What do I do if I’m stopped by a law enforcement officer for a traffic violation in Maryland? One thing’s for sure – you will have little time to make an informed decision. You may have to make a decision on the spot as to whether to plead guilty or request a court date to contest the charge. Here’s what you need to know in case this ever happens to you:

1) You should always check the box for a hearing and always request that the officer be present for the hearing. If you plead guilty and pay the fine, you will be convicted and it will cost you points on your driving record. Federal law also requires every state to report all convictions for CDL holders to the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS). On other hand, if you choose the “court appearance,” you will have the opportunity to hire a lawyer and work for a different outcome. Above all else, be careful what you say to the officer during the stop as it may be used against you at the trial.

2) A conviction is usually much more costly than just the fine itself. Consider the other possible outcomes – points on your driver’s record, increased insurance rates, harm to your credit score, and even loss of employment. On the other hand, if you choose the court appearance, you may be able to obtain counsel and fight for the best solution. Depending on the circumstances, an attorney can usually help you get better results, results that can keep you from being convicted.

3) If you have a commercial driver’s license, you should be especially careful. Violations by commercial drivers are taken very seriously. In addition to penalties and point assessments in state laws, traffic violations have serious federal consequences. For example, if you are convicted of two serious traffic violations from separate incidents within a three-year period, federal law will disqualify you from driving for 60 days. Traffic convictions on your record may also prevent you from getting raises or promotions and some employers will terminate drivers for traffic violations. Plus, a potential new employer who reviews a driver’s history and sees a record of traffic violations may think twice before hiring you. Traffic convictions can raise your insurance rates, or the rates of the company that employs you, and this is why traffic convictions have such a serious effect on employment.

4) Your driving record is extremely valuable, even though most people don’t realize it. The premium you pay for your insurance is based on multiple variables and by far the most important variable is your driving record. Any conviction, even for minor infractions, can show up on your driving record. Then your insurance company may raise your rates and they can stay elevated for 3-5 years. Over this time, you may literally pay thousands of dollars in additional premiums. But if I am successful in reducing or eliminating your Maryland citation, your insurance company will not raise your premium.