Traffic Ticket Law - Handbook

How to Handle a Traffic Ticket And How To Get Out of It Legally

Thousands of traffic tickets are doled out by law enforcement every day. Many of these tickets are paid without another thought. However, traffic tickets can have an adverse effect on your life. Additionally, there may be opportunities for you to fight such tickets and avoid these negative consequences.

Categories of Traffic Tickets

State and local laws determine traffic laws and regulations, so how a traffic ticket is treated can vary by jurisdiction. Generally, traffic tickets can be broken down into three categories:

City Ordinance Violation

This type of violation is often due to a photo enforcement system or other device that helps identify infractions. Parking tickets are another example of city ordinance violations. Often, insurance companies do not have access to this information and it will not show up in your driving record. If a ticket goes unpaid, it may be reported to a credit reporting agency. However, many of the other consequences discussed later in this handbook may not apply.

Civil Infraction

This type of ticket may involve a court hearing. However, often such hearings are only optional and a person can avoid having to make a court appearance by paying the fine or otherwise corresponding through the mail. This type of ticket is common in cases of speeding, driving past a stop sign or other minor traffic offenses. In contrast to a city ordinance violation, a civil infraction often does show up on a driving history report and may result in points added to a driving report.

Traffic Misdemeanor

This type of ticket is usually more serious and has more serious repercussions attached to a guilty finding, including jail time, community service, larger fines and suspension of driving privileges. If convicted of a traffic misdemeanor, this information can be added to a person's criminal record, which can be viewed by insurance companies, potential employers and others. Traffic misdemeanors may result from reckless driving, excessive speeding or DUI.

Common Types of Traffic Tickets

Some of the most common types of traffic tickets include:

Parking Tickets

Individuals can receive a parking ticket for a number of reasons. They may have parked illegally in a loading zone or handicapped spot. They may have parked in the wrong direction or too far from the curb. They may have failed to pay or repay the meter.


A speeding ticket is one of the most common reasons for a moving violation. A person can receive a speeding ticket for going even one mile over the posted speed limit. Additionally, a person may even receive a speeding ticket even if he or she is going the speed limit but extraneous circumstances call for reduced speed, such as the weather.  

Red Light or Stop Sign

Individuals can receive tickets if they run a red light or stop sign.

Driving Without Insurance

Most states require drivers to carry at least liability coverage in case they cause an accident.

Driving Without a License

A person may receive this ticket if he or she is driving without being licensed or driving on a suspended or revoked license.

Distracted Driving

Due to the high number of accidents involving cell phones and other forms of distracted driving, cities and states across the country have responded by passing laws that prohibit distracted driving and that increase the punishment for driving in a distracted state.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving occurs when a person drives in such a manner that he or she exhibits a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. This may include driving on the wrong side of the road, driving at excessive speeds, weaving in and out of traffic or other acts that are likely to cause harm to others.

Leaving the Scene of an Accident

Leaving the scene of an accident can be a very serious crime, especially if the accident involved injury.

Consequences of Traffic Tickets

The potential consequences of receiving a traffic ticket depend on the type of ticket and any previous incident of tickets. Some of the potential consequences include:

Points on Your Driving Record

Many states operate under a point system. You can accumulate points for driving violations. If you accumulate too many points, you can lose your driver's license or face higher insurance rates. Non-moving violations usually do not result in points added to your driving record. To keep up with the points you have accumulated and to know when you are reaching a danger zone, order your driving history periodically from your local Department of Motor Vehicles.

Action against Your Driver's License

Depending on the type of violation and your driving history, you may risk having your license suspended or revoked. Some types of violations that may result in an automatic suspension of your driver's license include:

·Violations that endanger pedestrians
·Causing a serious accident
·Extreme speeding or recklessness

Higher Insurance Rates or Loss of Insurance

With more points, you may face higher rates. Your insurance policy may state that it can drop you if you go over a certain number of points. Most states require drivers to carry a minimum amount of insurance to at least protect against liability. Additionally, state laws usually require the driver to have car insurance information with him or her when driving. If you received a no-insurance ticket, you will likely be required to pay much higher rates by the next insurance company that provides you with insurance.

Traffic School

You may also be required to attend traffic school or take defense driving classes. This requirement may interfere with your job or social life.


You will likely be required to pay a fine. Higher fines will likely be imposed for more serious violations or repeat offenses.

Additional Traffic Court Requirements

The traffic court that decides the case may impose additional requirements with which you must comply. If you fail to obey the court's orders, you risk being found in contempt and may face jail time as a result.

