Citations or traffic tickets are issued in the State of California for various violations of traffic law. Citations generally indicate the statute or code number of the violation, and explain how and when to pay the fine or respond to the ticket. You must respond to a citation, usually by paying a fine or appearing in court, or else a warrant may be issued for your arrest and your driving license may be suspended.
TYPES OF VIOLATIONS
Most traffic tickets in California are issued for what are sometimes called "infractions". In these cases, the only thing required to convict a person of the infraction is proof that they committed the act, regardless of any criminal intent. Examples of infractions include:
- Overdue parking meters.
- Not using turn signals.
- Parking in a handicapped zone without authorization.
More serious offences are called "misdemeanors". These include:
MOVING VS. NON-MOVING VIOLATIONS
Violations are also classified by whether or not the vehicle was in motion at the type of the incident, and traffic tickets may therefore be for either moving or non-moving violations. Examples of moving violations include:
- Speeding or driving below the minimum speed.
- Running a stop sign or red light.
- Driving without a seat belt.
- Drunk driving (DUI and DWI).
Non-Moving violations include:
- Parking in a handicapped zone or other illegal parking.
- Driving with an invalid vehicle registration.
- Having expired or missing license plates.
- Leaving a vehicle unattended and running.
The majority of traffic violations in California are classified as infractions, which require paying a fine up to $370 or more. More serious offenses carry higher fines and/or imprisonment. You may be fined up to $3520 or more for a misdemeanor.
YOUR OPTIONS WHEN YOU RECEIVE A CITATION
Many citations do not require a court appearance, and you may admit guilt by paying the ticket directly. The citation will indicate how and by what date to pay the fine. You can pay the fine by mail, online or in person.
If you wish to dispute the citation, you must appear in court personally on the scheduled date, and enter a "not guilty" plea. While you may be able to negotiate with the prosecuting attorney, a trial will be scheduled if no agreement is reached. A trial gives you an opportunity to fight the traffic ticket in front of a judge or jury, and most people prefer to hire a traffic ticket lawyer to defend them in court.
For most infractions, you can ask for a trial by mail (also known as a "trial by written declaration"). You will have to write to the court informing them that you wish to do this, at least five days before you have to appear in court. Forms will be sent to you for this. Each court handles traffic violations differently. Check with your local court for more information on this.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF BEING FOUND GUILTY
When you pay a ticket directly, you are essentially pleading guilty to a traffic offense, which carries the same consequences as being found guilty of the violation in court. Motorists who either plead guilty directly or are found guilty of an offense should be aware of the following possible consequences:
- Certain traffic offenses, including speeding and other moving violations, are automatically reported to California Driver Safety Offices. California routinely provides information concerning traffic ticket convictions to other states and Canadian provinces.
- The California Department of Motor Vehicles follows a point system to track violations and their corresponding penalties. Points are added to your driving record which could result in your license being suspended. For more information, see our Point System section.
- California drivers that accumulate points on their driving record are often subject to higher car insurance premiums.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT TRAFFIC TICKET CONVICTIONS
One of the best ways to reduce the negative implications of traffic violations is to drive safely and not commit any additional offenses. Points on your California license will be reduced, and your driving record may eventually be cleared if you remain free of any additional violations. Smart drivers often choose to take a defensive driving course or traffic school course in order to reduce the points on their license more quickly.
Taking a defensive driving course can also help lower the car insurance premiums of drivers whose rates increased following one or more traffic ticket convictions. Some drivers prefer to obtain a new quote for car insurance following a traffic ticket conviction, since often more competitive rates and coverage may be available.
More information on Driving Schools in California can be found here.