What you need to know about traffic tickets

Tamara E. Holmes

Nobody wants to get a ticket for violating a traffic law. However, some traffic tickets have more far-reaching consequences than others, as they can ultimately lead to higher car insurance rates.

There are two basic types of traffic tickets - those for moving violations and those for parking violations. You might get a moving violation for speeding or driving through a red light, while you might get a parking violation for leaving your car in front of a fire hydrant or parking in a no-parking zone.

The penalty you face depends on the type of traffic ticket you've received and where the traffic ticket was issued. For example, a speeding ticket for going 1 to 9 miles per hour over the speed limit in New Orleans can cost $147, while driving without a seat belt can cost $45. By comparison, a speeding ticket for driving 1 to 5 mph over the speed limit in Houston could cost you $170, while driving without a seat belt could have you forking over $150.

The insurance connection

Although any traffic ticket can result in a fine, moving violations typically are considered more serious and sometimes can result in points being added to your driving record. For example, Pennsylvania adds points to your driving record for moving violation convictions. If a Pennsylvania driver accrues11 points, that leads to license suspension.

Points on your driving record also can cause your car insurance rates to rise. The North Carolina Department of Insurance estimates that 1 point can cause your insurance premium to go up by 30 percent, and 10 points can cause it to go up as much as 260 percent. Some states assess surcharges for certain offenses. For example, New Jersey imposes an additional insurance surcharge for accumulating 6 or more points within three years and for drunken driving offenses.

A minor traffic ticket, such as one for driving without a seat belt, may not cause your insurance premium to go up, says Matthew Weiss, a traffic attorney in New York and author of the Confessions of a Traffic Lawyer Blog. But a minor offense is more likely to affect your insurance rates if you've been in a recent accident or if you've recently racked up other traffic violations, he says.

Minimizing the effect of traffic tickets

If you get a traffic ticket, you may be able to fight the charges, or a traffic attorney may be able to help you get a smaller penalty, Weiss says. For example, if you were speeding to get to the hospital because your wife was in labor, a judge may give you a break.

Some states also may let you get some traffic violations dismissed if you attend a driving school. For example, a judge in Virginia can reduce or dismiss a conviction if a driver attends a court-approved driving school, says Sunni Blevins Brown, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. However, drivers of commercial vehicles - trucks and buses used for business purposes - may not have that luxury. In Virginia, for example, "no court can reduce, dismiss or defer a conviction for attending driving school if the driver holds a commercial driver's license, even if they are driving their personal car when the violation occurs," Brown says.

Of course, the best way to handle traffic tickets is to avoid getting them in the first place by knowing and obeying the traffic laws in your city, county and state.