When to Fight a Traffic Ticket
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2008 approximately 44% of U.S. residents interacted with police officers due to traffic stops, and nearly half of those stops resulted in traffic tickets.
Given those statistics, there's a good chance you've been—or will be—pulled over for a moving violation at some point in your life. After all, even experienced drivers make mistakes. The question is, do you fight the ticket in traffic court or pay the fine (and/or endure any other penalties)?
We'll help you determine whether a fight is worth it—and if so, how to go about handling your ticket.
Fighting a Traffic Ticket
Before you decide to fight a traffic ticket (whether by yourself or with the help of an attorney), answer these questions:
- Do you truly believe you have legal proof to contest the ticket and, if so, can you properly present that proof if you try to contest the ticket on your own?
- Will paying the fine (and/or dealing with other penalties such as attending traffic school) cause less stress than a court case?
- Will the ticket accumulate points on your driver's license?
- If so, how close will that push you to license suspension or other consequences)?
- Can the ticket lead to an increase in your car insurance rate?
- Do you have the time to devote to making a court appearance (or maybe multiple appearances), even if you hire a lawyer?
- Are you facing jail time?
- This is often the case in serious violations such as DUI/DWI.
These questions—and your answers—are crucial to your personal situation and how you decide to move forward.
Strategies for Fighting Tickets
You can hire a traffic lawyer to determine the best strategy for fighting a ticket based on your specific violation; an attorney knows your area's specific traffic codes and how to best approach the judge.
Some common strategies include arguing:
- The Officer's Observations or Subjective Conclusions
- Basically, this refers to challenging the citing officer's views on what actually happened. Sometimes witness statements, photographs of the area, and even diagrams of where the officer's vehicle was located compared to where your vehicle was located can help prove that their vantage point was not ideal for reliably witnessing your infraction.
- “Mistake of Fact" Conduct
- Sometimes, a judge will dismiss a ticket if you can prove you made an honest mistake. For example, what if a traffic light was inoperable due to a storm or other electrical error? What if a stop sign was pushed to the side or obstructed from view?
- “Legally Justified" Conduct
- Common legally justified actions include slowing down in a left lane (the “fast lane") because you had to make a left turn, or exceeding the speed limit in order to quickly arrive at a hospital for a medical emergency.
- Conduct to Avoid Harm
- A judge might decide you conducted in an otherwise illegal manner in order to avoid harm to yourself of others. Examples include swerving the yellow lines to avoid hitting another car, pedestrian, or object, or speeding up in the “fast lane" because another driver was tailgating you and you needed room to move to a slower lane of traffic.
Unsurprisingly, any of these situations can be hard to prove; having a traffic ticket lawyer on your side could work to your advantage.
Hiring a Traffic Ticket Lawyer
Should you decide to contest your ticket, understand you can opt to fight the ticket without a traffic lawyer; however, entering the court with a lawyer on your side is extremely beneficial. Not only are these lawyers well versed in your area's traffic and vehicle code, but many of them are also familiar with the police officers and judges who handle such cases.
Note that you shouldn't hire the first traffic lawyer you run across; there are many factors to consider when hiring an attorney, and weighing these factors against your personal situation can be crucial to your outcome.
For more information on when and how to choose your attorney, visit our page When to Hire a Traffic Ticket Lawyer.