The Holy Grail for heavy-footed drivers was born in a whirl of radar detector claims over the past two decades. It goes something like this: "If you ever get a speeding ticket, we'll pay the fine."
At one time or another, various sellers of radar and laser detectors have promised to pick up the tab for ticketed drivers. At first glance, the guarantee might seem to be just one more implausible claim in an industry known for an occasional dubious assertion.
Yet there is more than snake oil to this industry. Some of the "pay your ticket" guarantees perform as promised -- just as some radar and laser detectors do.Companies Actually Pay You
A Kentucky-based retailer of jammers and radar detectors, Bluegrass Radar Detectors, has made the guarantee over the last 22 years and pays out reimbursements to the roughly one customer in 10 who is unfortunate enough to get a speeding ticket and meets the guarantee's fairly liberal guidelines.
And the aptly named "Blinder" laser jammers are sold nationwide with a similar promise: Blinder USA, the U.S. affiliate of Denmark-based Blinder International, has agreed to pay drivers' tickets if police used a laser to clock their speed.
"We will pay it up to 25 miles per hour over the speed limit," said Leon Gruner, president of the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based company. "But it can't involve a DUI, a school zone or anything like that."Not Just Detectors
The concept has found traction outside the radar and laser detector industry, too. The National Motorists Association, based in Waunakee, Wis., will pay the fine for members who lose a speeding case in court under certain specified circumstances.
The association, which was established in 1982, launched its Traffic Justice Program in the 1990s, envisioning it as a member benefit.
It focuses on speeding tickets and is available only to drivers who are current members and have fought the ticket. And they must remain members throughout the entire legal process, from the issuance of the ticket to the levying of the fine.
"They must plead not guilty and take the case to court trial," said Gary Biller, executive director. If they are found guilty, the association will pay up to $300 per year per member. The members have to submit paperwork proving that the trial took place and showing the guilty verdict and the amount of the fine.
One goal is to encourage people to challenge unreasonable speeding tickets. "We believe that people should stand up for themselves," Biller said. "There are way too many people who won't contest a speeding ticket in any shape or form."
"We probably pay in the neighborhood of five or 10 claims per year. It is not as many as you might expect."
One reason is that many of NMA's members join the organization right after they get a speeding ticket. Since they weren't members at the time of the ticket, they don't qualify for the program. But they still can benefit from the organization's information on fighting tickets. Biller said his organization provides free online and telephone consultations to members.Read The Fine Print
Some fine print applies to other "pay your ticket" deals, too. At Bluegrass Radar Detectors, the driver must get the ticket within a year of purchase, but there is no limit on the number of tickets during that period.
The offense can't be more than 15 miles per hour over the limit, however, or involve running a stop sign or other serious violation. "We're interested in helping good, responsible drivers moving with the flow of traffic, not condoning irresponsible driving behavior," the company states on its website.
"One key element is to sell people a good, high-quality radar or laser detector," said Gary Smith, co-owner of Bluegrass Radar Detectors in Lousiville, Ky. "That maximizes the possibility that they won't get a ticket to begin with."A Rogue Element Emerges
In Phoenix, www.snapthisaz.com has a program remarkably free of red tape, although it won't help everyone. In an online contest every month, drivers caught in Arizona's notorious photo radar traps get the opportunity to upload the pictures taken at the time of the incident and returned with the citation.
The competition picks up steam as more pictures of drivers blowing past the camera traps are posted on the site over a one-month period.
During that time, the contestants use email, phone calls and social media to contact friends and acquaintances and ask them to vote for their picture online. The website pays the ticket for the driver with the most votes at the end of the month.
One recent winner collected more than 300 votes, said Jason Christoff, one of the site's founders. The website pays the victors up to $200, which ought to cover most photo radar tickets in Arizona, he said.
"People campaign with links on Facebook and MySpace and use posts on different forums," said co-owner Brandon Nuckolls. "The social networking sites make it possible to really go viral."
The new site has evidently touched a nerve in the area. Shortly after its launch, the site was the subject of a raucous morning radio show, "Holmberg's Morning Sickness," on KUPD in Phoenix. During the program, one caller after another railed against the photo radar systems on area highways.
Dave VonTesmar, the Phoenix-area flight attendant who made national headlines with his own official photo radar snapshot last summer, recently competed in the contest. But he fell short after a respectable effort, Nuckolls said.
Police have accused VonTesmar of driving through photo radar traps wearing a monkey mask to hide his identity.Given the widespread citizen anger over photo radar systems, the partners at www.snapthisaz.com say the concept may have potential nationwide.