Kentucky Traffic Ticket Cost-Benefit Analysis

Note: the following provides information relevant to drivers who have received a traffic ticket for a speeding or moving violation. The analysis is different for other types of traffic violations which do not involve the issuance of driving points, such as equipment or parking offenses. To see all types of common Kentucky traffic offenses, view Kentucky Traffic Offenses and Penalties. This information as a whole applies to Kentucky drivers, though some information is Lexington-Fayette County specific.

Introduction

After receiving a traffic ticket, the goal is to minimize negative consequences of the ticket and have it go away with as little expense as possible. However, a driver has many options and it is not always clear what is the best course of action.

Traffic tickets provide Kentucky with great source of revenue and, as such, the state makes it as easy as possible to pay the full citation (fine plus mandatory court costs). You can pay for traffic violations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at the District Court, or even pay online. But because this constitutes a guilty plea to all charges initially assessed (KRS 189.394(3)), this is almost always a poor decision.

Of course, a law firm would say this. After all, individuals who simply pay their ticket do not become clients.

Our firm’s goal is not to have as many clients as possible but to satisfy our clients as much as possible. Clients are not satisfied when they pay an attorney and get a result no better than what they would have received on their own. In some cases, we tell clients that it is not in their interest to retain our firm to fight a traffic ticket.

We provide the following information so that a driver may consider all the pros and cons of fighting a traffic ticket and make an informed decision about how best to proceed. Citations to Kentucky statutory and administrative law, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet website, the Kentucky Court of Justice website, and other reliable sources are included as much as possible so the reader may verify the accuracy of the information presented.

Costs and Benefits for Each Option

Pay the Ticket as Issued

Complete State Traffic School

Fight the Charge(s)

Hire Attorney to Seek Plea Agreement

Hire Attorney to Fight the Charge(s)

Plea Entered

Guilty of all charges. KRS 189.394(3)).

Guilty. Traffic school attendance appears on driver’s 5-year driving record.

Not guilty.

Not guilty or guilty of lesser charges.

Not guilty.

Will I pay a fine?

Yes. Amount depends on the charge(s). SeeKentucky Traffic Offenses and Penalties for more specifics.

No.

Yes if found guilty. Not if found not guilty.

Probably not. Attorney will seek to reduce or eliminate fine as part of plea discussions.

Yes if found guilty. Not if found not guilty.

Attorney should increase likelihood of being found not guilty.

Will I pay court costs?

Yes. $143 in Fayette County. Similar amount in other counties.

Yes. KRS 186.574(5)(a). $143 in Fayette County. Similar amount in other counties.

Yes if found guilty. $143 in Fayette County. Similar amount in other counties. No if found not guilty.

Maybe. Attorney will seek to reduce or dismiss all charges as part of plea discussions. Usually, client will plead guilty to lesser offense which requires payment of court costs but no points are added. If all charges are dismissed, no court costs are owed.

Yes if found guilty. $143 in Fayette County. Similar amount in other counties. No if found not guilty.

Attorney should increase likelihood of being found not guilty.

Will I pay additional fees?

No.

Yes. Traffic school fees of $15 or $47.50

Maybe. If found guilty, may request traffic school, for which there are fees of $15 or $47.50

Yes, legal fees.

Our firm charges flat fees for this representation (Kentucky Traffic Ticket Defense)

Yes, legal fees.

Our firm charges hourly fees for this representation (Kentucky Traffic Ticket Defense)

What is the time commitment?

Minimal. Driver may pay fine and court costs by mail, online, or at the District Court.

Lengthy. Must first submit requires and obtain referral from the District Court in the county where the violation occurred. KRS 186.574(1). Must then enroll with the Division of Driver Licensing. Mustattend 4-hour classroom course, complete online course, or complete video course.

Lengthy. Driver must go to District Court on court date, wait in line to speak to prosecutor, and plead not guilty. Trial date will be set. Driver must prepare for trial. Driver must go to District Court on trial date, wait for case to be called, and argue case. If found guilty, the decision may be appealed.

Minimal. Attorney communicates with prosecutor on client’s behalf and in most cases client need not make a court appearance.

Moderate. Client will need to meet with attorney prior to trial to discuss defense strategy and appear in court to testify at trial.

Are points assessed?

Yes. See Kentucky Traffic Offenses and Penalties for specific amounts.

No.

Yes if found guilty. See Kentucky Traffic Offenses and Penalties for specific amounts. No if found not guilty.

Probably not. Attorney will seek to dismiss all charges for which points are assessed.

Yes if found guilty. See Kentucky Traffic Offenses and Penalties for specific amounts. No if found not guilty.

Attorney should increase likelihood of being found not guilty.

Will auto insurance rates increase?

Highly likely. See the “Auto Insurance Rate Increase” section below

Highly unlikely.

Highly likely if found guilty. Highly unlikely if found not guilty.

Highly unlikely, if attorney succeeds in dismissing all charges for which points are assessed.

Highly likely if found guilty. Highly unlikely if found not guilty.

Attorney should increase likelihood of being found not guilty.

Will my license be suspended?

Increased risk.Suspension possible upon the accumulation of 12 driving points.

No.

Increased risk if found guilty.Suspension possible upon the accumulation of 12 driving points.

No, if attorney succeeds in dismissing all charges for which points are assessed

Increased risk if found guilty.Suspension possible upon the accumulation of 12 driving points.

Attorney should increase likelihood of being found not guilty.

