Americans pay somewhere from $3.75 billion to $7.5 billion in traffic citations every year.
The average ticket costs $152, including fees, although rates vary substantially depending on the nature of the offense and the laws of the state. In any case, you certainly don't want a citation, so if you see flashing red-and-blue lights in your rearview mirror, you'd better be on your best behavior.
Police don't really want to give you a ticket, but it's their job. Fortunately, most of them are more than willing to help you keep your record clean, provided that you're willing to listen to some common-sense advice. Here are a few ways to improve your chances of driving away with a warning.
1. Don't have a bad driving record.
Some cops may be swayed by your record. If you've already had a few tickets this year, you're probably not going to get out of the next ticket.
Think you've got a pretty good record? Do the math. According to motorists.org, police issue somewhere between 25 and 50 million traffic tickets each year, and in total, there are about 196 million licensed drivers.
If you have two or more citations within a single 12-month period, you're probably doing something wrong.
2. Don't drive aggressively.
Officers often look at multiple factors when deciding whether or not to write tickets.
If someone is driving very fast or recklessly, it doesn’t matter how good their driving record is.
Dangerous drivers don't tend to catch breaks.
"If someone doesn’t signal a lane change or a turn, but there’s no other cars around, I’ll probably write a warning," says Officer Luke Bonkiewicz of the Lincoln Police Department in Lincoln, Nebraska. "However, if a driver commits those same violations but cuts off a vehicle or nearly causes an accident [in the process], I’ll likely write a ticket based on those aggravating circumstances."
If you're a speed demon, well, bad news.
"If someone is driving very fast (+15 MPH over the limit) or recklessly, it doesn’t matter how good their driving record is," Bonkiewicz tells us. "I’ll still write the ticket based on the aggravating circumstances."
The lesson? If you're going to be a lawbreaker, at least try not to break any important laws.
3. Don't admit guilt.
If you admit you were breaking the law, that makes it real easy for a law enforcement officer to punish you for doing so.
Now, don't go thinking you should plead the fifth as soon as an officer walks up to your car, but recognize that you're not on the stand when police approach you. You don't have to "tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
Don't confuse this with feeding an officer a lie—they'll see through that instantly. Instead, say something like, "I suppose it's possible that I might have been speeding."
4. Remember: you're not special.
This is a good rule of thumb for life: if you want someone to be nice to you, don't be a jerk towards that person. Jay Ruane, a traffic ticket lawyer from Connecticut, tells Urbo that it’s always a good idea to be on your best behavior when a cop pulls you over.
"Never tell a police officer that 'I pay your salary' because, well, so do they, because they pay taxes too," says Ruane.
Acting like a prima donna is no way to gain sympathy from a police officer. Saying things like, "Don't you know who I am?" or being condescending toward an officer makes it really easy for them to return the favor.
Bonkiewicz says that while he appreciates a nice driver, his job is to keep his emotion out of his decision.
"I appreciate the civility and politeness, but I try to remain objective and focus on the violation," he says. "Conversely, I do not write tickets based on a poor attitude. If somebody is a complete jerk but their violation doesn’t meet the objective criteria for a ticket, then I give them a warning and let them go, even if it's difficult."
While we wish that all officers had the same mindset, we wouldn't count on it—be nice.
5. Ask for a warning.
Hey, it never hurts to ask. The key here is to be grateful and friendly. Cops typically don't have official "quotas," so they're rarely under any obligation to issue a ticket. Ask for a break, and you might get lucky.
Treat the officer with respect, recognize their humanity, and politely ask you can get off with a warning. Swear that you'll never break the speed limit (or whatever) again.
It really could work—provided that you're asking the right officer.
"For me, no [it doesn't work]," Bonkiewicz says. "But for other officers, yes … especially if the violation is minor."
6. Join the force.
Bonkiewicz says that he doesn't expect—or grant—"professional courtesy" to other emergency workers.
That’s how it’s supposed to work: Equality before the law, regardless of your occupation.
