When to Fight a Traffic Ticket

Did you get a ticket? You might be able to go to court and overturn it. Here's when and how you should fight a traffic ticket.
Police officer writing ticket.

Getting a traffic ticket is never fun. It can be expensive, leave a blemish on your driving record, and raise your car insurance rates. But what if you don’t agree with the citation you’ve received? Instead of simply paying up, you could fight it and possibly save some money.

Disputing a traffic ticket can be helpful for several reasons. For instance, doing so could help you avoid higher auto insurance prices resulting from points on your record. It can also help you avoid a driver’s license suspension. So, if you think you have a good case on your side, it might just be worth it to take a stand against your infraction.

In this article, we’ll help you know when it’s best to fight a traffic ticket. This includes how you can decide whether challenging it is worthwhile, what to expect, and more. We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about disputing a citation

Should You Fight a Traffic Ticket?

Fighting a ticket can take a lot of effort. First, you’ll have to make sure you have enough evidence. Then, you’ll have to go to court and argue your case in front of a judge. And on top of that, it may not even work out.

It may seem a lot easier just to pay for the fine and move on with your life. This is especially the case if you rarely get pulled over by the police. But you might have a lot more at stake. Fighting a traffic ticket and winning could be the difference in avoiding a higher premium, a bad driving record, or both.

Here are five questions you can ask yourself to help decide whether you should fight a traffic ticket:

Did I Break the Law?

Knowing whether you broke the law is the first step in deciding if you should fight a ticket. You may have a case if you’re sure you didn’t run that red light or blow through that stop sign. If you’re unsure, consider researching the law that the officer said you broke. You can typically find traffic laws on your state government’s legal website. You’ll have a much stronger case if you’ve carefully read and understood the law that you supposedly violated.

But what if you broke the law, but for a good reason? Sometimes, breaking the law is the only option. This could be the case if you had to avoid a collision or other accident. You could claim that you had no choice but to speed up or change lanes rapidly to avoid a dangerous driver, debris in the road, or an animal.

Do I Know How I Got Caught?

Knowing how the police caught you can also help you decide whether to fight your ticket. For instance, you could be able to question the accuracy of the equipment the police officer used to catch you. As an example, radar guns may not always be perfect or can be prone to misuse. And if you know that’s how they caught you, you may be able to do some research and include it in your defense. But remember, you must be able to put forth solid proof that the equipment didn’t capture your actual speed.

The same is true for photo or video equipment like red light cameras. It’s not very common, but these camera systems can make mistakes and record you when you didn’t run a red light at all. You could also try to prove that you weren’t driving the car when it went through the red light. In this case, you’d have to sign an affidavit saying that you weren’t the driver of the vehicle.

If you knew exactly where they saw you, you could also call into question the officer’s visibility of the road. One argument is that the police officer was too far away from the road and, therefore, could have pulled over the wrong car.

Being aware of how you got caught for your violation can be very helpful in forming your case. Ideally, this is something you can ask the officer right after they pull you over. And, if you ran a red light, you’ll likely find out when you receive the ticket in the mail.

How Bad Is the Violation?

It may not be worth it to fight a ticket if it won’t affect your record or your auto insurance. A speeding violation for going five over the posted limit is unlikely to affect anything. But it’s a much different conversation if you get a citation for going 20 mph over the limit. You could face paying a higher premium if you get lots of small citations or one serious traffic infraction, such as a DUI, on your record.

As long as it’s not too severe, one ticket shouldn’t be the end of the world if you’re usually a safe driver with little to no violations. Keep in mind that you should only fight it in court if you think you can beat it.

Is It My First Ticket?

You might also think about challenging the citation if it’s your first one. Insurers often offer discounts for safe driving if you keep your driving record clean for a certain amount of time. For this reason, fighting a ticket could keep your rates as low as possible. Young people may also think about disputing their first infraction. Insurance prices are already high for young drivers, and a violation on your record could make it cost even more.

Am I Prepared to Face the Consequences?

You should think about how ready you are to deal with the aftermath of being ticketed Depending on the severity, traffic tickets can be quite expensive. They can also impact your driving record and auto coverage rates.

You may consider fighting the ticket if you’re dangerously close to losing your license. Many states track tickets using a points system. With these systems, you could lose your license if you have too many violations or points on your record. Contesting a citation might also be a good choice if you don’t think you’ll be able to afford it or the effect it could have on your car insurance rates.

