What are the possible outcomes of a traffic ticket?
If you've been charged with a traffic violation, there is a wide range of traffic ticket outcomes you could face. Depending on the charge, you could be hit with fines, mandatory traffic school, or even suspension of your driving privileges. Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your traffic ticket outcomes. Here is an overview of what to expect.
Different levels of traffic offenses
In some states, most minor and routine traffic violations are considered "civil infractions," which means they are not treated as crimes. While this sounds good in theory, it can make it harder to fight your ticket in court. In most cases, there is a lower burden of proof, and the ticketing officer may not be required to appear at your hearing, making it harder to challenge his or her version of the event.
The majority of states, however, classify traffic violations as crimes. There are three levels of traffic offenses:
"Summary" or "petty" infractions are very minor violations, such as failure to signal a turn or illegal lane change. You can argue these tickets in traffic court, or hire an attorney to help you resolve it.
Misdemeanor offenses, such as reckless driving or driving under the influence, are punishable by up to one year in jail and traffic ticket fines of up to $1,000 or $2,000, depending on where you live. You have the right to trial and lawyer.
Felony offenses can lead to very serious traffic ticket outcomes, including a year or more in prison, and hefty fines. Hit-and-run accidents and repeat DUI convictions are examples of felony offenses. If you are charged with a felony traffic violation, contact a lawyer.
Potential traffic ticket outcomes
Unless you are convicted of a serious violation, you will not face jail time. A judge cannot send you to jail for routine traffic tickets. Most people will face one or more consequences discussed below.
Routine traffic tickets usually carry fines in the range of $75 to $500, and some states consider your driving record before assessing traffic ticket fines. The fine amount is normally written on your citation. Because it is more expensive for the state if you fight your ticket in traffic court, states make paying your fine the easiest way to settle a traffic ticket. If you pay your fine, however, you are pleading guilty to the violation, and it will be part of your driving record for three years in most cases.
In most states, judges have the option of ordering you to attend traffic school for certain violations. They can also offer you a combination of a fine and traffic school as a way to remove the violation from your driving record. This can be one of the most attractive traffic ticket outcomes, especially if you have one or more prior tickets and are concerned about how this ticket will affect your insurance rates.
Most people will not lose their license for one or two traffic tickets for violations like running a red light or speeding. However, if you have 3 or more violations in a period of 3 to 5 years, or are charged with drunk or reckless driving, there is a very strong possibility your license will be suspended for a period of time.
If you are facing more serious traffic ticket outcomes, a traffic lawyer can explain your options and help you decide on a course of action.