If you’ve been issued a traffic ticket, you may ask yourself some of the following questions:
If you decide to fight the ticket, several things will happen:
If you don’t fight the ticket, you could end up doing some or all of the following:
The answer is: absolutely not. Many tickets are given in situations where even the officer knows that a motorist who puts up a spirited defense might win. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the officer will cut back in handing out marginal tickets. That’s because the officer also knows that only about 3% of ticketed drivers contest their citations. And furthermore, many of those who do fight are so unprepared and nervous that they beat themselves, not their citation.
Common sense would say “no” if there is a small chance of winning and “yes” if the officer clearly screwed up. Still, for most tickets, guilt or innocence is not so clear cut, meaning that you’ll normally want to consider a number of factors, including the consequences of paying your fine—which is the same thing as pleading guilty.
Always prepare to contest serious violations. If you’re charged with anything that could land you in jail—like reckless or drunk driving—it is almost always wise to at least take the first steps necessary to fight the charge. In most states this consists of telling the court clerk you want to plead not guilty and then actually going to court to enter your plea. Doing this will give you time to research the charges you face, including searching for information that might help you fight to reduce the charges to a less-serious offense through a plea bargain. It also gives you time to find and consult a lawyer, if you decide one is necessary
Before assuming the ticket can’t be beaten and resigning yourself to writing out that check, we encourage you to take a hard look at the facts to see if you have a reasonable chance of success. You may be surprised at the variety of legal grounds available for defeating your ticket. For example, in about one-third of the states—including California, Colorado, Texas, and Massachusetts—many posted speed limits are not “absolute.” This means if you were driving slightly above the posted speed limit but can convince a judge you were driving safely, you may be found not guilty. And to take another common example, where a ticket is given for an “unsafe lane change” it may be possible to show that you changed lanes with reasonable safety. That’s because it involves a quick judgment call on the part of the cop to cite you—a decision you may be able to successfully challenge if the lane change did not result in an accident.
For More Information: How to Research Traffic Laws
To test the legality of the ticket you received, you must learn how to research the law and court procedure. Because of the Internet, researching the law is fairly easy. Once you locate the law you are accused of violating, you should closely examine its words and phrases because sometimes, the officer did not fully understand all of the technical aspects of the law, or worse, the officer has taken inappropriate liberties in interpreting the law.
If you are uneasy searching for legal technicalities to keep your record clear, then follow your conscience, pay your ticket, and accept the consequences. But keep in mind that exploiting legal technicalities is a common, legitimate practice for avoiding the consequences of a traffic ticket.
How to Decide Whether to Fight or Fold
Here are some questions to determine whether going to court makes sense: