UPDATED: May 20, 2020
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You know that dreaded feeling. You’re driving along on the highway or road, jamming out to your favorite hits and thinking over your day when suddenly you hear sirens behind you. You feel a lump of sheer panic rise to your chest, hoping against hope that those sirens aren’t meant for you.
Chances are, you’ll get at least a few tickets in your driving life. For some drivers, however, it’s way more than just a few tickets. Multiple traffic citations over a short period of time could mean major license points, steep fines, license suspension or revocation, and in some cases (depending on the nature of the offense), jail time.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an astonishing 44 percent of the interactions that take place between people and law enforcement is for a ticket or citation.
With just shy of 200 million licensed motorists hitting rubber to the road across the nation, approximately 40 million of these drivers are issued tickets on an annual basis.
In short, while one or two citations on your driving record may not seem like much to worry about, too many citations over a specific window of time could lead to severe penalties. In the following article, we’re going to walk you through the most common types of traffic citations, their associated penalties, how to get out of a ticket, tips to fight a traffic ticket, how a traffic ticket could affect your insurance premiums . . . and so much more.
Sounds like something you need to know, right?
Speaking of car insurance, if you’re searching for the best coverage for all the drivers in your family, you don’t have to go far to see the full range of options available. With our free online quote tool, you can access quotes for multiple insurance carriers in your area in just minutes.
Without further ado, let’s dive right into all you need to know to fight traffic tickets.
Common Types of Traffic Tickets
Not all traffic tickets are created equal. While some citations may be compared to a slap on the wrist with minimal fines involved, other tickets can incur much stricter penalties. The most common types of traffic tickets include the following:
- Reckless driving
- Careless driving
- Distracted driving
- Running a stop sign
- Running a red light
- Driving without a license (or valid license)
- Fleeing the scene of an accident
- Failure to signal when changing lanes
- Driving past a school bus where passengers are embarking or disembarking
- Driving on the shoulder
- Driving in between lanes
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Driving while impaired (DWI)
By far, speeding is one of the most common types of traffic tickets issued across the country. In fact, roughly one out of every six drivers in the United States receives a speeding ticket every year.
Speeding is also one of the leading causes of crash fatalities in the country. Reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that 37,133 people were killed in the 34,247 fatal roadway accidents that occurred in 2017. Dangerous driving doesn’t just increase your likelihood of being ticketed — it could put the lives of you, your passengers, and others on the roadway in grave peril.
Let’s take a closer look at the different categories of tickets issued, including the potential penalties drivers could face if they receive certain citations.
Moving vs. Non-Moving Violations
Traffic citations fall into two main classifications: violations and infractions. Infractions refer to very minor offenses that are usually punishable by a certain fine. Violations can range from a moderate offense all the way up to a felony traffic charge.
Violations are further categorized into moving and non-moving violations. Moving violations refer to offenses while a motor vehicle is moving and may carry more serious punishments, while non-moving violations such as illegal parking or car modifications may be classified as an infraction.
Speeding, failing to yield to pedestrians, texting while driving, or not using signals before turning are all common moving violations. When a driver is charged with a moving violation, they wouldn’t typically need to appear in court. Instead, they would just pay the fine or submit to any other penalties assessed.
If, however, the individual has received prior moving violations, they may be subject to higher penalties. In some cases, it may be possible for the driver to undergo traffic school to avoid license points.
Moving violations such as illegal drag racing, reckless driving, or driving drunk are considered to be much graver offenses and may be subject to considerably harsher penalties, including steep fines and/or imprisonment. Furthermore, depending on the state and the nature of the offense, some moving violations could be categorized as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
“Only the most severe traffic offenses are considered misdemeanors or felonies. The difference between a misdemeanor or felony traffic offense is one of severity. For example, in New York, a person who is charged with a second instance of drunk driving in 10 years can have the offense charged as a felony rather than a misdemeanor.” – Defense Attorney Adam H. Rosenblum
On the other hand, non-moving violations are actually assessed to the car rather than the individual motorist. Examples of non-moving violations include double parking, parking too close to a fire hydrant, or parking in a handicapped reserved spot.
