What Do I Do After I Get a Traffic Ticket?

by Team eLocal
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Even the best drivers make little mistakes — or even break laws here and there. Maybe you go a little too fast to get to work on time, or you forget to signal a lane change. If that traffic violation results in a traffic ticket, you might not know how to handle the situation.

Knowing what to do after getting a traffic ticket will help minimize the consequences of your driving mishaps. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Options Do You Have After Receiving a Traffic Ticket?

The options you have after receiving a traffic ticket can vary based on your location. Some states have different options or processes. Here are three possible ways to handle a traffic violation:

Pay the Fine

If you don't want to mess with fighting the ticket or doing any extra work, you can typically pay the traffic ticket and be done with it. The amount you'll pay varies based on the type of traffic violation and your location. The violation will appear on your driving record and could affect your car insurance rates.

Fight the Ticket

You can also fight the ticket to avoid paying the fee and, more importantly, avoid negative effects like hurting your driving record, losing your license or paying more in car insurance premiums.

You may get a chance to speak with a prosecutor or court employee who may reduce your penalty. If the officer doesn't show up to the final hearing, you'll often have your ticket dismissed. However, it can be difficult to get a ticket dismissed if the officer does show up.

Go to Traffic School

In some states, you can go to traffic school to minimize the impact of a traffic violation. Your state might not offer these types of programs, or there might be limitations. For example, traffic school might only be available if it's your first ticket, and it might not be available for more serious violations. In some states, going to traffic school gets your ticket dismissed. In others, it might just reduce the number of points on your driving record for the violation.

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Do You Need to Appear in Court?

Minor traffic violations often don't require a court appearance unless you want to fight the charges. If you accept responsibility, you can usually pay the ticket and be done with the situation. However, you can appear in court if you want to fight the charges or try for a less severe penalty. Occasionally, you might get the ticket dismissed completely.

If you don’t pay the fine and return any required paperwork by the deadline on the ticket, you may need to attend a court date instead. Some states require court appearances even for seemingly minor violations regardless of whether you pay the fine.

Some traffic violations are considered criminal offenses, including reckless driving, DUI or driving when you have a suspended license. These types of traffic violations typically require you to appear in court, and the penalties could include jail time.

The specifics on whether you have to appear in court can vary by state and violation, so make sure you know whether you're required to make a court appearance. The written citation you receive should have this information printed on it.

Do You Need an Attorney to Fight a Speeding Ticket?

You can hire an attorney to represent you in traffic court, but most people fight tickets on their own. For minor traffic violations, you'll likely pay the same or more for an attorney as the fee for the ticket, so it's usually not worth the cost of hiring a lawyer. You're likely better off representing yourself and seeing if the ruling goes your way rather than paying more for a lawyer.

If it's a more serious charge, like reckless driving, or you have a special situation, such as lots of previous violations, you may need an attorney. The penalties in those situations are often more severe and could include things like losing your license or jail time. Having an attorney represent you could help you avoid those consequences or make them less severe.

How Do You Pay the Fine?

Paying your fine often depends on the issuing authority. In many places, you can access an online system to pay the fine. You might also have the option to pay the fine in person, over the phone or through the mail. Check the fine print on your copy of the violation to determine the payment options.

If you fight the ticket in court but are found guilty, ask for payment instructions at that time. You typically have a certain amount of time after the court appearance to make your payment. Make sure you pay before the due date to avoid additional penalties.

What Happens If You Don't Pay a Traffic Ticket?

Not paying your traffic ticket will likely result in additional penalties, depending on where you live. Each state sets its own process for handling people who don't pay their traffic tickets. You'll likely face a late fee or additional fees if you miss the due date. Your case might get sent to collections.

You could also face more severe penalties. In some areas, unpaid traffic tickets could result in:

  • Inability to renew your vehicle registration
  • Suspended driver's license
  • Misdemeanor charge
  • Warrant for your arrest

 Unless you fight your ticket and get it dismissed, you need to pay your ticket on time. The consequences can quickly add up and become more severe if you ignore the ticket.

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