Traffic Ticket FAQ in California

What do I do if I get a traffic ticket in California?

After being issued a CA traffic ticket, you must decide how you will plead. You have three plead options: guilty, no contest or not guilty. If you plead guilty or no contest you will need to pay the ticket before the appearance date posted on your citation. If you opt to plead not guilty, visit our Fighting Your Traffic Ticket page for detailed information on how to proceed.

Regardless of your plea, be sure to notify the court of your intention before the appearance date expires. Failure to contact the court could lead to the suspension of your driver’s license, fines (called a civil assessment) and even a warrant for your arrest.

What do I do if get a California fix-it ticket?

If you get a fix-it ticket or correctable violation, your traffic ticket will indicate whether you must pay for the violation or provide proof of correction. If it's the latter, you must get an authorized person (police officer, DMV agent, court clerk) to sign the Certificate of Correction part of your ticket. You then must appear in court before the citation’s deadline date with proof of correction and payment for the dismissal fee. The court will then dismiss your case.

Can I enroll in traffic school to reduce the number of California driver’s license points on my record?

You can attend a state-approved traffic school if you possess a valid driver’s license and if your citation is for a moving violation. In most cases your courtesy notice, sent by the court, will indicate if you are eligible to attend. Upon completion of traffic school the court will dismiss the ticket. If this is your first violation, points will probably not appear on your driving record. Be sure, before enrolling, that your chosen traffic school is court-approved. If there’s any doubt, contact the court for a list of approved traffic schools.

Why is it a good idea to order a driving record?

Routinely audit your driving record to make sure there are no unaccounted points. This is especially important after receiving a traffic citation. Otherwise your driver’s license could be suspended or you could get hit with higher insurance rates.

Do I have to appear in court?

You should be able to settle most traffic infractions by mail, but if you harbor any doubts, contact a lawyer or call the court clerk.

Regardless, you can always request a traffic trial.

How many points will I get if convicted?

Points vary by infraction. Lesser infractions, such as moving violations or at-fault accidents, are assessed one point each. Whereas more serious infractions―reckless driving, DUI, driving without auto insurance―carry a 2 point penalty. Point duration (the amount of time points stay on your driving record) ranges from 39 months to 10 years. Learn more at our California’s Point System page.

What do I do when issued a Red Light Photo Enhancement ticket?

The photo citation that arrives in the mail will provide detailed information on how to pay or fight the fine. Most county court websites provide online links for viewing your photographs. Or, in some instances, you may be given a phone number to call to arrange for an appointment to see your photos. Your citation will also provide information on how to proceed if you’re not the person in the photograph.

Are traffic fines the same throughout the state of California?

Yes and no, but basically traffic ticket fines vary.

The state sets a traffic infraction bail and penalty schedule for counties to adhere to when assessing traffic penalties. However, multiple counties have the green light to exceed state-set fines. Plus, additional penalties, fees and assessments may be levied at either the county or state level as explained in California’s Vehicle Code and our page on traffic ticket fines and penalties.

Will my driver’s license be suspended if I accumulate too many points on my driving record?

California has implemented a Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS). Under this system your driving privileges will be suspended for the following point totals:

  • 4 points in 12 months.
  • 6 points in 24 months.
  • 8 points in 36 months.

Points can add up fast. The state assesses 1 point to traffic violations and at-fault collisions. And a 2 point penalty for more serious violations like DUI, reckless driving and operating a vehicle with a suspended license. For a detailed points list, visit our page on California’s Point System.

Do I need a lawyer?

California will allow you to represent yourself in traffic court. You also have the option to hire a traffic ticket lawyer. Consulting legal counsel is especially advisable if the addition of another traffic violation point on your driving record will result in the loss of your driver’s license. The court does not assign lawyers for traffic infractions.

Hiring a traffic ticket lawyer for a misdemeanor traffic ticket is highly recommended. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will assign you one.

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