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Fighting a Traffic Ticket

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It’s happened to almost every driver. And if it hasn’t happened to you, it’s just a matter of time. The dreaded traffic or parking ticket. Sometimes, you parked somewhere you thought was legal, and you come back to find a ticket on your windshield. Or you may have been going just a bit over the speed limit and had the bad luck to catch the attention of a police officer. Whatever the situation, it may pay to fight the ticket.

Is it worth fighting a traffic ticket?

There is some hassle involved with fighting a traffic ticket, so you have to decide if it’s worth it. Often, fighting a ticket means going downtown, paying for parking, and even taking a day off work to go to court. For a minor ticket with a low fine, it may not be worth it.

So when should you consider fighting a traffic ticket?

If the ticket has a high fine, if it will add lots of points to your driver's license, or if it will increase your insurance premium, it may be worth your time. It may not seem like the ticket is a big deal now, but you could end up paying quite a bit over time, especially if it raises your insurance premium. Even if it doesn’t, a second ticket may raise your rates. If you can get the first one dismissed, the next time you get a ticket you may have some forgiveness from your insurance company.

How to Fight a Traffic Ticket

It has been said that 80% of life is showing up. In the case of traffic tickets, that couldn’t be more true. Just showing up at your court date dramatically increases your chances of having the ticket dismissed. On the other hand, paying your ticket is almost always an automatic admission of guilt.

The easiest way for you to win is if the issuing officer doesn’t show up. You have a constitutional right to question your accuser. So if the officer doesn’t show up, that is an automatic dismissal. You can increase your chances of the officer not showing up by filing for an extension. Very often, a police officer will schedule all of their court dates on the same day. Obviously, this is more convenient for the officer than showing up for a single ticket. If you can move your court date to another day, there is a very good chance the officer won’t bother to come to court just for your ticket.

If your ticket is a camera ticket, just showing up can be very effective. The courts often don’t bother bringing the photo or video evidence to the courtroom. If you show up and dispute the ticket, the court has no proof of your traffic violation. That’s another automatic dismissal.

Traffic School

Even if the officer shows up and you have no basis to fight the ticket, you can minimize the damage. For many violations, state and local governments will offer the option of traffic school. After you provide proof of attendance, your charges will be dismissed or reduced. Of course, traffic school costs money, so this may not save you much. But if the ticket includes points on your license or would trigger an insurance hike, traffic school could end up saving a lot of money in the long run. If you can’t fight the ticket, you can still ask the judge or the prosecutor to consider traffic school.

Whether you decide to fight a ticket is often a cost-benefit analysis. If going to court will cost you more in time and lost earnings than the fine on the ticket, don’t bother. But if the ticket has consequences beyond a small fine, showing up could work to your advantage.