Types of Traffic Citations and Penalties

June 17, 2020

Learn about 10 types of traffic citations, consequences of out-of-state tickets, and how multiple tickets in a short period of time affects your record.

Traffic citations are issued for acts that breach the traffic laws of the community or the state. Most laws governing traffic citations are local, although from time to time the federal government holds jurisdiction over several regulations. Motorists need to follow numerous and different kinds of traffic laws. Aside from fines and tickets, some traffic citations call for traffic school attendance.

Types of Traffic Citations
Traffic citations are normally divided into two types: major and minor. Minor types of traffic citations include parking violations and some driving violations. These citations are not held against a driver's record, although you may be detained for violations that go unpaid. Seat belt violations are also prevalent. Serious violations include moving violations like leaving an accident scene or reckless driving. There are also drunk driving violations.

Among these violations, the most prevalent is speeding. State regulations define the speed limit of an area. Most states enforce a 65-mph maximum speed limit. Speed limit violations have two kinds: fixed maximum and prima facie. The fixed maximum limit indicates that it's unlawful to go beyond the speed limit anytime and anywhere. The prima facie, on the other hand, gives drivers the liberty to justify the speed of their driving is safe and lawful. Most minor traffic citations lead to traffic school sanctions. The following citations can lead to a traffic school penalty.

  • Speeding
  • Running a red light or a stop sign
  • Failure to follow the right-of-way or failure to provide way for a vehicle in the right lane
  • Failure to signal when changing lanes or making a turn
  • Failure to drive within a specified lane, or driving in between two lanes
  • Driving over a median, center divider or a gore
  • Driving illegally on the shoulder
  • Seat belt violations
  • Running over a pedestrian lane when stopping is required. Not giving way for a crosswalk
  • Driving past a school bus when passengers are loading or unloading

Generally, all moving violations may be subjected for traffic school sanctions. Check with the local government and other federal regulations concerning traffic citations and traffic schools.

Speeding Ticket Fines Explained >>

Traffic School Laws Regarding Out of State Tickets
In most cases, your out-of-state traffic ticket will appear on your home state driving record. The ability to use online, in state, out of state or local traffic schools varies by state. In some states, you're stuck with the results, but others will allow traffic school.

Admission of Guilt
In most states, to be able to go to traffic school involves admitting your guilt--in other words, paying the traffic fine. This will not remove the violation but will remove the associated points. In some sense, points are hidden if you attend traffic school. However, if you have another offense within 12 months or 18 months, depending on the state, the points may reappear. These points appear in your public record, which insurance companies can see. Those visible points can and will affect your insurance premiums.

Driver License Compact
With the consent of the federal government, states are allowed to establish agreements with each other called interstate compacts. The Driver License Compact is such an agreement and is used between almost all states. This allows the states to use this shared information to determine courses of action. In other words, if you live in Missouri and get a traffic ticket in Colorado, it will end up on your driving record back in Missouri.

Non-Resident Violator Compact
Another interstate compact used by most states, the Non-Resident Violator Compact, is used by states to honor the other state's actions. For example, if you don't pay the fine on an out-of-state ticket, the other state may notify your home state and the home state will suspend your driver's license until you take care of the fine. Instances where this may not occur are when the ticket involves a minor violation, such as a parking ticket.

State Examples
In you live in Florida and receive a traffic ticket while in another state, that state will notify the state of Florida. You will not be given the opportunity to remove that traffic ticket from your Florida driving record by traffic school attendance. But the reverse is not true. If you are an out of state driver in Florida and get a ticket, you may be able to go to traffic school and have your points removed. You should also, in this case, check the laws in your home state to see if they honor Florida's traffic school laws.

California will allow you to take an approved or state certified online traffic school, as well as local traffic schools from your home state. Also check these online traffic schools for hidden fees. You don't want to attend a school that is not state certified by the state where you received the ticket.

The best step is to be careful. While home states generally allow you to take traffic school to reduce your points, with out of state ticket situations there is a greater chance that you will not be able to do so, and the points will be on your home state driving record.

Consequences of Multiple Tickets in a Short Period of Time

Multiple tickets can cause your insurance premiums to rise substantially. Tickets generally fall into two classifications, non-moving violations and moving violations. Although this varies by state, non-moving violations such as a parking ticket or a headlight out will not generally affect your insurance premiums. Be sure you check your state requirements regarding traffic violations, whether moving or non-moving.

