One of the first things most of us think of when we’re handed a traffic ticket is: should I bother fighting it? If you decide it is worth fighting, you’ll contest the citation in court. If you decide it isn’t, you’ll pay a fine.
Which of these options is the best one? The answer depends largely on your personal judgment.
We also detailed various situations below to help you determine which course of action makes more sense:
9 scenarios where you should fight a traffic ticket
Not every traffic violation is clean-cut and immediately in the favor of the government and law. You can argue your case in court and see if you can either get the fine reduced or completely dispute it.
This is your first ticket
There are a few reasons you should contest your first ticket. Perhaps the most important one, though, is that keeping your driving record clean for as long as possible can benefit you in a lot of ways.
Drivers with ticket-free records pay cheaper auto insurance rates on average than drivers with a record of tickets. You may also qualify for certain discounts directed at safe drivers.
However, if you are an overall safe driver and do not anticipate receiving another ticket in the near future, it might be better to move on and pay the fine. Tickets usually stay on your record for a short period of time.
Police officers, prosecutors and judges are more likely to go easy on you if your record is free of tickets. Police officers may let you off with a warning when you’re pulled over, while judges might reduce or even dismiss the charges against you.
|Type of accident or violation||Average annual rate increase after a speeding ticket|
|One speeding ticket||18%|
|One speeding ticket with $3,000 in property damage costs||44%|
You can’t afford to have any more points added to your license
Forty-one states use some sort of “points” system that tracks the driving performance and traffic violations of their residents.
If you live in one of these states, you might find yourself in a position where you’ll receive a license suspension if you accumulate any more points. If that happens to you, you’ll want to fight every traffic ticket that comes your way. This is one of those situations where you should go to court because you’ve basically got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The officer involved in your case caught the wrong car
Every once in a while, a police officer pulls over the wrong car. They might see a black sedan change lanes without using a signal. Thanks to the number of other vehicles on the road, though, they pull over a similar-looking black sedan instead of the one that actually broke the law.
Admittedly, proving that isn’t easy. It’s not impossible, though — especially if you can show that an obstacle or obstruction may have tripped up the officer in question.
The officer who pulled you over didn’t have a clear view of the road
Here’s another situation that has caused a lot of tickets to be torn up. Granted, to succeed with this strategy you’ve got to prove that the officer who pulled you over couldn’t have seen you break the law. Maybe a building blocked her view, or a fence or a tree.
If you can show that to be a real possibility, you’ll be well on your way to having your case dismissed or your penalty reduced.
You broke a traffic law while trying to avoid an accident
Were you given a ticket for failing to use your signal before you changed lanes? If so, and if your reason for doing that was to avoid hitting another car, bring it up when you get in front of a judge.
This is a good idea because the law says you can claim “necessity” if you’re forced to quickly switch lanes to avoid another car, person or animal. The same is true if you have to go over the speed limit to avoid an out-of-control or otherwise dangerous vehicle.
On a related note, don’t be shy about telling a judge that strange noises or similar mechanical issues caused you to:
- Pull over suddenly without using a signal.
- Drive on the shoulder of the road.
- Drop well below the speed limit.
You got a ticket for speeding, even though you were driving safely
You might think speeding is speeding and, as a result, whenever you’re caught doing it you deserve to get a ticket. In reality, though, it’s perfectly legal for drivers in a lot of states to go slightly over the speed limit if it’s safe to do so given current driving conditions.
The key word here is “slightly”. If you’re caught going too far over the speed limit, you’ll have a tough time convincing a judge to let you off with a slap on the wrist.
A traffic camera or radar gun is partially or fully responsible for your ticket
A lot of people assume it’s impossible to fight tickets that result from traffic cameras or radar guns. Those gadgets aren’t perfect, though. In fact, radar guns won’t work properly if they aren’t regularly recalibrated. Plus, officers who use them are supposed to check their calibration in a specific way after they hand out a ticket.
If an officer who pulls you over can’t prove she followed that rule to a T, don’t be afraid to suggest at your hearing that the radar gun used in your case may have provided a faulty reading.
There are errors on your ticket
Don’t expect your ticket to be torn up if your name is misspelled on it. Instead, look for instances where the wrong law, road or even highway is mentioned.
This is why so many experts suggest you spend some time researching the charges brought against you. After all, if you don’t look at your ticket and research which law you allegedly broke, you can’t tell a judge it includes one or more errors.
You’re pulled over for a serious offense
Any time you’re cited for a serious offense, like reckless driving or DUI, fight the charge in court.
Why? The penalties are high and may include license suspension, paying high fines or going to jail. Plus, it’ll give you time to find an attorney — if you decide you need one.
When should you just pay the ticket?
On the other hand, it’ll probably be in your best interest to pay the fine associated with a ticket if:
It’s tied to a non-moving violation
This is one of the few situations where many experts suggest it’s better to pay a ticket than take it to court. This is due in large part because the fines in question tend to be small. They also rarely add points to your license or otherwise mess up your driving record, unlike many moving violations.
Additionally, it's more difficult to argue a non-moving violation because they are not often subjectively determined. If you are fined for parking near a fire hydrant, for example, you'll have trouble arguing against it because it's easy to see if you did or didn't commit the offense.
A red-light or traffic camera supposedly caught you speeding or breaking another traffic law
Some lawyers say that fighting a ticket tied to a traffic camera is an exercise in futility. Others say the opposite. As such, it’s up to you to decide if it’s a good use of your time to contest one of these tickets in court.
You doubt you’ll win in court
Let’s be honest: sometimes you just know a judge won’t reduce your fine or dismiss your ticket.
If that describes your situation, you might as well avoid the hassle of taking things to court and pay the fine instead.
You can't get out of paying a fine by saying you didn't know the law or by giving a sob story.
Don’t make that decision too hastily, though. Guilt and innocence in these circumstances are rarely clear-cut, after all, so don’t let a simple lack of confidence keep you from fighting your ticket.
The basics of traffic tickets
Before we get to what might push you to fight a ticket or pay the associated fine, you should know the following:
Fighting a ticket may take more time and effort than you realize. If you decide to dispute the ticket, you'll likely have to go to court and prepare your argument. This could take several hours to complete and, depending on the fine and your driving record, it might not be worth it.
Not all tickets are created equally. Some tickets are classified as violations. Others are classified as misdemeanors or crimes. An example of a violation includes slight speeding. Serious offenses like DUI or reckless driving, on the other hand, are crimes.
There are different kinds of violations, too. One type consists of moving violations. These include speeding and failing to signal for turns or lane changes. The other type covers non-moving violations. These include scenarios like illegally tinted windows or burned-out tail lights.
Some legal experts think you should fight every single traffic ticket. Disputing a ticket has several potential benefits. For example, traffic violation and ticket history are two factors insurers use to determine your auto insurance rates. If you successfully fight your ticket, you may not only be freed from having to pay a fine, but you'll also prevent your rates from increasing.
What should you do if you get pulled over?
If you find yourself in a situation where you get pulled over for violating a traffic law, don't panic. We recommend you perform the following.
- Take note of what is the officer stopping you for and what they used to determine you broke a traffic law? If you were caught speeding, asking what device was used to make that assessment can help you if you decide to fight the ticket in court later.
- Write down or take detailed pictures of your surroundings and what happened. Where were you pulled over? Was there anything that affected your ability to follow traffic laws? For instance, ask yourself if there were any traffic signs that you passed that may not have been easily visible, or if going through the flow of traffic meant you had to go slightly above the speed limit.
- Don't argue. Be polite and don't make your situation worse. If you want to fight the ticket, you'll have the opportunity to argue in court.
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