Non-moving violations are generally punishable by a fine, although it should be noted that failing to pay the fine assessed could result in vehicle impoundment. Not only that, but certain states hinder motorists from renewing their driver’s licenses if they accrue too many outstanding citations.
General Overview of Traffic Ticket Penalties
The consequences of a traffic ticket may be as minimal as a small fine amount or as significant as jail time, very high fines, and license suspension. The penalty assigned to a specific violation depends on both the type of offense committed and whether the driver has received previous citations over a fixed period of time.
Standard citations such as speeding tickets could carry fines ranging from less than $100 to upwards of $400. Most ticket fines will fall somewhere in the middle. In addition, some states have fixed fine amounts for specific violations, while other states will consider whether the driver has received citations previously.
Most states have a point system, which assigns a certain number of license points according to the violation. License points enable each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to identify potentially dangerous drivers. If a driver goes for a certain duration without accruing points, they may have a certain amount of points taken off of their record.
In most states, if a motorist receives three or more citations in a successive period of time, they could face license suspension or even revocation. Likewise, particular violations may also result in provisional license suspension. For instance, someone’s license may be suspended for the following types of violations:
- Fleeing the scene of a crash
- Driving at very high speeds
- Nonpayment of a traffic ticket fine
- Reckless driving
- Driving without insurance
- Nonappearance at court for a driving violation
One option most states provide that may help drivers avoid the suspension or revocation of their driving privileges is to go to traffic school. Motorists who receive certain kinds of moving violations may be permitted to undergo six to eight hours of traffic school in return for having the citation kept off their driving record.
Eligibility for traffic school depends on the laws in your state. Some states limit drivers to using traffic school as an option to avoid a ticket going on their record to once per year. Other states have a mandatory waiting period of up to 24 months before a driver is permitted to go to traffic school to remove a citation.
Incarceration is generally reserved for only the most serious traffic offenses, such as evading law enforcement or vehicular homicide. For instance, vehicular homicide is considered a felony in most states.
If the motorist was drunk at the time of the crash, certain states impose maximum prison terms of 30 years, in addition to revocation of driving privileges for several years or more.
Evading police may be considered either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the state. In addition to facing the potential of thousands of dollars in fines, a driver charged and convicted for evading law enforcement could be punished by up to one year in jail.
Other traffic crimes that may be accompanied by terms of imprisonment include leaving the scene of a collision, reckless driving, and driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
The Legal Process for Traffic Charges
By now, you’ve gathered that the potential long-term consequences you may face for a traffic charge vary widely based on the type of offense involved. Let’s dig a little deeper into the differences between traffic violations or infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies and the general process that accompanies these types of charges.
The most common types of traffic tickets the majority of drivers will receive are violations, like speeding tickets. When a driver receives a ticket for a traffic violation, they may simply pay the fine online or send it in the mail, enter a guilty plea in traffic court, or enter a not-guilty plea and contest the ticket in traffic court. License points and fines are the usual legal punishments reserved for traffic violations.
Misdemeanor traffic crimes such as reckless driving would be adjudicated in a criminal court of law rather than traffic court. The majority of states punish misdemeanor crimes by up to $1,000 in fines and 12 months in prison, although individuals convicted of traffic misdemeanors may serve little to no time in prison. The court may also assess demerit points and order license suspension or revocation.
The gravest traffic crimes would be classified as felonies, such as a charge for driving under the influence and injuring another individual. Felony traffic crimes follow a similar court procedure as misdemeanor offenses and would be subject to criminal punishments.
A conviction of a felony traffic offense would almost certainly result in the revocation or suspension of the individual’s license and license demerit points. Furthermore, felony traffic convictions may be punishable by 12 months or longer in a state penitentiary, along with anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars in fines.
