Never Pay a Speeding Ticket Again?

DESCRIPTIONPhoto: alicegop

A couple weeks ago, I became briefly fascinated and somewhat appalled by the appearance of a new Internet business that offered a sort of insurance against speeding tickets. In return for an annual fee of $169, ticketfree.org promised to reimburse you for the costs of up to $500 in moving violations. Its webpage enthused:

  • We don’t promise that you won’t get a ticket; we just promise that you won’t have to pay for it.
  • Never pay another ticket again. Period!
  • Never pay late fees on tickets.
  • Never worry about speed traps or radar while driving.
  • Never need an expensive ticket lawyer.
  • Never have a take a day off work to fight a ticket.

The first reaction of any economist would be that ticketfree.org faces an enormous moral hazard problem. People who are insured against the cost of speeding tickets are more likely to speed. To be a viable business, the insurer has to hope that the hassle of being stopped, incurring “points” toward the suspension of your license or “demerits” on your auto insurance, and the cap of $500 will stop the average person from receiving more than $169 (the premium) in annual tickets.  (Ticketfree.org was smart not to cover parking tickets. Because parking tickets don’t result in the hassle of a police stop or the accumulation of “points” like speeding tickets do, people like me would react to parking insurance by massively increasing the number of our parking violations.)

The first reaction of any lawyer would be that ticketfree.org faces an enormous set of legal risks. Can you imagine the tort lawsuit that would arise if a ticketfree.org customer killed someone while speeding? This is a contract that is likely to be void against public policy.

The company was not blind to these moral and legal issues. The promotion materials made clear that the intent was not to induce reckless driving, and the terms of use excluded from coverage a variety of more flagrant offenses:

Drug or alcohol related matters, hit-and-run related charges and unmeritorious cases are excluded from membership coverage. Also, the service does not apply to incidents involving manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, or vehicular homicide. Also excluded are acts or omissions performed in the commission of any crime under the laws of any jurisdiction.

The exclusion for “unmeritorious cases” is an unfortunately imprecise phrase. I imagine that ticketfree.org intended to exclude unmeritorious claims — that is, claims for which the insured was not in fact ticketed — but it might be interpreted to mean that if the police bring an unmeritorious case against a ticketfree.org client, the company has no duty to reimburse.

But the larger question is whether the law should countenance contractual attempts to blunt the deterrence effect of criminal law. Barry Nalebuff and I once defended Acme Rental Car (in a New York Times op-ed) when it tried to charge renters an extra fee of $150 if they were caught speeding while driving an Acme rental. In our minds, supplementing a state speeding penalty is just fine because neither the state nor Acme wants renters to speed.

Ticketfree.org was doing the opposite. For a fee, they were reducing the marginal cost of speeding and hence exposing the general public to more dangerous driving behavior. (I’ve written about a similar flipping with regard to gasoline prices. In a world where overconsumption of gasoline has negative geopolitical and environmental impacts, it would be appalling to let consumers buy gasoline insurance that let them drive as much as they want at a subsidized price. But GM and others have come close to this when they’ve offered to subsidize gas prices if you buy a new car from them. It is much better to offer to pay people a “prebate” if they will agree to a higher marginal gas price.)

The law traditionally prohibits insurance for intentional wrong doing. The terms of use are too cute by half when they claim:

Ticketfree.org is not an insurance company. It is an auto club.

Mere characterization should not be sufficient to avoid the application of common sense requirements for the provision of insurance.

But speeders beware before you click through and try to sign up. The ticketfree.org site is no longer live. While I was writing this post, the nicely appointed pages were abruptly taken down and the URL is no longer active. My emails and phone messages to their customer service department remain unanswered. Was it an elaborate hoax? Inquiring minds want to know: what caused ticketfree.org to close its virtual doors? I guess some ideas are too good to be true. (We will happily send some Freakonomics swag to the commenter with the best info on the company’s current status and what brought about its demise.)

(Hat tip: Peter Siegelman)


Ben Sauer

You take as a given that eliminating speeding is a good thing which many people disagree with. Rather it's just an tradeoff question which different parameters in different places. If I could get insurance in Oregon against the risk of being required to drive 65 on roads that are safe for 80 that's very different from getting insurance to drive 40 through a residential zone in Salt Lake.
Further, I believe speeding is not "criminalized" any where any more as a way around needing to have rights for the accused.

