As a former police officer I certainly gave out my share of traffic citations. Some of the most commonly issued traffic citations are for offenses such as speeding, red light violations, expired registration and seatbelt violations. To this day I still get asked by friends and family members how they should handle the traffic citation they recently received. Depending on the severity of the traffic citation there are a couple of ways they can be handled. Here are a couple options:
- Hire an attorney: When in doubt, hire an attorney. Criminal Defense attorneys work within our court system every day and are experts on how to navigate their local legal system. They will typically get you the most favorable outcome possible for your traffic citation. Yes, you might pay a little more by hiring an attorney, but they can certainly save you money in the long run by helping you avoid points against your license and insurance. They can also save you a tremendous amount of time. In many states your attorney can appear in court for you to handle a traffic ticket. This saves you the time and hassle of having to drive to the courthouse and then wait for your case to be called. Your attorney may have you complete a defensive driving course to show the court that you are taking the issue seriously and deserve a reduction with your traffic citation.
The National Crash Prevention Program offers a four-hour defensive driving course in both an in-person format and online that’s accepted in most states. You can learn more about their program at www.nationalcpp.org.
2. Represent yourself by appearing in court: For minor traffic offenses you can appear in court on your designated court date to represent yourself. Often, if you are charged with a registration violation or equipment violation the traffic offense will be dismissed if you simply prove that you had the problem corrected. If you’re charged with a moving violation such as speeding or red light violation the state’s attorney (sometimes called Prosecutors or Assistant District Attorneys) may allow you to take a defensive driving course. In return for taking a defensive driving course the state may agree to reduce or even dismiss your ticket. This option can often depend on the severity of the traffic offense and your driving history. If you are charged with reckless operation or have had multiple traffic citations in the past, they may not allow you to attend a defensive driving course. If you appear in court to represent yourself and are unsure of the agreement being offered you can usually ask for a continuance to allow yourself time to contact an attorney.
3. Pay the citation: For many minor traffic offenses they will allow you to mail in the fine and court cost associated with your traffic citation. I never recommend anyone paying off their traffic citation. If you pay off a moving violation you are essentially pleading guilty/responsible and as a result you may receive points against your license and insurance. These points can result in a substantial increase in your insurance which may cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the next several years. It might save you time and prevent you from having to hire an attorney but in the long run, it will cost you more.
These are the top three ways to handle a traffic citation. The worst thing you can do is ignore your traffic citation and fail to take any type of action. If you fail to appear in court, or fail to hire an attorney to represent you, your driver’s license will most likely be suspended and the court system will issue an order for your arrest. This creates a much bigger problem to deal with!
My hope is that you will never have to use this information because you’re driving safely!