Do motorists who get tickets have accidents because they're unsafe drivers? Or are the same motorists -- those who put in many miles -- likely to both get more tickets and be in more accidents?

"Many of these violations are not predictive of the quality of driving," says Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association, a membership-based drivers' rights organization. "Your premium gets jacked up generally 20 percent over the next three years, at least, and it's almost entirely profit for the insurance company because they don't have the risk of the future claim."

After all, you're far more likely to be careful once you've been nabbed.

How to get pulled over for speeding

Let's say I'd paid instead of pleaded on that New Mexico roadside. Had I run into a second speed trap -- not unlikely given my daily mileage in unfamiliar terrain -- my rates would have shot up 40 percent for the next six years, costing a total of $1,026, according to a few what-if conversations with my very patient insurance agent.

Scary, but that doesn't mean flashing lights should spark panic.

  1. Pull over as soon as you can, but don't block a lane or stop suddenly. Make sure there is space for the police vehicle to stop safely as well.
  2. Turn off your car. Keep your hands visible. At night, turn on the interior light.
  3. Don't argue with the police officer, but don't admit guilt. Belligerence never helps. (The officer said he let me off with a warning because I was "respectful and nice.")
  4. Call your insurance company. Ask how the ticket would affect your rates, and for how long. Every company will have its own rules. "Just to blindly go in and pay a traffic ticket without knowledge of the long-term consequences is a poor decision," Hollander says. "A person owes it to themselves to get some advice."
  5. Contact a traffic lawyer. Lawyers know the intricacies of police equipment and its operation, and stand a far greater chance of winning your case than you do. In some areas, they may also know whether it's possible to pay without getting points on your record.

In New York, leaving the scene of a minor accident will net you three points, reckless driving will net you five points. But speeding by 31 to 40 mph over the limit will land you eight points. If you're going 41 mph over the limit, you'll get hit with 11 points right off the bat. That's one strike, you're out.

"I recommend fighting every traffic ticket, even if it's a small ticket," says traffic attorney Matthew Weiss of 888RedLight in New York. "The repercussions get exponentially worse."

Traffic lawyers often say they will work for less than the cost of the ticket itself. The Ticket Clinic typically charges $150 to $250 per case.

The second ticket is a killer

A traffic ticket's effect on your auto insurance rates depends on many factors, including the state you live in and which insurance company you use. The more tickets you get and the more serious those tickets are, the more you'll be hurting.

Ticket No. 1

The clock starts running. Most insurers won't raise your rates on a first, garden-variety speeding ticket, and some states won't add points to your license for what they classify as a small offense. For example, in New York state, these include going less than 15 mph over the limit, rolling through a stop sign, making an improper turn, running a red light, and others. But there are always variables -- the points are excused if it's the only ticket you've received in three years. Some states consider periods of five or six years.

Ticket No. 2

The other shoe drops. The first time points are assessed, whether it's from a big speeding ticket or just two minor tickets, drivers are likely to see at least a 5 percent to 20 percent increase in their premiums. If it's two tickets for even a minor at-fault accident, beware: Your insurance company might want to drop you.

Ticket No. 3

Now you're a problem driver. It doesn't take long before the state demands certified proof that you're insured, known as an SR-22. Expect an insurer to double your rates or worse, perhaps even drop you altogether.

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Ticket No. 4 and beyond

Your life is about to change. How many points are you allowed to have on your record in your state before you lose your license? Check your state's department of motor vehicles website, because there's a good chance that if you get three tickets within a single "consideration period," you'll be at your limit. The result: bye-bye, license. And, if your boss needs you to drive, or to have access to the company car, there goes the job, too. Driving records are public.