It’s OK to just ignore that ticket you got on your road trip this summer, right?
Wrong. Each of the 50 states that make up our nation is unique in its culture and attractions. Driving in each state can also be an experience in and of itself (and not always a positive one). Travel by car enough and it’s almost a given that you will end up getting a traffic ticket while out of state.
When this happens, a lot of drivers consider one of two options: ignore the ticket thinking their home state won’t find out or just pay the darned thing and make it go away. The first likely won’t work. And the second can be very, very expensive.
How States Work Together to Keep Us from Getting Away with Anything
In the 1960s, several states formed what is called the Driver’s License Compact. This agreement, which now includes 45 states and the District of Columbia, allows the states to share driver information with each other.
If your home state and the state where you get the ticket are both part of the compact, then your local Department of Motor Vehicles will certainly be notified about the violation. If you plead guilty or are convicted, the state where the violation occurred can access your driving record, including your address, and follow up with you to make sure you pay the fine or suspend your driving privileges if you don’t.
That also means there can be consequences in both states. For example, if you accumulate enough points to lead to suspension, you could theoretically be suspended in both states. If both states have a special fine penalty for points, you could have to pay those penalties in both states (see below).
Only Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin are not members of the multi-state compact. However, don’t assume that means they won’t share information. Some of the non-participating states, like Massachusetts, have their own sharing agreements other states.
Paying an Out of State Ticket Can Be Doubly Expensive
Since your state likely will find out you got that ticket, why not just pay it and be done with it?
No matter what state you are from or where you get the ticket, paying it is an admission of guilt. On top of the fine, you are accepting whatever other consequences each state is willing to level at you, and those consequences can be steep.
Read More: 7 Step Guide of What to Do After an Accident
You’ll Get the Point(s)
Every state except Minnesota, Mississippi, Kansas and Hawaii has a point system for traffic violations. The Driver’s License Compact allows states to apply points (and fines) to licenses from other participating states, even if those states do not use point systems.
If you get a ticket in a state that applies points, they will almost always end up on your license.
In some cases, you’ll get points from your home state too. For example, a California driver who gets a speeding ticket in New York will get points on his/her license from both states, but a New York driver who gets a ticket in California will only get points from the latter.
Your Insurance Rates Can Go Up
If both states are part of the compact, then the information about the violation will end up on your driving record, which means it’s only a matter of time before your auto insurer finds out. All insurance companies periodically check your driving record for a reason. Once they see that you’ve pled guilty to a traffic violation you can expect your rates to go up.
Read More: 7 Smart Ways to Save Money on Auto Insurance
You’ll Face Hidden Costs
The average traffic ticket costs about $150. That’s just the fine, however. Many states have other fees that you are obligated to pay the moment you plead guilty. In New York, for example, most violations also include a mandatory state surcharge that runs from $88-$93.
That’s not all. Some states like New York have what is called a Driver Responsibility Assessment. New Jersey has something similar, simply called a “surcharge.” Drivers—even those from out of state—who rack up six points or more in either state will end up paying a base penalty for the six points ($100 in NY and $150 in NJ) plus an additional $25 per point over six. These fines apply each year for three years. Refuse to pay and your license will be suspended!
Let’s say you get ticketed in New York for speeding 11mph over the limit and running through a stop sign. Both tickets typically cost around $150 each ($300 total). But you’ll also have to pay a $93 surcharge for each ($186). The speeding ticket is a four-point violation and the stop sign ticket is a three-point violation. That obligates you to pay a Driver Responsibility Assessment of $125 per year for three years, even if you never set foot in the state again ($375). That puts the total cost of just two tickets at $861! This doesn’t even include the increase in your insurance premiums.
What Should You Do?
If the ticket is for a non-moving violation (e.g. parking ticket) or an equipment violation (e.g. broken headlight), then your best bet is to just pay it. In most cases, the fines are small and there are no points associated with them. They also are unlikely to impact your auto insurance rates.
If the ticket does mean points on your license, you should think seriously about fighting it. In some cases, it’s possible to negotiate the ticket down to a no-point violation, which you can just pay. But you have to do that by appearing in person on your court date. If it’s not practical to drive (or fly) back to the state just to appear in court, you can hire an attorney to represent you. A lawyer who has experience with such cases can often get out-of-state tickets dismissed altogether.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adam H. Rosenblum, Esq. is the principal of The Rosenblum Law Firm. The Rosenblum Law Firm’s skilled criminal defense and traffic violations attorneys have a reputation for aggressive representation for anyone facing criminal charges and traffic violations that may result in jail time, heavy fines, points and license suspension or revocation.