While it is less serious than most criminal offenses, a traffic ticket can have a significant impact on your life. You may need to pay a fine and may face a license suspension. Also, your insurance premiums may increase if you receive repeated tickets. Very few drivers go to jail for a traffic ticket, however, unless the incident was exceptionally egregious. A driver may go to jail for DUI or reckless driving, but these are considered more severe and handled differently from ordinary moving violations.
The fine for a traffic ticket will depend on the severity of the violation and whether you have a history of previous tickets. A typical ticket may result in a fine between $75 and $400. If you receive a speeding ticket, you may pay a higher fine if you significantly exceeded the speed limit. Paying a fine means that you acknowledge guilt for the violation, and it will remain on your driving record for a certain period. The length of this period depends on the state, but it often lasts about three years. However, if you go to traffic school in addition to paying the fine, the violation will not appear on your record. (Read more below about traffic school.)
If you are unsure about the amount of a fine for a violation, and it is not printed on the ticket, you can contact the traffic court to find out what it is.
Each state has its own point system, and a driver receives certain points on their record for each moving violation. If you get too many within a certain period, your license may be suspended. An adult driver probably will not face a license suspension for one or two ordinary tickets. If they have three or more moving violations within the last few years, however, their license may be at risk. A driver who is under 18 could face a license suspension based on a single violation. Parking tickets do not apply toward license suspensions.
A driver can try to prevent a license suspension at a hearing before an officer of the Department of Motor Vehicles or the equivalent. They may challenge the basis for one or more of the tickets that resulted in the points at issue, or they may argue that they need to drive for their job, among other strategies. If you cannot prevent a license suspension, you may still be able to get a hardship license that allows you to drive for limited, essential purposes. Read more here about license suspensions and defenses for drivers facing them.
One of the main reasons why a driver may fight a ticket is to avoid an increase in their insurance premiums. If you have received just one standard ticket in the last few years, you probably will not face an increase. Multiple tickets or a ticket related to a car accident in which the driver was at fault tend to result in increases. You can contact your insurance company to find out about its policy for increasing premiums based on tickets. However, some drivers would prefer not to tell their insurer that they have received a ticket, especially if they are considering wiping it out through traffic school. They might instead contact the insurer anonymously, not revealing that they are a current policyholder, and get general information about the insurer’s practices. These can include increases in premiums based on tickets.
A driver who receives a ticket for an ordinary moving violation usually can get it removed from their record by attending a traffic school course. This lasts six to eight hours and sometimes can be completed online. Each state has a limit on how often you can get a ticket wiped out in this way, ranging from one year to two years. Some states allow you to avoid paying the fine if you complete a traffic school course, while other states require you to pay the fine in addition to paying for the course. Read more here about how traffic school works.