It is often quicker and easier to pay a traffic ticket than to fight it. This is especially true if the ticket is for a minor traffic violation, like speeding or running a stop sign. But, there are circumstances when contesting a ticket is worth the time and energy.
Some traffic tickets can cost you more than just an expensive fine. Depending on the nature of the citation, you could face:
This section gives information on several aspects of fighting a traffic ticket. You can learn more about:
- When contesting a ticket is a good idea
- The best strategies and defenses to use in traffic court
- Circumstances where you should seek legal help
Getting the Traffic Ticket Dismissed
Do not pay the ticket if you plan to contest it and seek a dismissal. In most states, paying the ticket is an admission of guilt.
A common justification for a ticket dismissal is if the police officer doesn't attend traffic court. The U.S. Constitution grants you the right to confront your accuser, so an officer not appearing in court usually results in an automatic dismissal.
There are a couple of ways to increase your chances of getting a no-show:
- Postpone the court date. Some officers schedule all their court dates for a single day.
- Pick a date closer to the holidays or in summer. Like other professions, police are more likely to have time off or be on vacation during these periods.
Another strategy is to attend traffic school. But, this is not an option for all motorists and violations. There are limits on how often you can attend traffic school (usually once a year). If you are eligible, this is a great option to reduce the penalties of your citation or even get it dismissed entirely. It can also prevent premium increases if approved by your auto insurance company.
Attending traffic school is a less arduous alternative than going to court to fight the ticket. You can expect about six to eight hours of coursework and instruction. Some providers offer an online option you can complete from home. The specifics for traffic school vary from state to state, so it is best to research your state laws first.
Other Strategies for Fighting a Traffic Ticket
Don't rely on the hope that the officer doesn't make the court date. You should still be well prepared with a strong defense in place.
One strategy is to dispute the police officer's opinion and question their subjective judgment. Defendants often use this defense to challenge citations for breaking the posted speed limit under basic speed limit laws.
Another method is to dispute the police officer's evidence. You can do this by having eyewitness statements from others who can confirm your story. Before leaving the citation scene, ask witnesses for their contact information. You can also use diagrams to show what happened and show photos of the scene of the alleged violation.
Another option is to show evidence the traffic violation was a mistake of fact. This means you made an error due to an honest and reasonable belief that you were not breaking the law. For example, making an illegal right turn because the "no right turn sign" was down could be a mistake of fact.
You can also argue that your driving was still safe per road or weather conditions or that it was necessary to prevent harm. An example is making an illegal lane change to avoid an erratic driver. Or driving 35 mph in a 30 mph zone on a wide, clear road with no other motorists or pedestrians nearby.
For more strategies, see 5 Ways to Effectively Fight Traffic Tickets.
What to Expect in Traffic Court
Most states have a separate court to deal with traffic violations, often called "traffic court." Most traffic courts have a specific process and expectations, which can vary by state. In general, here is what you can expect if you decide to challenge a citation in traffic court:
- You will likely get a notice in the mail with the date, time, and location of your court appearance.
- When you appear, expect a formal setting with a traffic judge and likely other drivers contesting their tickets. You may have to wait your turn to state your case.
- You will present your case. This typically involves explaining why you believe the police gave you a ticket in error and showing evidence to support your claims.
- The judge will consider your arguments and evidence and make a decision.
Your challenge may not result in a ticket dismissal as hoped. The decision will depend on the specific circumstances of your citation, your driving record, and the strength of your argument. An attorney can provide valuable legal counsel and help you navigate this process as effectively as possible.
Hiring a Traffic Ticket Lawyer
While most traffic tickets are infractions, minor citations can affect your auto insurance and driving privileges. Most drivers can handle fighting a ticket without an attorney, but getting legal advice is a good idea if you've had multiple traffic citations or you are at risk of a driver's license suspension.
A traffic ticket attorney knowledgeable about local traffic laws can tell you the best strategy for fighting the citation. This could save you an excessive fine, points on your driving record, and increased car insurance rates.
If police have charged you with a misdemeanor or felony traffic violation (like hit and run, DUI, or reckless driving), you should contact a criminal defense attorney. These crimes are often heard in criminal court, and an experienced attorney can help you put up the best defense possible.