I'm licensed in CA only, and you should always check with local counsel. Having said that, this all depends on whether you're charged with a simple moving violation (an infraction - punishable by a fine only and 1-2 points on your driving record), or whether what you are referring to as a "careless driving summons" is a higher grade offense, punishable by jail time (i.e. a misdemeanor offense). Traffic school is typically only applicable to traffic infractions - not misdemeanor offenses. You can consult with local criminal defense lawyers (most provide for brief, no-charge consultations), or you can show up in court on the date scheduled and get more information. If its an offense punishable by incarceration, you can request representation by the public defender (assuming you qualify). You can also ask the judge to continue your arraignment, so that you can go hire an attny. The judge will probably give you a couple weeks to do so. If its just a moving violation (simple vehicle code infraction), you can resolve it then and there with the judge (assuming that's how your jurisdiction operates), and ask for traffic school. Good Luck & God Bless!
Here's the straight scoop from a lawyer licensed in New Jersey...First, you should call your auto insurance company and inquire as to what the repurcussions will be if you incur the 2 points on your NJ license as a result of the "careless driving" ticket. Many insurance companies will give you a break for your first violation. Furthermore, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), will not surcharge you for points until you accrue 6 or more ($100.00 for the first 6 and $25.00 for each point thereater). If you currently have no points on your license and your auto insurance company will not surcharge you, it may be a good idea to just pay the fine and then take the defensive driving course.
Just to follow up on what my New Jersey colleague indicated, typically, taking a defensive driving course is something you do on your own. If done properly, you could receive a reduction in your motor vehicle points. In my experience, the prosecutor is not going to agree to downgrade your offense in exchange for you taking a defensive driving course. Your choices are to plead guilty to the offense charged, try to get it downgraded to a zero point offense, or a trial. Given the facts, you might be able to get a plea bargain to a zero point offense that does not carry the mandatory $250 surchage. Speak with the prosecutor and see what they are willing to do for you.
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