Though most drivers face some sort of traffic ticket in their lives, knowing how to deal with the ticket can be confusing and concerning. With consequences that range from a stiff fine to higher insurance premiums or even the suspension of your driver’s license, you want to make sure you plan your response thoughtfully and with the help of those who understand the system.
We’re here to help you deal with your traffic ticket as quickly and easily, and with as little expense, as possible so that you can get back on the roads and back to your life.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What kinds of fines could I be facing?
- Should I just pay my fine?
- Could I go to jail as a result of my ticket?
- Will my insurance rates go up because of my ticket?
- Can I lose my license as a result of my ticket?
- How does the points system work?
- What is traffic school and is it a good idea for me?
- Can a police officer search my car during a traffic stop?
Answer: States normally have standard fines for particular violations, generally between $75 and $300. In speeding cases, the fine can be based on how much you exceeded the posted speed limit. Some states can also set the fine based, at least in part, on whether you have other recent violations.
If the fine isn’t written or printed on the ticket, you can find out the amount by calling the traffic court.
Answer: The courts would love that. The courts have established “no muss, no fuss” options to pay your fine (often called “forfeiting bail”) and placed hurdles in the way of court hearings because it’s expensive for the state to hear traffic violation cases.
Paying the fine, however, can have lasting negative consequences as the violation will appear on your driving record, normally for about three years, which can impact your insurance rate. You can call your insurance company and ask about how paying or fighting a ticket might impact your rates, but you might want to do so anonymously, posing as someone considering buying a policy from them, so that you can gather information without alerting your agent that you’ve received a ticket.
Answer: Only those convicted of the more serious traffic violations – such as drunk or reckless driving – face the possibility of going to jail. State laws do not allow a judge to impose a jail sentence for speeding or failure to stop at a signal. Even where laws do give a judge the discretionary power to jail a traffic offender (sometimes a repeat offender), he will very rarely choose to exercise it.
Answer: This will depend on your state law, your insurance company’s policies and the nature of your ticket.
If you have one ordinary moving violation in a three to five year span, your rates will normally not increase. But two or more moving violations — or a moving violation combined with an at-fault accident — during the same time period might result in an increase in your insurance bill.
Because each insurance company has its own policies of rate increases, we recommend calling your agent to discuss the outcomes of paying a ticket fine or fighting in court.
Answer: In most states, suspensions are handled on a point system with a license at risk of being pulled if a driver gets three or more tickets in a short period. Check exact rules with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
No matter what type of point system is used, you are typically entitled to a hearing in front of a Motor Vehicle Bureau hearing officer before your license can be revoked. At that hearing it is often a good idea to explain why at least some of the violations were the result of mistakes by the ticketing officer, but for some good reason you didn’t fight the ticket. It also helps to explain the specific steps you’ve taken to drive more carefully and safely since the violations.
In states that assess points for accidents, this may be your first opportunity to show the accident wasn’t your fault, was difficult to avoid or was not part of an ongoing pattern of bad driving. Be prepared to do just that. Also, tell the hearing officers if it is essential that you commute to work or actually drive for your job, particularly if you will lose your job if you lose your license. Finally, if you drive 15,000 miles a year or more, you should mention this as well. Argue that since you drive more than average, your chances of getting tickets or having an accident are also above average.
It’s worth noting that in some states, even lesser violations by minor drivers (those under the age of 18) can be grounds for revoking driving privileges.
Answer: In a nutshell, points for each moving violation. A driver who gets too many points in too short a time loses his license. In some states, points are also assessed for accidents, even if no court has found you to be at fault. While the details vary from state to state, most systems typically work like this:
State A: Each ordinary moving violation counts as a single point, except for cases in which the driver’s speed greatly exceeds the posted speed limit, which counts as two points. A license is suspended when a driver receives four points in a year, six in two years, or eight in three years.
State B: Two points are assessed for what are classified as minor violations (an illegal turn or slightly exceeding the speed limit), with three, four or five points assigned for more serious violations, like illegally running a stop sign or speeding. A license is suspended if a driver gets 12 points over three years.
Answer: Almost every state allows a person ticketed for some types of moving violations to attend a 6-to-8 hour course in traffic safety in exchange for having the ticket officially wiped from their record. Often attending traffic school is your best choice, even if you think you have a watertight defense. After all, while a trial is always something of a gamble, traffic school is 100% reliable in keeping the violation off your record. (As long as you remember to set your alarm clock, of course, and make it to the class.)
Policies on allowing you to eliminate a ticket from your record by going to traffic school vary from state to state. (They can also occasionally vary within a state, where local courts have some discretion to set their own policies.) For example, in some states you can attend traffic school once a year, while in others you must wait 18 to 24 months before you can eliminate a new ticket with a new trip to traffic school. And in some states, you aren’t eligible for traffic school if you’re ticketed for exceeding the speed limit by more than 15 or 20 miles per hour.
Procedures for getting into traffic school also vary from place to place. Most courts allow you to sign up through the court clerk, but a few require that you appear before a judge to make your request. How a traffic school attendee’s ticket is handled is also different in different areas. For example, in some states, courts dismiss your case when proof is received that you’ve completed traffic school. In other states, courts require you to pay your fine (forfeit bail) with the understanding that the conviction will not be placed on your record if you complete traffic school by a prearranged deadline. Under this system you must pay twice — once for the fine and again for the school.
Some states even allow attendance through internet-based traffic schools, but this isn’t wide spread yet. Be sure to check that the traffic school you plan to attend is approved by your state’s court BEFORE paying the traffic school fee.
Answer: There isn’t a black or white answer.
On the one hand, the officer can’t set to work on your car just because he has a hunch that you are a Bad Sort. Before he starts searching, he must notice something more tangible, like the scent of marijuana smoke. If you’re acting evasively, such as by keeping your hands out of the officer’s view, a judge might also conclude that the officer was justified in doing the search.
Unfortunately, there is a loophole here that you could drive several squad cars through. If you let the officer search you or your car, then the search will normally be considered valid — even if there were no solid reasons behind the officer’s request. Many people don’t realize that they can refuse a search. As you no doubt know, it’s not easy to say “no” to someone who is wearing a gun and scary reflective glasses. But when we don’t even know our rights, it becomes that much easier for an authority figure to trample on them.