5 Ways Law Enforcement Detects Speeding
If you’ve ever heard the heart-pounding sound of police sirens signaling that a speeding ticket is imminent, you’ve probably wondered exactly how law enforcement is able to find out your driving speed. In fact, you may not have even been aware you were speeding when the sirens sounded and you got pulled over.
Here are the five primary methods used by law enforcement across the nation to detect speeding drivers:
- Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder (VASCAR). A VASCAR is a type of computer usually affixed to a police car’s speedometer that enables law enforcement to discern the speeds at which moving cars are traveling.
- Pacing. Pacing is when law enforcement drives behind a motorist then speeds up until both are traveling at equal speeds. Law enforcement would then be able to measure whether the speeds are the same on the speedometer, following the motorist for at least one-fifth of a mile to ensure accuracy.
- Radar speed detection. This method of speed detection uses radio waves to connect with a car in motion. The frequency adjusts to match the speed at which the motorist is driving, then transmits to a machine, which tells law enforcement whether or not the driver is traveling according to the post speed limit.
- Aircraft detection. Aircraft detection measures motorist speeds between two markings on a roadway. If a motorist goes over the first mark, a mechanism similar to a timer goes off to detect how long it takes the driver to travel from Point A to Point B and the precise speed they are driving at. The timer turns off once the motorist crosses the second marking.
- Laser speed guns. With lasers, police can discover someone’s speed by tracking the distance from the laser speed gun to the vehicle. Next, the machine multiplies the rate by time to perceive the distance and speed at which the motorist was traveling. Given the fact that laser light moves quicker than the speed of sound, laser guns can be a highly effective method of detection.
The good news is, if you follow the posted speed limit, you won’t have to worry about running into any of these methods of detection or paying the hefty fine that may follow a citation.
Speed Limits by State
In case you’re a bit rusty on the laws surrounding the speed limits where you live, check out the table below to see the maximum post limits by state.
|State||Rural Interstates||Urban Interstates||Limited Access Roads||Other Roads|
|District of Columbia||n/a||55||n/a||25|
80: parts of hwy
80: parts of hwy
70: parts of hwy
75: parts of hwy
70: parts of hwy
80: parts of hwy
70: parts of hwy
65: trucks parts of hwy
80/85: parts of hwy
80: parts of hwy
75: parts of hwy
80: parts of hwy
80: parts of hwy
This data is provided by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Note the differences in the required speed limits based on whether the road is classified as a rural interstate, urban interstate, a limited-access road, or other roads.
The Impact of a Traffic Ticket on Your Insurance
Besides the obvious consequences of a traffic ticket, such as steep fines and license demerit points, one of the chief concerns for many drivers is the impact that a violation could have on their insurance bill.
Here’s how licensed insurance agent, Debra Gottlieb-Ewing, explains it:
“The license points won’t impact the insurance policy rate, the actual ticket will – but whatever points are assigned are company-specific, state-specific, and don’t correlate to pricing. Once the renewal policy with that ticket (on the driver’s license) is generated, the charge for that ticket will be calculated based on the insurer’s point/rate algorithm.”
Getting a ticket almost certainly will impact how much you pay for coverage, and accumulating several tickets in a period of three to five years could see your rates skyrocket. Insurers will consider several things when determining how much of a premium increase to assess for your policy after you are ticketed, including how fast you were speeding (if the ticket was for speeding), your driving record, and whether you received any citations prior to this one.
Drivers who have numerous violations on their record may be required to file an SR-22 obtained from their insurance carrier to retain their driver’s license or in the event of a revocation, to recover their driving privileges. An SR-22 is filed with your state’s department of insurance or motor vehicles, affirming that you are carrying the mandatory minimum insurance coverage required in the state.
An SR-22 also typically means more expensive insurance premiums and fewer carriers to pick from. Drivers with a history of driving violations may find it more challenging to secure coverage.
