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Traffic Tickets: What to Know

Traffic law enforcement is essential for public safety. Still, traffic tickets can be a source of confusion and frustration for drivers. This article provides a general overview of traffic ticket basics.

Read on to learn more about the following:

Traffic Infractions: A Brief History

The first traffic laws began to appear in the 1920s. The need for set traffic rules coincided with the rise of automobiles and the need for regulations to keep public roadways safe.

Traffic ticketing systems continue to evolve. As technology advanced, printed citations replaced handwritten tickets. This transition made the ticketing process faster and more efficient. Later, automated systems like radar guns were introduced to better enforce the speed limit.

Traffic ticketing is now more sophisticated, with the introduction of digital systems and electronic databases. This has streamlined issuing and managing traffic tickets and collecting fines.

While traffic citations were initially introduced to keep drivers safe, they have also become a source of revenue for many cities, counties, and states.

Traffic tickets remain the primary tool in enforcing the rules of the road and promoting road safety. Traffic laws also now constitute a large part of most state codes.

Traffic Tickets: Strict Liability Offenses

The majority of traffic tickets are issued for strict-liability offenses. This means that no 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:

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

Moving Violations vs. Non-Moving Violations

Moving and non-moving violations are traffic offenses categories that classify different infractions.

moving violation occurs when a vehicle in motion violates a traffic law. These offenses usually involve actions that could affect the safety of the vehicle occupants, other motorists, pedestrians, or property.

Some examples of common moving violations include:

non-moving violation is usually related to parking or faulty equipment. Non-moving violations also result in tickets and fines but usually have less effect on your driving record and insurance rates. However, repeated non-moving violations such as unpaid parking tickets can accumulate and lead to steeper penalties.

Common non-moving violations include:

  • Parking violations, like parking in front of a fire hydrant, too close to the curb, or at an expired meter
  • Unlawful vehicle modifications like excessive muffler noise, underglow lights, or excessive window tint
  • Expired vehicle registration
  • Faulty equipment, like missing mirrors, unsecured bumpers, or a cracked windshield

Traffic Tickets Penalties

Many jurisdictions provide for administrative processing of most traffic tickets as minor offenses or infractions. This practice removes infractions from criminal court altogether. In these cases, an offender is not subject to jail time or large fines and is not entitled to a lawyer or a jury trial. Even though most traffic tickets are handled promptly in the traffic court system, a conviction for a traffic infraction can negatively affect your 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. This is especially true if the offense involves injury or death to a person or destruction of property. Some examples include:

Driving offenses charged as misdemeanors or felonies may carry possible jail time, heavy fines, community service, and other severe penalties. Those 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.

Fines for Traffic Tickets

The most straightforward option to reconcile a simple traffic violation like a speeding ticket is to pay the fine. By doing this, you are pleading guilty. This means the citation will show on your driving record and could affect your insurance rates and driving privileges.

There are many ways to pay a fine for a traffic ticket. Most jurisdictions offer several options, including:

  • Online payment
  • By mail
  • In person at a county clerk's office

You may want to contact your county clerk prior to payment to confirm the due date and total amount owed for your fine. Most jurisdictions offer 30 days to respond to a fine, with fees and penalties added for late payments.

The process for paying a traffic ticket can vary depending on your location. It is a good idea to check the court website of the ticketing jurisdiction to confirm the specific procedure.

If you disagree with why you were ticketed, you can contest it. This usually requires a traffic court appearance. The first court date in this process is typically referred to as arraignment. At this hearing, you will have the option to plead not guilty or no contest. In this context, no contest means you are not admitting guilt but also not disputing the charges.

You are not required to have an attorney present for traffic court, but you do have the right to retain counsel if you choose.

Information Included on Your Traffic Ticket

Knowing what kind of information is included on a traffic ticket you have been cited is helpful. 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, is often sent in the mail with your court date summons.

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

  • Vehicle Info: The police officer will write down your vehicle's make/model, color, license plate number, and registration number. Then they will call in this information, in addition to your driver's license, to check for outstanding warrants.
  • 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 dismissal.
  • Violation: Usually, a ticket will describe the offense (for instance, "failure to stop at a red light") in addition to the violated motor vehicle code section. This information allows you to research common defenses and fine amounts before the summons and courtesy reminder arrive in the mail. In many jurisdictions, the motorist is responsible for taking care of a traffic ticket. This is true 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 you may contest the ticket in a court hearing.
  • Officer Identification: The police officer who wrote the ticket must indicate their name and badge number, along with a signature. If you decide to contest the ticket, the officer will also have the opportunity to assert the integrity of the charges and other information included on the 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.

This could help keep your driving record clean, prevent a potential license suspension, and save you a costly fine.

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