AJ

"they were reducing the marginal cost of speeding and hence exposing the general public to more dangerous driving behavior"

You can keep repeating this, but it will not make it true.

peterg

"Also excluded are acts or omissions performed in the commission of any crime under the laws of any jurisdiction"

Well, isn't speeding a crime under the laws of any jurisdiction?

Hank

Scam!
Morality aside, that website was definitely attempting to con people. Looks like you chased them away. A search of domain ownership reveals an address in Portugal, which has been linked to a number of other illegitimate sites.

David

The website is registered to a cybersquatter named Domain Discreet based out of Portugal. I can think of three options: 1) scam company was actually using the site and was shut down, 2) hoax and 3) someone did not pay their bill. In my opinion, this is similar to car window etching scam sold a car dealerships recently. The underlying contract is illigal. They will sit back and collect payments and refuse to perform.

Domain ID:D157468991-LROR
Domain Name:TICKETFREE.ORG
Created On:29-Oct-2009 18:40:53 UTC
Last Updated On:18-Aug-2010 15:44:44 UTC
Expiration Date:29-Oct-2010 18:40:53 UTC
Sponsoring Registrar:Ranger Registration (Madeira) LLC (R80-LROR)
Status:CLIENT TRANSFER PROHIBITED
Registrant ID:5762950df9625370
Registrant Name:Domain Discreet
Registrant Organization:ATTN: ticketfree.org
Registrant Street1:Rua Dr. Brito Camara, n 20, 1
Registrant Street2:
Registrant Street3:
Registrant City:Funchal
Registrant State/Province:Madeira
Registrant Postal Code:9000-039
Registrant Country:PT
Registrant Phone:+361.19027495331
Registrant Phone Ext.:
Registrant FAX:
Registrant FAX Ext.:
Registrant Email:

Read more...

Will

@peterg Speeding isn't a crime. It's a violation or citation. Crimes are committed against either person or property.

If you can make the argument stick that the act of speeding is a crime against the government's road, quickly go to law school...

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

To never have responsibility for your actions and the repercussions is to live DANGEROUSLY.

How long before a client kills himself or others going too fast through a trecherous road in blinding weather? Pain is a good thing...it gives us needed feedback.

Will

I'm not looking for free swag...just simply stating that register.com, which controls the domaindiscreet.com servers, likely shut down the site due to a violation of its service agreement.

Eric M. Jones

Recently I met with a business client whose product I sell. When a customer Googles THEIR product, my website comes up first. They have trouble getting on the first Google page (A BIG problem). They asked me why...."it's that LIDAR ticket download", I told them.

My website is top-rated by Google because of the PDF downloads of "How I beat a LIDAR speeding ticket ".

You are all welcome to it:

www.periheliondesign.com/downloads/speeding_ticket.pdf

Robin

Even if it wasn't a scam, I'd expect this company to go out of business very quickly. One or two tickets a year per customer would render them profitless, and the customers that gravitate to them will be serial offenders.

P

Canadian Ticketfree operates on a simple membership plan whereby an annual fee covers the costs of any tickets members get over the course of that year. A membership fee of USD 169 covers all speeding tickets for a year, up to a maximum of USD 600; for USD 299, red-light and photo-radar tickets are covered as well, up to a cap of USD 900; and a USD 449 fee buys coverage for all of the above plus parking and equipment tickets too, up to a maximum total of USD 1,200. Upon receiving a qualifying ticket, members simply visit the Ticketfree site and enter the details; the company will then pay the associated fine and send the member a confirmation email. Not covered by Ticketfree are DUI and other violations resulting from dangerous behaviour, the company says. http://www.springwise.com/transportation/ticketfree/

P

TicketFree Canada is still live (address says Edmonton, AB) - http://ticketfree01.businesscatalyst.com/home

Think it was a scheme to increase the value of the domain?

Vin

Comment #1 raises an interesting point. I have always considered it ironic that, frankly, speeding laws are enforced far more stringently in places where speeding is not problematic. You are far more likely to be pulled over and ticketed for going 80 on a desolate rural interstate than for going 40 on a narrow side street in Brooklyn. Further, not only are you more likely to to be ticketed, but receive points on your license and insurance trouble for 80 on a rural interstate, because you were going faster, in an absolute sense.