Getting Out of and Fighting a Ticket (The Expert’s Section)
Considering the range of potential penalties drivers may face due to a traffic ticket, you’re not alone if you’re wondering what you can do to fight a traffic ticket — or get out of one altogether. Our team consulted with numerous traffic attorneys and licensed insurance agents across the nation to dispel the myths and clear up some of the confusion the driving public has regarding traffic tickets.
Keep scrolling to read their expert advice based on their professional – and often personal – experience.
The Right Way to Interact with Law Enforcement
“After you pull over, roll all your windows down. Let them [law enforcement] see everything in the car. Don’t move. Do not go for your wallet or purse yet. Keep your hands on 10 and 2. Tell them everything that you are going to do.
Example: ‘Ok Officer I am going to unbuckle my seat belt with my right hand and open up the glove box to get my registration/proof of insurance.’ You have no idea what they just got done doing.
They could have been at a domestic and are now on edge. Put them at ease. They do have the discretion to not give you a ticket or at the very least reduce it.”
Ken Gifford is the CEO of R3 Contingencies LLC, an emergency concierge provider.
One of the services they offer is to help drivers pay tickets and obtain lawyer referrals.
Getting out of a Ticket When You’re Pulled Over
“I think there is no sure way to get out of a ticket, but there are a few things you can do to help your situation when you break the law. From personal experience, I got out of two tickets, one for speeding and the other for not wearing a seat belt. In both instances, I did the same thing: empathize with the police officer that pulled you over.
You need to acknowledge right away what you did and be honest and admit it was a mistake. Hear them out and take time to empathize and understand their point of view which is to give you a ticket. If you’re friendly and honest during your conversation, there is a good chance they will let you off the hook. The only thing that can backfire on you is if you’re past the legal alcohol limit. In this case, a ticket is pretty much impossible to avoid.”
Tony Arevalo is the co-founder of Carsurance.net.
His company helps consumers locate the best insurance for their needs.
The Truth About License Points
“I am an insurance agent, and work hard to make sure my customers understand the difference between driver’s license ‘points’ that accumulate and can lead to administrative action against the driver’s license (suspension of license, etc.) and insurer’s rating ‘points’ which are used to calculate the policy rate, vary from one insurer to another, and are not tied to the licensing system of the state.
That said, if the ticket can’t be dismissed or ‘gotten out of,’ I typically advise my clients not to escalate it or worry about the license points unless there’s an issue with their license because of other tickets or offenses. Assuming there’s not a close-call on license suspension there’s no real reason to spend much time or effort getting the point or points reduced or removed.”
Debra Gottlieb-Ewing is a licensed insurance agent and the co-owner of Patton Insurance.
Patton Insurance is a brokerage firm offering all lines of insurance.
Why It Might Pay to Fight a Traffic Ticket
“Of course, they [ticketed drivers] should care about points on their license, and auto insurance rate increases. But there can be another very important reason — and that’s if they were injured in an associated accident, and really need to hire an auto accident lawyer. Most of the time (almost all of the time), we will not even consider accepting a new case if the caller received a traffic ticket.
The only exception might be if the person were very, very seriously injured (like they were paralyzed), or if both drivers received tickets (thus creating a situation where there would be a mixed fault argument, in which cases we can recover part of the value of the case. For this reason, if there is a dispute about a traffic ticket when injuries were involved, the injured person might benefit a great deal from fighting the ticket.
In fact, when those who have received a ticket, and were injured in an accident, call our office, we strongly encourage them to go to traffic court and fight the ticket. In terms of fighting the ticket, most injury & accident lawyers do not actually go to traffic court (again, unless the injuries were extremely serious, and we believed there was a good argument for having the ticket reversed). But there are attorneys who handle traffic tickets as their primary practice area – and they can be worth hiring if the ticket is important.
Basically, my number one tip for fighting a traffic ticket would be to hire an attorney who handles traffic ticket defenses. They are going to have much more success than the average person, in fighting a traffic ticket, and usually, their fees aren’t too high. I would discourage people from hiring the traffic ticket lawyer to handle their personal injury case, however.
