Traffic

Willing to bet on yourself? Deferring that traffic violation may be just what you need

Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Linderman speaks to a motorist after a traffic stop in November 2010. Drivers who receive traffic tickets often can have the violation deferred, betting on themselves that they won’t commit another infraction for a year.
Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputy Keith Linderman speaks to a motorist after a traffic stop in November 2010. Drivers who receive traffic tickets often can have the violation deferred, betting on themselves that they won’t commit another infraction for a year. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Question: I just got a speeding ticket. How do I get it deferred? Is that a good idea?

Answer: For some drivers, deferring a traffic infraction makes sense; for others, not so much. It depends on the kind of driver you are. I have a little quiz that can help, but first let’s explain what it means to defer a traffic infraction.

For those of you who have been given an infraction, you may recall that the ticket you received listed several options on how to respond.

▪ Option one: “I have enclosed a check or money order.” This is like saying, “Yep, I did it. And I don’t even have an excuse.”

▪ Option two: “Mitigation hearing.” By choosing this option you’re saying, Yeah, I did it, but I have a pretty good excuse, and I’d like to explain.”

▪ Option three: “Contested Hearing.” This is the option to pick if you’re not guilty and you have the evidence to prove it. By the way, statements like, “I was just keeping up with traffic” and “I didn’t see the speed limit sign” are not evidence; they’re excuses. And not very good ones.

There is a fourth option not listed on the infraction: Request a deferral. A deferral is similar to option one, in that with a deferral you also admit that you committed the violation.

However, by requesting a deferral you’re asking that the court defer judgment for one year to give you time to demonstrate that you’re a good driver who just made a mistake. After one year, if you haven’t received any other traffic infractions, your infraction is dismissed and it doesn’t show up on your driving record.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? With a deal like that, why doesn’t everyone request a deferral for every ticket? I can give you several reasons:

▪ Requesting a deferral doesn’t automatically mean you get it. The court reviews each request and makes a determination.

▪ Deferrals aren’t free. If you are granted a deferral and keep your record clean for a year, you don’t have to pay your original fine. However, you do have to pay an administrative fee at the time the deferral is granted. The administrative fee varies between jurisdictions, but it’s not cheap. For example, in Whatcom County District Court that fee is $175, which is more than the fine for speeding 15 mph over the speed limit.

▪ Deferrals are limited. You can only have one deferral every seven years for a moving violation and one every seven years for a non-moving violation.

▪ They only apply to infractions. Some violations, for example impaired driving and reckless driving, are criminal violations and have a different set of rules.

Now for the quiz. Don’t worry, it’s only one question: How likely are you to get another ticket in the next year?

If your answer is, “Almost guaranteed, I’m a terrible driver,” then a deferral is probably not for you.

If, however, this ticket was an abnormality in an otherwise stellar driving history, getting it deferred might be a good way to keep that driving record spotless.

Sometimes a driver with a few speeding tickets chooses a deferral to prevent being dropped by his or her insurance company. This is a risky choice, as the best indicator of future performance is past behavior. But if having a deferred finding hanging over you for a year encourages you to drive better, I wish you all the best in your efforts.

The process for requesting a deferral varies a bit from one court to the next, but the overall concept is similar. You must contact the court listed on your ticket and make your request for a deferred finding. If a judge grants a deferral, you’ll need to pay the administrative fee. Failure to pay the fee will result in a finding that you committed the violation and it will go on your driving record.

Some courts allow a request for deferral online; some require you to come to a hearing. To make sure you get it right, check with the court listed on your ticket for their procedures.

By deferring an infraction, you are betting on yourself. If you stay out of traffic trouble for a year, you keep the infraction off your driving record and you’ve only paid the administrative fee. But if you get another ticket in that one year period, you’ll be required to pay, in addition to the administrative fee, the full amount of the infraction you originally deferred, plus the fine for the new ticket.

If you end up choosing to request a deferral, let me be the first to encourage you to obey the traffic laws, avoid another infraction and win that bet with yourself.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. For more traffic safety information visit TheWiseDrive.com. Ask a question.

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