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Traffic Tickets Overview

More than 90 percent of the people in this country age 16 or older are licensed to drive, and there is more than one car registered for each one of them. These figures translate into trillions of miles driven each year with millions of traffic infractions, making traffic control an issue of immense proportions. The first traffic laws and regulations began to appear in the 1920s, and they now constitute a huge part of most state codes.

What follows is a general overview of traffic tickets and the underlying legal aspects of traffic citations, including an explanation of the information typically included on a written citation. 

Traffic Tickets: Strict Liability Offenses

The majority of traffic tickets are issued for "strict-liability" offenses. This means that no particular criminal intent is required to convict a person of the offense. The only proof needed is that the person did the prohibited act. Strict-liability traffic offenses typically include such offenses as:

  • Speeding
  • Failure to use turn signals
  • Failure to yield
  • Turning into the wrong lane
  • Driving a car with burned-out headlights
  • Parking in a handicap spot without the required sticker, and
  • Overdue parking meters.

Moving Violations vs. Non-Moving Violations

A moving violation occurs whenever a traffic law is violated by a vehicle in motion. Some examples of moving violations are speeding, running a stop sign or red light, and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A non-moving violation, by contrast, is usually related to parking or faulty equipment. Examples include parking in front of a fire hydrant, parking too close to the curb, parking in a no-parking zone, parking in front of an expired meter, and excessive muffler noise.

Processing Traffic Tickets

Many jurisdictions provide for administrative processing of most traffic tickets as minor offenses or "infractions," thereby removing them from criminal court altogether. In those cases, an offender is not subject to incarceration or large fines and is not entitled to a lawyer or a jury trial. Even though most traffic tickets are handled in an expeditious manner in the court system, a "conviction" for a traffic infraction can have a negative effect on a person's driving privileges, and insurance rates.

Certain traffic violations are considered more serious than infractions and can rise to the level of a misdemeanor crime (or felony), especially if the offense involves injury to a person or destruction of property (such as a DUI or leaving the scene of an accident). People accused of these more serious traffic violations are entitled to all constitutional protections provided to criminal defendants, including the right to a court-appointed attorney and a jury trial.

Information Included on Your Traffic Ticket

It is helpful to know what kind of information is included on a traffic ticket when you have been cited for a traffic violation. Traffic tickets vary by jurisdiction, but generally contain the same basic items. Extra information, such as the amount of your fine and eligibility for traffic school, often is sent in the mail with your court summons.

The following is an overview of the types of information you are likely to find on your traffic ticket:

1. Vehicle Info

The officer will write down the make/model, color, license plate number, and registration number of your automobile. Then he or she will call in this information, in addition to your driver's license, to check for outstanding warrants.

2. Time/Place of the Alleged Offense

This includes the date, time, and exact location of the alleged offense. Although it is possible to raise a defense based on mistakes made by an officer with the information on a ticket, it is important to note that mistaken information on a ticket does not automatically result in a ticket being dismissed.

3. Violation

Usually, a ticket will provide a description of the offense (for instance, "failure to stop at a red light") in addition to the vehicle code section that was violated. This gives you an opportunity to do some online research into common defenses and/or fine amounts before the summons and courtesy reminder arrives in the mail. In many jurisdictions, it is the motorist's responsibility to take care of a traffic ticket, even if the court is late mailing the fine notice and summons.

Although it often is not made available until the mailed notice and summons arrive, information on a traffic ticket may include a notice of whether or not you may contest the ticket in a court hearing.

4. Officer Identification

The officer who wrote the ticket must indicate his or her name and badge number, along with a signature. If you decide to contest the ticket, the officer also will have the opportunity to assert the integrity of the charges and other information included on the traffic ticket.

Traffic Tickets: Get Help Now

Even good, safety-focused drivers can be charged with a traffic violation. If you have been charged with breaking a traffic law and would like to learn more about your rights to "fight" the ticket, the best place to start is to speak with an experienced traffic ticket attorney in your area.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified traffic ticket attorney to help you get the best result possible.

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  • Complex traffic tickets usually require a lawyer
  • Experienced lawyers can seek to reduce or eliminate penalties
  • A lawyer can help you keep your license

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