What to Expect When You Contest a Ticket

It’s not always an easy process to fight a traffic ticket. You’ll have to go to court if you decide to go through with it. Once in court, you must be able to prove to a prosecutor with sufficient evidence that you’re innocent or didn’t deserve to get cited.

Below are some things to expect if you choose to fight a ticket:

You’ll Need to Gather Enough Evidence

To have your ticket dismissed, you’ll have to make sure you have enough strong evidence on your side. Try to remember everything you can about the incident. This includes everything from the moment you saw the police lights flashing behind you and even a little before.

The following are some ways you can collect evidence:

  • Ask the police officer how they caught you. This could help you figure out if they had faulty equipment or visibility issues when they decided to write you a ticket.
  • Write down what you remember about the incident. Try your best to recall what happened. Writing it down will ensure you have your evidence ready to go in court.
  • Do some research on laws. Knowing about the law you broke can help you figure out if the ticket’s worth fighting.
  • Look for errors on your traffic citation. Small details can be extremely helpful when you fight a ticket. Even something as small as the officer writing down the incorrect road or law can help overturn it.
  • Try to find witnesses. A witness, such as a passenger in your car during the incident, could help prove that you didn’t break the law.

The Officer May Not Show Up

The officer who gave you the ticket will likely appear at your hearing. But there’s also a chance that they won’t be there. If this is the case, you could have a better chance of having your fine erased. This is because they wouldn’t be there to dispute any of the claims you make in your defense.

Don’t count on the officer not being there, though. You’ll need a good defense ready if they do show up. Keep in mind that the more severe your violation was, the more likely the officer is to appear. A police officer will almost surely remember someone who committed a DUI or reckless driving offense and will be there to ensure justice takes its course.

You May Need a Lawyer

It’s not an easy task to go before a judge and plead your case. You might want to get an attorney for several reasons. Maybe you know you’re innocent but are unsure of how to set up a good defense. Or perhaps you think a lawyer could talk better than you could in court. Or you’re in danger of losing your license and want to make sure you have the best defense possible.

Whatever the reason may be, sometimes a lawyer is the best option. But consider that lawyers can be expensive, and it could be hard to find one that specializes in traffic tickets. Many lawyers take on bigger, more severe violations such as DUIs.

Bottom Line

Though it can take a lot of effort and a well-crafted defense, fighting a ticket can be worth it in many ways. If you win, you’ll be able to save your driving record and your coverage. You’ll also be able to keep any car insurance discounts you currently qualify for.

But it’s important to remember that fighting a ticket isn’t a sure thing. You’ll need to prove that you didn’t commit the violation you were cited for. Sometimes, it’s best to just pay the fine and move on if you’re not sure you’ll get it dismissed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do tickets stay on my driving record?

Depending on your state, tickets stay on your driving record for at least two to five years. But some states may remove them after just one year, while others keep them on your record forever. In some instances, the severity determines how long the state tracks speeding violations or other infractions.

For example, a reckless driving conviction will be on your official driving history for an average of 10 years. That means you will be paying through the nose for car insurance for a decade! A DUI or DWI is even worse. While many states also keep a record of drunk driving violation on your driver record for 10 years, some never expunge it. Washington State law requires that drunk driving convictions remain on your driving record, going to so far as to say that it can’t be expunged, vacated, or sealed.

Is it better to fight a ticket or just pay it?

Fighting a ticket can have many benefits. You can save money on your car insurance, or you could keep costly points and violations off your driving record. But you’ll need a good case with evidence to prove you didn’t break the law. If you don’t think you have enough evidence or know you broke the law, it’s probably best to just pay your fine.

Another consideration is that taking time off from work could cost you more than paying the ticket and calling it done. But if the infraction is severe enough to increase your insurance premium significantly, challenging the citation in court could still make good financial sense.

What happens if you fight a traffic ticket and lose?

If you decide to fight a ticket and lose the case, you’ll be required to pay the full fine for the violation. You shouldn’t have to pay any additional fees beyond what was printed on the original citation. In some cases you could be forced to pay an associated court cost. If the penalty infraction includes adding points to your driver’s license, they will be applied to your driving history.

When the points are added to your record you may not see any immediate changes and think you dodged a bullet. Unfortunately, your insurer will almost certainly receive some notification regarding your driver history change. And when they do, your premium could cost more the next time you renew. If the offense was severe (A reckless driving conviction, for example), your insurance company could even cancel your policy.

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