Should you pay traffic fines or contest the ticket?
Why should I consider fighting a ticket?
There are several reasons you might want to fight your ticket:
- Paying is the same as pleading guilty, so it will be a blemish on your driving record. Also, once you pay, your case is over, so you can’t usually change your mind later.
- If you want to keep the ticket off your record, you may be required to spend time in traffic school. There may also be fees for attending traffic school.
- Your insurance rates may go up, and they may stay high for several years.
- You may lose your license if you have too many previous tickets.
You also have a chance of winning by default if the officer doesn’t show up. This is often more likely during typical vacation times, like summer or near holidays. Rescheduling your court date can also increase the odds the officer won’t show.
Would I ever want to just pay the fine?
Sometimes just paying the ticket and moving on is the easiest choice. Fighting a ticket takes time, effort, and money. You'll often need to:
Spend considerable time to prepare your case, including reviewing evidence and interviewing witnesses.
Take time off work to go to court.
Pay legal fees if you hire a lawyer to represent you.
Depending on the case, and your odds of winning in court, you may end up spending more time and money than it's worth.
However, before you decide to pay a ticket, always check to see if the potential consequences of the ticket could include significantly higher insurance rates or loss of your drivers license. If they do, you'll usually want to fight the ticket.
How long do I have to decide what to do?
You'll want to find out early how much time you have to pay a fine or fight it. Different jurisdictions use different time limits, but it’s commonly 30 days or less.
Your ticket will usually include a court date. You must either show up in court on that day or pay before then.
If you don’t see a date or payment instructions on your ticket, you can call the court to get that information. You may also be able to look it up on your county’s website.
Getting legal help to fight your ticket
If you do decide to contest your ticket, it's often worth hiring a lawyer to help. An attorney who specializes in traffic tickets will know the law and the best options for your case.
For example, the exact wording of the law is important. A statute might state you may not make a U-turn on a residential street when an oncoming vehicle is within 200 feet. If you made a U-turn with no oncoming traffic, you can argue that you didn’t violate the law.
Your lawyer can also help you figure out if other defenses may apply to your situation, such as:
Mistake of fact. This means you were mistaken about the situation. For example, you made an illegal right turn because you’ve been driving that street for years and didn’t notice the brand new no-turn-on-red sign.
The officer pulled over the wrong car. This can be a valid argument if the officer’s view was obstructed and you drive a common, nondescript car. You can argue the violator was in a similar car.
Faulty or unreliable equipment. If the radar gun the officer used to ticket you for speeding was not recalibrated within the required time, you have a good chance of getting your ticket dismissed.
Hiring a lawyer is not a guarantee of success, so you’ll need to decide if you want to do so. But many traffic attorneys will offer a free consultation so you can get an idea of your chances for success.