Moving Violations
Moving violations typically cause your insurance rates to go up and if ignored—or worse, if you are a repeat offender—can land you in jail with a suspended driver's license. The severity of the traffic violation also has an effect. In some states the break is at 15 miles per hour; in others it may be higher or lower. If you are caught speeding this much over the limit, the offense will bring stiffer penalties.

Traffic School
Traffic schools are designed to allow you to remove points from your public driving record to potentially lower your car insurance premiums. The advantage for the state is that by allowing this, the state is also able to provide training to offenders in the chance that more education will equate to better drivers.

Repeat Offenders
The state assumes that such offenders just aren't getting the message. This varies by state, but in general if you have more than one traffic citation within a 12 or 18 month window, you will not be able to get those points removed for the subsequent offenses. For example, Ohio allows you to take a defensive driving course to get a two-point credit on your record if you have more than five but less than 12 points on that record. Typically, most states only allow one traffic school per 12 to 18-month time frame.

Points and Time
The length of time traffic violations stay on your record also varies by state. For a regular speeding ticket, not an aggressive one, the typical duration is three years and counts as one point on your driving record. Again, verify this with your state's motor vehicle department.

Aggressive Driving
In some states, such as Florida, if the judge determines that you are an aggressive driver you may be required to attend an aggressive driver course to avoid having your license suspended. Typically, these courses can only be taken in person in a classroom setting. Examples of aggressive driving may include:

  • Getting cited for road rage
  • Speeding tickets over 30 mph above the limit
  • Multiple speeding tickets in a short period of time
  • A street or drag racing citation

Within such a course, the emphasis will be on the nature of your aggressive driving characteristics and how to bring these under control. These courses are not designed to help get a few points knocked off your driving record. They are designed to help you learn to control your emotions while driving.

As is the case in all traffic schools, be sure the course offered is approved by the state and provides a certificate of completion. You will need this to meet the state requirement that you have indeed taken and completed the training.

How to Remove a Traffic Ticket from Your Driving Record

It is possible to get rid of a traffic ticket by attending traffic school. However by going to traffic school or a defensive driving class you are not guaranteed to erase the fine, as this is highly dependent on the state you live in. It is impossible to completely remove a ticket unless you contest it in court, but traffic school can get rid of the damage it does, preventing your insurance from going up and you being considered a higher risk driver than before.

Fighting the Ticket
The only way to completely remove your ticket is to contest it in court.

Write Down the Circumstances of the Ticket
If you plan to contest the ticket, it is important to start your defense immediately. Write down the events of the ticket as well as you can. If you can go back to the place where the incident occurred, take a picture of the speed limit sign or whatever else may support your argument. You want to use anything you can to help your defense.

Make Your Court Date
You have to show up on your court date. Make sure you are properly attired and you are neat, tidy and on time. Your ticket may have instructions on how to set up a court date if one has not already been appointed. You will not need a lawyer unless you had a bad accident or were driving under the influence.

Plead Your Case
If the officer that gave you the ticket does not appear in court, there is a very good chance that your ticket will be dropped. If the officer is there, plead not guilty and politely outline your defense. Make sure that you do not admit any guilt. The two outcomes of the ticket are that you win your case and the ticket is dismissed, or you will have to pay the fine. You may be able to attend traffic school in order for the ticket to be removed from your record.

Attend Traffic School
Many states allow you to attend traffic school online, as there is not actually any driving involved. It is possible to work in the classes around your schedule. Make sure the school is approved by your state DMV, otherwise it may not apply toward your ticket.

Pass the Exam
There is a multiple choice exam that you have to take at the end of the traffic school course. If you do not pass it the first time, don't worry as you can take it multiple times. All of the questions come directly from the course.

Check Your Driving Record
A few weeks after you pass the exam, make sure to check your driving record to ensure that the ticket has been erased. Some courts will erase your ticket on the same day that you pass your exam and others may take longer.

What Kinds of Traffic Citations Can Be Removed with Traffic School?

Each state handles traffic citations uniquely. In general, speeding citations are the ones that will get you into trouble as well as those that cause damage, threaten lives or show negligence.

Points Removed or Expunged
Again, this fluctuates by state. Some states allow point reductions based on attending some type of traffic school. To do so in some states you must admit guilt and pay the fine. Others allow you to expunge the ticket altogether, so once traffic school is completed the ticket is no longer on your record. Points can remain on your record from three to seven years in general. Some states may keep points on your record for up to 10 years. Check with your state to be sure.