This is patently unfair, and stupid. Frankly, going 80 on a grade-separated highway in the middle of nowhere is pretty safe. There are no pedestrians, there is very little traffic. On the other hand, going 40 on a dense residential street in a city is most emphatically not safe - a kid could dart into the street, a car could pull out of a parking space, you don't know. I generally believe that our traffic laws ought to be more stringent, but they also ought to do a better job of considering context, which is very important while driving and yet hardly comes up in the rules governing it.

Read more...

Steve

If you look inside Google's cache (http://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Aticketfree.org), you can see "Member Testimonials" (text and video) as well as the tiered pricing options:

MINI $169 Basic coverage from pull-over speeding tickets. Suitable for very cautious drivers.

CLASSIC $299 Best value for the average motorist. Covers all speeding tickets, red light tickets and radar.

ENTHUSIAST $449 Designed for true car-enthusiasts, this includes additional tint and after-market coverage.

Steve

Their phone (1-866-744-0524) makes you wait a few minutes, then goes to voice mail.

Transplanted Lawyer

@Will, you wrote Speeding isn't a crime. It's a violation or citation. Crimes are committed against either person or property.

This is incorrect. Perjury is a crime. It is not committed against either a person or property; rather, the victim is the justice system.

It is also incorrect to say that speeding isn't a crime. It is. For most speeders, at most speeds, it is a kind of crime classified as an "infraction," which is a level below that of "misdemeanor." There are, however, misdemeanor and even felony levels of speeding. Like other crimes, the crime of speeding must be handled through the process of arraignments and trial, at which time the state bears the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. (Radar or LIDAR usually does that.)

GunClinginPennsylvanian

@7

"Pain is needed feedback" that occurs when I exceed the performance limits of my vehicle, and wrap it around a tree or ride it rubber-side-up through a curve.

I fail to see how adding to someone's municipal budget because I'm going faster than they would *like* me to go is at all neccessary for me.

Traffic Lawyer

Ticketfree.org is not the first company to offer traffic ticket insurance.

The National Motorist Association (NMA) has a similar program for speeding ticket fines and they are not a fly-by-night. The NMA program covers up to $300 per year and offers various justifications for this program. Individual membership is only $35 per year. http://www.motorists.org/traffic-justice/

They write:

Get Your Speeding Ticket Paid For In Three Easy Steps

This program is only available for NMA Members.

1. Plead not guilty and fight your ticket in court.
2. Submit to NMA a readable copy of the original ticket, the receipt from the Clerk of Court for the amount of the ticket and court costs, and the court confirmation of a trial having been conducted with a "guilty" verdict indicated.
3. Cash your check from the NMA.

Why Did You Start This Program?

The traffic ticket system is broken and one way to force change is to make it unprofitable for cities to give them out.

The cities are counting on people just paying them the money. They set budgets that rely on that ticket money and it's to their advantage to do everything they can to inconvenience people who want to fight their ticket in court.

The NMA realizes this and we're offering this program to encourage people to stand up for their rights, fight their tickets, and help us change the system so that it focuses on improving safety instead of generating revenue.
What's The Catch?

You must be a member of the National Motorists Association when you receive the ticket and when you request payment. You must plead not guilty, take the case through a court trial and be found guilty.

Important Notes:

1. This program is restricted to speeding tickets.
2. A plea bargain voids eligibility.
3. One ticket per member will be paid each membership year (max. payment of $300).
4. "Trial by Declaration" does not qualify as a "court trial."
5. Legal fees for attorneys are not eligible for payment under this program.
6. If a lower court decision is appealed and produces a guilty verdict, payment will be made at the conclusion of the appeal.

Will The NMA Make It Impossible To Qualify For The Program?

No. It's as simple as it sounds. The entire list of rules is explained above. That's all there is to it.

This isn't like a mail-in rebate. We're not looking for reasons to deny your claim. We genuinely want people to fight their speeding tickets and we will reward those who do so.

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David Chowes, New York City

On average, the insurance company is the winner -- as they always are.

They are not concerned about anything other than profit and lose.

jim

Even if the site were still available, I would turn the other way simply due to the "company" not being careful enough with their website text. Again, from the Google cache:

"If you are worried about late fees, or your just one of those people "

Please tell me "your" not one of those people who doesn't know a contraction from a possessive!