as your bumper passed the limit line a pedestrian on the other side of the street stuck their foot in the crosswalk. Believe me, when I’m in that town I drive below the speed limit, I don’t care how mad the driver behind me gets.

    But on the flip side, you call the cops because you see some people rummaging around in a car and the alarm is going off, there’s two cop cars there in less than 2 minutes. In my city if someone’s breaking into your house and you’re home the response time is at least 5 minutes and you get one cop, two if it’s a slow night. Now if the person who is breaking into your house is trying to hide because they just robbed a donut shop, you’ll have the SWAT team there in 2 minutes (seriously, this was in the news a few months ago). But I digress…

    Sure, I drive below the speed limit and I drive by the book so much that it irritates everyone around me when I visit that other city, but I really enjoy being able to walk down the street without being in constant fear of someone showing me a gun and taking my wallet. I guess $200-$300 tickets for doing 27 in a 25 is the price they pay in that town for being so safe… Oh, and their congressperson is always getting them extra federal funding for traffic enforcement. Your tax dollars at work!

  35. Michele says:

    I work for a small city in the Finance Department but last September I was asked to add additional duties in a cost saving measure and I am now also the part time Clerk of Court in our Mayor’s court. I am certain that what works for us is not necessarily what every PD or court does.

    We generally allow 10 over but I rarely see a ticket for less than 15 over the posted speed limit. Also, a lot of the tickets are written in the late hours, when most people are asleep. If I had a nickel for everytime someone told me, the road conditions were clear so why shouldnt I drive 51 in a 25, I would have quite a few nickels.

    Our community does not have quotas. And believe it or not officers do many other things than write tickets. Prisoner transports, investigations, etc. Those “Target enforcement areas” are there because enough people in the community have complained about people whizzing through their residental district and double the posted speed limit.

    What is true, most cops won’t write tickets in bad weather, rain or bitter cold and snow, feggitaboutit, they have more traffic accidents to deal with in those times usually tho.

    Every officer here documents that they calibrate their equiment every single time they take the car out. They do not leave the parking lot without calibrating the radar and noting the time.

    Other misconceptions:

    1. That the city gets all that money from the ticket. Not true, a good portion of it goes to state and county. Of a fine, less than 30% of it actually goes to the city.

    2. That speed limits are set to create speed traps. Actually, the state sets the speed limits. They build the roadway and set speed limits according to assumed liability. Its 25 over a bridge because if that bridge freezes, or is wet due to rain, you will lose control at a higher speed.

    Also, don’t lie to the officer about how many violations you have had. Even tho points drop off after 3 years, the officer can see your driving history for the last 10-15 years, and serious violations (accidents, suspensions, ovi/dui) stay on the record permanently. I have seen 35 year olds with 26 tickets, 9 suspensions and 14 accidents try to tell me that they havent had a ticket in 10 years. Whatever.

    Some things I have learned that you can be ticketed for in most municipalities that I never realized:

    Leaving your car running with the keys in it while you run in a store, Flashing your lights to warn oncoming traffic of a police car ahead, driving too slow, Just to name a few.

    Seems just in the short time I have been doing this, the biggest complaint is that the posted speed limit is unfair, especially 25 mph zones. Life is unfair, but the law is the law. If you choose to speed, tickets are the cost of doing business.

    However, I do recommend that anyone who gets a ticket come to court and ask for reduced charges and/or no points. Most Judges/magistrates will grant it upon request – no attorney needed.

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