Minor or Major Citations
Some violations are so minor there is no reason to remove them from your record. Some are so major that you can't remove them. Minor might be getting a parking ticket or making an illegal turn. A hit and run would be considered a major offense, as would a driving under the influence, especially if you are a repeat offender.

Number of Points
How many points you get for a speeding ticket also varies by state. For example, in Colorado, speeding from 5 to 9 mph over the speed limit will add one point to your record. Speeding from 10 to 19 mph over the speed limit will add four points to your record. Compare this to Illinois where one to 10 mph over the speed limit will add five points to your record, 11 to 14 mph will add 15 points, and 15 to 25 mph will add 20 points. You can see it varies quite a bit from state to state.

Reduction of Points
Getting points reduced, removed or expunged from your record also varies by state. Typically, states allow some form of traffic school if you have had no other citations within a 12 to 18-month window from the date of your last offense. The amount of point reduction will also vary by state. A two to three point reduction is typical. Some states make the points invisible in you public record, which companies like your insurance company see. Some states expunge or remove the record entirely.

5 Tips to Avoid Getting a Traffic Ticket

Obeying all of the rules of the road certainly will ensure that you never have to contend with a traffic ticket.

  • Learn the rules of the road.Learn all pertinent driving rules of the road. Visit your local department of motor vehicles for their publication on driving laws. Since there are different laws that apply to different types of vehicles, study the particular manual that is pertinent to your particular vehicle. In other words, study the car manual for a car, the motorcycle manual for motorcycles or the truck manual for trucks. Almost all driving laws apply to all vehicles; however, there are some special laws that only apply to certain vehicles. By learning the particular laws, you will know what violations to avoid
  • Obey the laws.Obey all traffic laws. This may state the obvious but by always obeying all traffic laws, you can be assured that you will not be cited for any infraction or violation. Good driving should become second nature. If you do not obey the laws most of the time, you will find yourself disobeying the laws more often than not, increasing the chances of being stopped for a violation
  • Be respectful.In the event you are pulled over by a police officer, remain calm and respectful. Being confrontational will almost assure you of a traffic ticket. Sometimes an officer will only give a warning depending upon your attitude. Sometimes the officer only pulled you over for a "fix-it" violation, i.e. your taillight is out or your vehicle registration tags are expired. This fix-it ticket usually only requires rectifying the violation and getting an officer to sign off on it, verifying that the violation was fixed. Take this verification to the court and pay any minimal fines and the violation will be dismissed
  • Go to court.If the violations for which you are cited are more serious than a "fix-it" ticket, you will have to appear in court. Dress in business attire to show the court respect and you will receive respect in kind. Always answer politely and calmly
  • Request traffic school. If you have not attended traffic school within the past 6 to 24 months, usually the request will be granted, depending upon your state. Any violations can result in points against your driver's license, which can increase your car insurance premiums or label you as a "high risk" driver. Your driver's license can also be restricted to only use for school or work or even suspended all together

How to Avoid Points on Your Record for Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is defined as driving to endanger, or with disregard for passengers and other motorists. A speeding ticket can be issued for driving over the posted speed limit of any given area, but driving 20 to 30 mph or more over that limit may be considered reckless driving--depending upon the state in which you are issued the ticket. A citation for racing of any kind, a red light ticket or automobile accident resulting in hospitalization or severe property damage can also be considered reckless driving. You may be penalized with fines, jail time and/or be ordered to enroll in and pass a class in traffic school.

Traffic School
One of the most common reasons for enrolling in traffic school is due to a reckless driving ticket. A basic driver improvement course, traffic collision avoidance course or defensive driving class can be taken at any number of traffic schools found locally or online. You can opt for classroom time, videos or DVDs or an online course lasting about 4 to 12 hours. Most of these schools are accredited or approved by the National Safety Commission, but make sure before enrolling that a certificate will fulfill your obligation to the court.

Whether you're taking this class to remove points from your driving record, to get your driver license back, or because you were ordered to do so, you should be able to take the passing certificate to your local court clerk and get the matter handled. You may also be eligible to attend traffic school to avoid increase in auto insurance premiums, or to get an insurance policy where otherwise you would be considered too great a risk.

Concerns and Considerations
Traffic schools may have different rules regarding classes and a reckless driving ticket. Most often you can only enroll in the class once per year to remove points from your driving record. Additionally, you can only attend for this purpose up to a certain number of times in a certain period of years—for instance no more than five times in 10 years. If you were driving under a special license such as a CDL or other commercial license, you are not likely to be eligible for removal of points.

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