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Traffic Tickets FAQ

A traffic violation is often a person's only brush against the law. Speeding or parking tickets are usually minor enough to address and move on quickly. A small fee and a mark on your driving record might be all that happens, but not every ticket is so simple.

When the violations become more frequent or severe, the penalties change dramatically. You might soon find yourself at risk of losing your driver's license or insurance policy. Here are some common questions about traffic tickets.

What is a moving violation?

moving violation occurs whenever a motor vehicle breaks the law while in motion, such as:

  • Speeding
  • Running a stop sign or red light
  • Drunk driving
  • Tailgating another vehicle

A non-moving violation, by contrast, is usually related to parking or faulty equipment. For example, parking in front of a fire hydrant is still a traffic violation even though the car is off.

Should I always pay a traffic ticket?

A guilty plea usually means you'll pay the maximum fine of the law. The conviction will stay on your DMV record for a few years.

A conviction will likely result in points on your license. A certain amount of points can increase your insurance premiums and accumulate with any other charges such that, eventually, you could lose your driving privileges.

You can challenge a ticket in the traffic court where you received the ticket. An experienced attorney can advise whether it may be worth fighting a ticket in your circumstances.

How do I pay a traffic ticket?

If you decide to pay your ticket, you should first read the traffic citation carefully to identify the following details:

  • The specific traffic violation in question
  • The law enforcement officer who issued the ticket
  • The date of the offense or arrest
  • How much the traffic fine will cost
  • The payment due date
  • Your ticket number, also known as a citation number
  • Whether you must attend a court appearance
  • The court location or name

Many states now offer self-help online payments with a credit card or debit card. When paying a traffic ticket online, check how many business days it takes to process so you know you'll meet the deadline.

Other payment options include sending a check or money order by mail. You can also pay the ticket in person at the court clerk's office.

What if I can't afford to pay the fine?

Never ignore a traffic ticket. The costs and legal penalties could snowball and become a bigger problem.

You likely have opportunities to make a ticket more affordable. Many states offer payment plans for residents who face financial hardship. Speaking to the court about your circumstances could help you reduce the fine.

Other common alternatives are traffic school and community service. Completing a course or hour requirement might allow you to erase the ticket from your record.

Contact the municipal or district court on your ticket to learn whether there are available programs that may help you. You can also visit their online services to check your eligibility for different types of assistance.

How do I fight a traffic ticket in court?

First, you must contact the court on your ticket to set a court date before your fine is due. Before you decide whether to plead not guilty, getting advice from a traffic law attorney is wise. Your strategy to fight the ticket can depend on many factors, such as the available evidence and the type of violation.

How does police radar work?

Radar guns work by sending out radio waves and "listening" for the reflection. When the radio wave hits a moving object, its frequency changes. This change depends on the speed of the object and the direction in which it travels. A radar gun interprets the difference and gives information to the police officer.

Most police forces use radar to measure speed, enforce speed limits, and collect revenue. Some defendants have, however, been able to challenge radar readings in court successfully.

How does laser detection work?

LiDAR (light detection and ranging) differs from typical radar because it uses laser light to detect vehicle speed instead of radio waves. The laser measures the distance from the gun to the target several times. By measuring the change in distance, it can calculate the speed of a passing vehicle.

The usual target of the laser is the vehicle's license plate, which is easy to see and is a good reflector. This area is more reliable because the gun relies on the reflections from the target to calculate the speed.

An officer must hold the gun steady to get an accurate reading. Any movement could make the laser's result inaccurate. If the officer writes a ticket with a faulty reading, it can be difficult, yet sometimes possible, to fight in court.

Do police officers have a quota of tickets to write?

No, traffic ticket quotas are not a standard at police departments. Officers might have a different incentive to write tickets, however.

Like other jobs, patrol officers face performance expectations. Higher-ups might suspect that an officer who always ends their shift with no activity to report is slacking. Departments may also receive more revenue in fines and fees when they increase traffic stops.

Regardless of an officer or department's performance, you have rights. Police officers must have a valid reason to stop drivers and issue tickets. If they don't, you can fight the ticket in court no matter how many tickets they wrote that month.

Can I refuse a breath test for drunk driving?

The answer can vary by state, but an alcohol test refusal is usually a crime. You may face an automatic license suspension. The penalties for refusing to take a breath test can exceed the possible penalties for drunk driving.

Should I try to "pay my way" to avoid a ticket?

No, offering a police officer money in exchange for not writing a traffic ticket can be a crime like bribery or extortion. An officer can give you a warning instead of a ticket if they choose, but you cannot suggest money or favors.

If you want to contest the ticket, there are legitimate ways to do so. The proper methods will help you stop the situation from getting worse. You may be able to cancel the ticket if you succeed.

How do misdemeanor and felony traffic cases differ?

The type of violation affects the penalties you could face. Many traffic violations are deemed mere infractions. Other violations are misdemeanors, which carry stiffer fines and possibly up to one year in jail.

The most serious traffic crimes are felonies. They generally involve repeat offenses or violations that injure persons or property and could land you in superior court. Felonies have even greater penalties, including higher fines and imprisonment for over a year.

What if I drive after losing my license?

You could face severe penalties if you drive without a valid license. Your driver's license is no longer valid if the state suspended or revoked it.

Losing your license can be difficult, but criminal convictions are worse. You may need to rely on friends and family to get to work and run necessary errands. Depending on where you live, public transportation could be another legal option.

Can a lawyer help me with my traffic tickets?

Yes, a traffic law attorney can help, but the tradeoffs depend on your circumstances. Calling a lawyer every time you get a minor traffic ticket is unnecessary. Sometimes, legal fees could be more expensive than paying the ticket.

You may want to speak with a traffic ticket attorney if you face a license suspension or an insurance rate hike. Avoiding these consequences can help keep your driving record as clean as possible.

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