Kentucky State Traffic School

The Kentucky State Traffic School program is intended “to provide an educational program which renews a driver’s outlook regarding traffic safety and to instill a positive attitude toward highway and traffic safety by encouraging an understanding and recognition of personal driving behaviors which will result in a reduced number of deaths and injuries related to vehicular crashes and moving hazardous violations.” Basically it is a 4-hour course that refreshes a driver on Kentucky’s traffic laws and safe driving techniques.

State traffic school is available only for offenses which result in the assessment of driving points, which are speeding or moving offenses. See Kentucky Traffic Offenses and Penalties for a list of common such offenses. It is not available if the driver was cited for a serious traffic violation for which a license suspension is required or was driving under a license suspension when cited. KRS 186.574(5). It is only available to a driver once in a 1-year period. KRS 186.574(5)(d).

The primary benefit of traffic school is that it use avoids a potential license suspension following the accumulation of 12 driving points. The driver is still responsible for court costs (KRS 186.574(5)(a)), and a $15 enrollment fee for the classroom option (KRS 186.574(4)) or a $47.50 fee for the video or internet option.

Auto Insurance Rate Increase

It is impossible to state with precision how much a driver’s insurance rates will increase and for how long because there are many different insurers with different policy terms. Most insurers either directly raise rates following a speeding or moving violation or eliminate a good driver or safe driver discount which had been in place. For instance, on State Farm’s Understanding Car Insurance Premiums page, it states that “drivers who get tickets or are involved in accidents pay more for their car insurance premiums.” And on State Farm’s Auto Insurance Discounts in Kentucky page, it states that the good driver discount is available to a driver who “has had no moving violations and no at-fault accidents during the past three years.”

Assuming State Farm’s policies are typical of auto insurers, drivers who are convicted of speeding or moving violations should expect to pay increased auto insurance rates for three years. Precise increases are generally unavailable online, but a driver may obtain specifics by reviewing his or her policy or contacting an agent (sometimes it is best to do this anonymously). Questions which may be relevant:

  1. How much and for how long will rates increase following conviction for a particular charge or set of charges?
  2. Do rates increase following a single or multiple traffic convictions?
  3. Do rates increase immediately following the assessment of points or only after the policy is renewed or changed?
  4. Does the increase vary according to driver’s age or driving record?
  5. Does a driver risk being dropped from the policy altogether following a serious traffic offense or multiple speeding or moving convictions?

You may estimate your auto insurance rate increase by multiplying the amount of your good or safe driver discount per month by 36 (amount of months in three years). Add this figure to the fine and court costs assessed and then compare this total to the cost of fighting the ticket according to other methods. This will give you a good idea as to how best to proceed.

Value of Time

Signing up for and completing state traffic school and fighting the charges without an attorney involves lengthy time commitments. When considering these options, the driver should make an honest assessment about the value of his or her time. Time will be lost driving to court, waiting to speak to the prosecutor or judge, and arguing the case in court or completing the traffic school course. Sometimes, such tasks necessitate taking time off from work, calling a babysitter, etc. To conduct a true cost-benefit analysis, all costs should be considered including time expended.

Circumstances for Which There is an Increased Benefit in Fighting the Ticket

When the potential negative consequences of receiving a ticket increase, there is a greater incentive to fight the ticket. Here are some of the reasons which make fighting a ticket more advantageous and which may make it cheaper to hire an attorney in the long run:

  1. Insurance Rate Increase: auto insurance rates usually increase following a conviction for a speeding or moving offense. See the above section on “Auto Insurance Rate Increase” which provides some information on how to determine the amount and duration of the increase.
  2. Potential License Suspension: a driver’s license may be suspended following the accumulation of 12 driving points (or 7 driving points for a driver under age eighteen). This may seriously impact a driver’s ability to get to and from work, school, etc. A driver should be concerned not only for a ticket that will raise his or her point total to 12 but also for tickets that bring the driver closer to that amount. See the License Suspension page for more information about what causes suspension and what may be done about it.
  3. Commercial Driver: the driving privilege is the source of livelihood for a driver operating under a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Thus, the driver and his or her employer may be even more anxious to avoid potential license suspension.
  4. Multiple Charges from One Incident: a driver may face multiple charges from a single driving incident, which usually causes 6 points to be assessed. With an increased penalty, there is an increased inventive to pursue means to avoid the full penalty. Generally speaking, when there are multiple charges, an attorney has a greater ability to get at least some of the charges dismissed and preferably those for which points are assessed.
  5. Driver Recently Attended Traffic School: completion of state traffic school nullifies the points that would otherwise be assessed. KRS 186.574(2). However, a person may only attend traffic school once in any 1-year period. KRS 186.574(5)(d). So if the driver attended traffic school in the last year, the driver is left with only the option to either accept or fight the charges.
  6. Driving History Record is Relevant: for $5, anyone may request a 3-year driving history record of a Kentucky driver online. The record will indicate all traffic violations occurring over this period. This may be relevant in a variety of circumstances, including:
    • Applying for Job – employer may review employee’s driving record before making a hiring decision, especially where the job involves driving
    • Legal Proceeding – traffic offenses are frequently used in contested divorce or custody proceedings as circumstantial evidence of a disregard for the law
  7. Out-of-Town: the driver was merely visiting Lexington and would like to contest the ticket but it would be too expensive and time consuming to personally return to Fayette County to do so.
  8. On Principal: some individuals choose to fight a traffic ticket because they know they were not in the wrong, the traffic officer was rude to them, they should not be forced to have an offense they did not commit on their record, etc.
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