Traffic Violations Law

Deciding if Fighting Traffic Tickets Is a Good Idea

Key Takeaways:

  • Paying a traffic ticket can be cheaper and easier than challenging the ticket.
  • You may be able to keep a traffic ticket off your driving record through traffic school.
  • Too many traffic violations can result in a license suspension and a traffic lawyer can help you fight the ticket.

Is it worth it to fight a traffic ticket? It’s possible, but fighting traffic tickets can take time and effort. Sometimes, it’s not worth fighting in the long run, even if you win.

The money or opportunity lost by taking a day off work for your court appearance may cost more than the actual ticket—even if you’re in the right. But if a ticket means thousands of dollars in increased insurance premiums, it may be worthwhile to fight it.

The penalties for a traffic violation can depend on where you live. For more information about whether you want to fight a traffic citation, talk to a local traffic ticket attorney for legal advice.

What Traffic Offenses Did You Violate?

Many police officers don’t know the letter of the law. After all, that’s what lawyers and judges are for. Your first step in fighting traffic tickets can be to read the exact motor vehicle violation you were ticketed for.

Breaking the law into elements can help you understand if your driving violated the law. For example, here is an actual Idaho stop sign law separated into different elements:

  • “[A person] [operating a human-powered vehicle] [approaching a stop sign shall slow down] and, [if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection].”
  • “After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, [the person shall yield the right-of-way to] [any vehicle] [in the intersection] or [approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across] or [within the intersection or junction of highways], [except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping].”

Some elements you can’t challenge, like if you were driving the car. But under this law, stopping isn’t required. It’s only necessary if “required for safety,” and the law explicitly allows you to “cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.”

Chances are good that the police officer wrote something like “rolled through the intersection without a complete stop.” You can try to go into court, lay out the law, and demonstrate that you never violated the law in the first place. Will a judge accept this? It depends. Remember, you’re innocent until proven guilty.

Is It Cheaper to Fight the Ticket or Pay It?

The costs of a traffic ticket can depend on your situation. A one-time minor traffic infraction may just carry a small fine. However, the DMV may suspend your license if you have several points on your driving record. A license suspension can make working or caring for your family challenging.

Some traffic violations have more severe penalties. Getting a DUI can mean fines, jail time, and a misdemeanor charge on your criminal record. A DUI may also make the car insurance company increase your rates for years.

Paying the Ticket Can Be an Admission of Guilt

When you first get your ticket, do not pay it if you have doubts about fighting it. In most jurisdictions, paying the fine is an admission of guilt. Instead, find out how you can get your day in court.

Can You Go to Traffic School?

Many state traffic laws offer an option to attend traffic school after a red light or speed limit ticket. In return, your charges will be dismissed or reduced. This can keep the ticket off your driving record, so your insurance rates won’t increase after just one ticket.

Look at the traffic school options in your state. Some states even allow you to complete traffic school online. If you find traffic school a good option, request it from the prosecutor or judge.

What Are Common Defenses to a Traffic Ticket?

There are several possible defenses you can use when fighting traffic tickets. Many defenses are based on your constitutional right to question the accuser or police officer.

The Officer Doesn’t Show Up

The easiest way to win is if the police officer does not show up. You have a constitutional right to question the accuser. If the officer doesn’t show, you may get an automatic win.

You can increase your chances of getting a no-show. Postponing the traffic court date can increase the odds that the officer will not be present during the trial. The date on your ticket is usually a “gang date” for when the officer has scheduled all their court dates simultaneously. If you schedule for an extension that falls on a different day, there is a chance they aren’t going to come in on their day off just for you.

Choose a court date closer to the holidays or summer vacation days. This might increase the odds of your officer being out on vacation.

Camera Tickets and Hearsay

People often think there’s little they can do with a camera-based ticket. But you may be able to beat them in some states. Here are some tips:

Some courthouses do not go through the trouble of bringing the video or picture to court, which can result in an automatic dismissal of the ticket. However, many states are getting better and going through the process to ensure you can’t get an automatic win just by contesting the ticket. Talk to a local traffic lawyer about the red-light camera laws in your state.

Trial by Declaration

In many states, you can get a trial by mail. You can submit your claim about your innocence in a letter, and the officer must do the same. While officers will often show up for court because it is an overtime opportunity, trial by mail is pure paperwork. Some officers will not bother to respond. When this happens, you may win by default. If you lose by mail, you can still request an in-person trial, request traffic school, or pay your fine.

The Sixth Amendment Requires a Speedy and Public Trial

The Sixth Amendment guarantees you a speedy and public trial. For example, in California, a speedy trial for most traffic infractions is 45 days. You may be asked to sign a document to waive your right to a speedy trial. If you don’t sign and the court system cannot fit you in, then you can have your case dismissed.

Tickets Based on Radar Guns

Radar guns generally need recalibration every 30-60 days. In some states, the officer must check the calibration after issuing the speeding ticket. Police departments don’t always follow the calibration guidelines. You may be able to challenge the reliability of the radar guns to fight the ticket.

Check Your Ticket for Errors

Courts will often excuse minor errors on a ticket—a misspelled name or whether your car color is maroon or dark red. However, if the officer cites the wrong law on the ticket, you may be able to get your ticket dismissed.

When Should I Contact a Traffic Lawyer?

Without an experienced lawyer, you may end up like many other drivers who use excuses and defenses that don’t work.

  • Ignorance of the law is no excuse. It doesn’t matter how honestly you misunderstood the speed limit; it usually won’t work.
  • You argue that no one was hurt. The no-harm-no-foul rule doesn’t apply in court.
  • You complain that the officer selected you alone out of a dozen other violators. Admitting that you were guilty but that there were other guilty people present doesn’t help you.
  • You give the judge a sad story. It rarely works. Judges hear this all day long and may doubt your honesty. This might slightly reduce your fine.
  • You claim the officer is lying. Between you and the police officer, the judge is more likely to believe the officer. Unless you have specific proof, it won’t work.

If you want to keep a traffic ticket off your record and avoid an increase in your auto insurance, talk to an experienced traffic lawyer for more information about your case.

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