Many traffic ticket lawyers advertise that they handle car accident cases, too. But the reality is that most of them refer those cases out to lawyers who actually specialize in car accidents. And that takes the choice of the accident lawyer away from the injured person.
If the person wants to fight the ticket on their own, the best strategy is to attend the hearing in front of the judge and bring any evidence that might help prove that the ticket was not fair. Evidence might include photographs of the surrounding area, witnesses, and the ticketed driver’s own testimony. Additionally, just by attending the hearing, the ticketed person has a chance that the ticket will be dismissed, if the ticketing police officer decides not to attend the hearing, which definitely does happen.
In those cases, the judge is much more likely to dismiss the ticket. The judge will also listen to the ticketed person’s side of the story, and review the evidence, in most cases, fairly. So if there is a legitimate argument, or even a potentially plausible argument, it is worth taking a chance that the ticket could be dismissed. If someone who was injured in an accident is successful in getting a ticket dismissed, at that time, they should definitely call an auto accident lawyer like me!”
Tina Willis is a car accident lawyer from Orlando, Fla., and owner of Tina Willis Law.
Willis, a former law professor, handles serious injury, accident, and death cases.
The Importance of a Traffic Ticket Hearing
“Sometimes the best thing you can do is ask for a hearing on the ticket and just show up to court. When I was a law student, I got into an accident on icy roads. I lost control on black ice despite going slower than other traffic out on the road. I couldn’t have gone a whole lot slower. The other car hit me as I went onto the curb.
Totaled my car (‘Bagheera’ was his name). The officer who showed up was nice enough, but he had to find someone at fault. He picked me since I was the one to go up on the curb. He said I was traveling too fast for the elements, and I totally disagreed. So I got my day in court. The magistrate found for me saying that the officer had no idea how fast I was going, so he couldn’t say I was going too fast for the elements.
Another good reason to demand a hearing is this: Sometimes the officers don’t appear, meaning the ticket (likely) gets dismissed. But there are ways to substantively beat a ticket in court too. If you’re ticketed for speeding, try to get the records for the radar gun’s calibration. If you’re ticketed for something like careless driving, eyewitness testimony can be helpful if you can track it down.
And if the officer is saying he or she saw you commit a traffic infraction, get the dashcam video if you think he or she is wrong. In Michigan, we do this through our local Freedom of Information Act. Other states likely have different rules on how to go about that. But the point is, you have rights even when dealing with a traffic ticket, and the government still has to prove you did something wrong. Another benefit of showing up to court is you can maybe cut a deal.
For instance, in Michigan, if my client is ticketed with speeding, I’ll try to get it reduced to an impeding-traffic or defective-equipment charge. This means my client’s license doesn’t get any points added to it (keeping insurance premiums down). But sometimes you can avoid court altogether at the traffic stop.
First, what to do when stopped. You should always be respectful and obey any commands the officer gives. This is for your own safety. But you can still make clear that you don’t agree to being pulled out of your car or having your car searched. This keeps your Fourth Amendment rights intact. Also, respect can go a long way in avoiding a ticket.
I was recently talking to an officer who gives out very few tickets when he makes stops on the road.
The only time he hands them out are when:
- the person was doing something really bad or
- the person is disrespectful or appears to lie (‘I have no idea why you pulled me over, officer!’)
So being respectful and forthright is important when stopped for a simple traffic offense. (If you’re being questioned about a crime, though, you should definitely clearly invoke your right to silence.)
Last is life after a ticket. In Michigan, our Secretary of State (SOS) will offer driver-improvement courses, which allow some offenders to get the points taken off their license. Otherwise, the points fall off after two years. There isn’t any other way (in Michigan) to clean up a driving record, absent some sort of unorthodox, after-the-fact deal between a defense attorney and a prosecutor (which does happen from time to time). If someone gets 12 or more points in two years, the SOS can make the person take and pass a driving assessment to keep their license.”
Dustyn Coontz is a Criminal Defense Attorney and Founder of Coontz Law, PLLC.