However, he says that some police will let their off-duty colleagues get away with minor infractions.
"I hear about it all the time," he says. "And the worst people are those cops/EMTs/nurses who demand a warning."
Still, he says that that sort of preferential treatments weakens officers' authority.
"I was once stopped by an officer from another agency for speeding (11 mph over speed limit), and although I had to advise the officer that I was a police officer because I had a gun next to me, I did not say anything more," he says. "The officer issued me a ticket, I wished him well, and we both left."
"It sucked getting a ticket, but looking back, I feel really good about that interaction—that’s how it’s supposed to work: Equality before the law, regardless of your occupation."
That is, of course, not always how things work in the real world.
7. If you're not a cop, have an endearing occupation.
"One of my suggestions is to try to quickly fit in that you are a working man or woman—and even better if you are in public service," says an officer with the NYPD Transit Bureau, who asked to remain anonymous. "We tend to think twice about giving a serious fine to someone in a similar position as ourselves."
Which occupations qualify? Pretty much any difficult job that creates some sort of value for the community (especially the police).
"My father was a foreman on a town highway department, and it was nearly impossible for him to get a ticket," the officer says.
"Officers would envision him or someone he works with helping tow their patrol car out of a snow bank on a cold winter night," he continues. "So mention you are on your way to or from work, and say where it is. If the officer asks what you do, now is your chance to tell them—and [you'll fare] even better if you work with police officers in any way."
8. Wave when you see a cop on the highway.
If you're going a few miles per hour over the speed limit and you see a police officer, don't jam on the brakes, as that could endanger other drivers. Let off the gas and allow the vehicle to slow, then wave at the officer.
Why? Remember, cops are human. Many police will see a friendly wave as a sign that you're acknowledging your mistake, and they'll likely let you go.
9. Be considerate, polite, and friendly.
As we've mentioned, there are human beings inside those blue suits. Human beings are social animals, and we all tend to treat people better when they treat us well.
“Always be nice and respectful," says Ruane. "Police make note of your attitude on the ticket that goes to court, and throwing a fit roadside will never help.”
"Don't huff and puff, roll your eyes, or imply for them to hurry up because you have more important things to do," the NYPD officer says. "Most cops don't like ruining your day, but we get paid to try to make the roadways a bit safer for our families and everyone else's. Don't minimize that."
10. Don't try to bribe the officer.
“One trick I have seen work multiple times is to tell the police officer that the only reason you were speeding was because you had to go to the bathroom,” Ruane tells Urbo.
It’s relatable, it’s not offensive, and can sometimes work—that’s a win-(sometimes)win option. However, don’t take things to the next level and try and bribe your way out of a ticket.
For one, most officers wouldn't accept a bribe, but in many cases, they couldn't if they wanted to—they've got active badge cams, dash cams, and other recording devices watching their every move.
"[Bribing is] a truly terrible idea," Bonkiewicz says. "Do not offer money [or anything else] to an officer. That’s a huge aggravating offense, and I guarantee I will write you a citation, if only to document that I did not accept the bribe."
1. If you receive ticket, don’t panic.
There are options available to help keep your driving record looking respectable, and your auto insurance from skyrocketing.
If the ticket is far more than you can afford or you're concerned about your record, hire a lawyer.
“First off, prosecutors won't negotiate with a lay person. They will simply make an offer and you then have to take or leave it,” Ruane tells Urbo. “A lawyer can go back and forth, because that is what they do with every type of case.”
It's like having a friend 'on the inside.'
Lawyers can also suggest alternative options that you would probably never think of. Things like “community service in exchange for the ticket being dropped, or taking a driver retraining class,” according to Ruane.
“A lawyer can pitch your defense in a way that a prosecutor would be receptive," he says. "Some prosecutors and judges prefer you to immediately admit you did it. Others will give you a break only if you do not agree you did it. A lawyer would know best how to pick the right way to defend you with the prosecutor and judges involved to get you the best deal. It's like having a friend 'on the inside.'"