Fighting the Ticket

If you believe that you received a ticket in error or you otherwise have grounds to contest the ticket, you can attend the hearing to fight the ticket in court. You may wish to retain a lawyer to help you with this task and to receive guidance through the legal process. If the judge rules in your favor, you will not be required to pay the fine and will not accumulate points on your driving record. Some potential defenses include:

You Didn't Commit the Infraction

This defense is most common in cases in which a red light camera or similar device captured your vehicle running a red light or speeding If you were not driving at the time, there are usually instructions on the notice that you receive about the violation that explain how to contest the ticket. You may be required to provide proof that you were not in the vehicle, such as showing that you were somewhere else at the time the photo was taken.

The Officer Didn't Show Up

Constitutionally, you have the right to confront your accuser. Your state may require the police officer who issued the ticket to show up at court. If you show up and the officer does not, the judge may dismiss the case.

Radar Gun Was Inaccurate

If you believe that you were not speeding at the time when you were issued a speeding ticket, the case will likely be a he-said, she-said and the judge may find the officer more credible. However, positively showing that the radar gun was inaccurate or had not been calibrated recently may call into question to accuracy of this result. In order to accomplish this feat, you will need to acquire the calibration records for the radar gun prior to the hearing. A traffic attorney can assist with the process of acquiring evidence to defend your case.

Subjective Challenge

Because many traffic stops are the result of a law enforcement officer's subjective conclusions, one way to contest the ticket is to challenge this aspect. For example, if a law enforcement officer cited you for speeding but you only sped to avoid getting in an accident, the officer's belief that you were driving in an unsafe manner. If the law enforcement officer was not in a position to truly understand the circumstances, such as being on the other side of the road or there was heavy traffic obstructing his or her view, this defense may help convince the fact finder of its veracity.

Justifiable Action

Another potential defense is when you acted in an illegal manner but your actions were justified given the circumstances. For example, you may have to drive into an intersection if an emergency vehicle is behind you. You may go under the minimum speed limit because you are preparing to turn. If a passenger was experiencing a medical emergency, this may also justify your action.

Mistake of Fact

This argument is usually made on a technicality. It is based on a person making an innocent mistake related to the facts surrounding the issue. This is not the same as mistake of law. A mistake of fact defense may be used when factual issues were not available to the defendant. For example, the defendant may run a stop sign because it is covered by shrubbery. A driver may go over the line at an intersection because it is faded. This defense will only apply if the driver did not have notice of these conditions. If he or she has driven on the road many times and knew that a stop sign was there, this defense will likely not work.

Preparing Your Case

It is often not enough to simply show up at court. Be prepared with evidence that supports your version of events, such as pictures that show the shrubbery covering the sign or payroll records that show you were working at the time the red light camera snapped a picture. A weather report may also help substantiate your claims.

Hiring a Lawyer

Deciding on whether or not to hire a lawyer depends on a number of factors. However, it is usually determined by whether the cost to hire a lawyer is greater than the cost of a guilty verdict. If being found guilty of the specific offense can result in jail time, it is often worth it to hire an attorney to help fight the ticket. You may reach the same conclusion if you risk losing your driver's license.

In other cases, you may wish to hire a lawyer if you believe that the overall monetary cost of hiring a lawyer offsets the possible monetary impact. For example, if being found guilty will result in higher insurance premiums for a prolonged period of time, it may be less expensive to fight the ticket with the help of a lawyer than to pay higher premiums by simply pleading guilty.

Minimizing Consequences

If you would like to minimize the consequences of receiving a ticket without actually fighting it, there may be several options. For example, some jurisdictions allow individuals to attend a defense driving course to avoid receiving any tickets or possibly to dismiss the ticket. You may still be required to pay the fine.

If the ticket that you received was for an equipment violation, showing proof that you have fixed this condition may help reduce the fine that you receive.

Paying the Ticket

After reviewing the information in this handbook, you may decide to simply pay the ticket. Carefully read over the information on the ticket. It will likely contain the name of the law enforcement agency that is handling the ticket and a court date, time and location. There should be instructions on how to pay the ticket or a number to call for more information. Some jurisdictions allow you to pay a traffic ticket online while others require you to mail the ticket find and sign that you are pleading guilty to the appropriate agency or traffic court.

Ensure that you make a timely payment. If you cannot afford the entire cost of the ticket, you may need to go to the hearing and request a payment plan from the judge.


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