His firm, located in Michigan, offers defense on DUIs, traffic ticket appeals, and much more.
Traffic Tickets Q & A
“To fight a traffic ticket, a driver must first ensure he/she does not inadvertently admit guilt to the officer during the traffic stop. Instead, say as little as possible to the cop while still being polite. Once the ticket has been issued, the driver (or his/her attorney) must assess the facts.
When standing before a traffic court judge, the driver must look for holes in the logic and observations of the officer. Asking questions that can reveal flaws in the officer’s memory of the events weakens his/her credibility. These strategies will work with a wide variety of tickets but are extremely difficult for the average person.
In most cases, the best course of action will be to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charge to a lesser offense. Even this may require a strong knowledge of the law and the specific offense the driver has been charged with.”
How can you avoid a ticket after being pulled over?
“There is no surefire way to get out of a traffic ticket during a traffic stop. The best thing to do is to be polite to the officer; do not argue or be belligerent. Answer questions respectfully (but without admitting guilt). Crying and making excuses are unlikely to persuade an officer to let one off with a warning.”
What are some reasons a ticket may be dismissed?
“The main reason tickets get dismissed is that the officer and/or prosecutor fails to establish that the driver committed the violation in question. In most courts, the prosecutor is required to provide proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that the driver committed the offense in question. A driver or his/her attorney can prevent this by submitting exculpatory evidence (e.g. dash cam footage) that shows the driver had not committed the offense or by asking questions that reveal that the officer’s knowledge or assessment of the situation is inaccurate or flawed.”
Can all traffic tickets be expunged from the driver’s record?
“Expungement laws vary from state to state. Not all states allow traffic offenses to be expunged.”
How can you get a speeding ticket taken off your record?
“It is a misconception that traffic tickets come off of driving records after a set period of time. In reality, the offense remains recorded indefinitely. However, insurance companies and those requesting driving records (e.g. an employer) usually are only given records within a fixed timeframe, such as the past three years, depending on state laws.”
Can a police officer change a ticket after it is written?
“Yes, many states allow a cop to file a motion to amend a traffic ticket. The exact amount of time the officer has depends on the state. A savvy person may be able to use this request against the officer in court in an effort to beat the charge. How exactly he/she can do that depends on the offense and the facts of the case. This can cut both ways, however, as officers can add additional charges after the fact if he/she believes it to be warranted.”
How long does a police officer have to file a ticket?
“For a minor traffic ticket, the police usually have about a week to write the ticket, although the vast majority are issued during the traffic stop. If the offense is also considered a misdemeanor (e.g. reckless driving in NY), then the officer has more time—usually between 6 and 18 months depending on the state.”
Can a police officer void a ticket?
“Yes, an officer can void a ticket after issuing it. This can be done as an act of mercy during the traffic stop, although it is rare.”
Can incorrect vehicle information or other ticket details nullify a ticket?
“When an officer records incorrect information on a traffic ticket, the driver in question may be able to use this information to get out of the ticket. However, such instances are very rare. In addition, the error must be significant.
For example, recording the color of a vehicle as gray when the registration states the vehicle is silver is not substantial enough to get a ticket dismissed. Similarly, a minor mistake in recording the license plate is not going to be sufficient, especially if all other information is accurate. In most states, the error would have to be so significant that a reasonable person would believe the officer was referring to a different vehicle and/or driver than the one charged.”
Adam H. Rosenblum, Esq. is the founding attorney of TrafficTickets.com.
His practice focuses on traffic ticket defense serving New York and New Jersey.
Wrapping It Up
Traffic offenses impact more than your driving record — a violation could affect your driving privileges, insurance premiums, and in some cases, your freedom. If you receive a ticket, showing courtesy and respect to law enforcement, as well as retaining qualified legal assistance if needed, could make all the difference in your charges.
By practicing responsible driving habits, you will not only help to make the highways and roadways a safer place for fellow motorists but avoid the adverse consequences that receiving a ticket could bring.