What are the differences among infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies?

Most ordinary traffic tickets are infractions, which means that you may pay a fine and related assessments but will not go to jail. If your ticket is classified as a misdemeanor, you may face more significant fines and possibly up to a year in jail. Traffic tickets that are classified as felonies are extremely rare. These may arise when a driver caused an accident that resulted in death or serious injury, or when a driver has a long list of previous offenses. A felony can result in imprisonment of more than one year, as well as even greater fines.

Is there any downside to just paying a ticket?

Possibly. Paying a ticket is similar to pleading guilty in a criminal case. If you pay the ticket rather than contesting it, the conviction will stay on your driving record for the period provided by state law. You also may have points added to your license, which can put you at risk of increased insurance premiums and a license suspension if you accumulate too many points. If you have no real defense and a clean record, however, paying the ticket may be the right path to take.

Can I try to pay the officer to get out of a ticket?

Absolutely not. This is generally known as the crime of bribery, which can result in much more serious consequences than a traffic ticket. You should not panic or overreact during a police stop. If you want to fight your ticket, you have legal options for doing that.

What if I cannot pay a traffic ticket?

You should not just ignore the ticket. Failing to pay a traffic ticket can result in additional late fees and potentially put your license at risk. In some cases, a judge might even issue a warrant for the arrest of a driver. If you are eligible for traffic school, you can use this option as an alternative to paying the fine, assuming that you live in a state that allows traffic school to cancel out a fine. Or you can ask the judge if you can get a fine reduction, set up a payment plan, or do community service instead of the fine.

How many points can I get on my license before it is suspended?

This will depend on the points system in your state and the lookback period that it uses. Points stay on a driver’s record for one to three years in most states, after which they are removed and no longer have an impact on their record. Points are assigned to different violations in different quantities, with more serious violations resulting in a greater number of points. You likely will get a warning or a lesser penalty before facing a license suspension. Most states allow drivers to take a traffic school course instead of adding points to their record, although there is a limit on how often a driver can use this option. You should consult the DMV website in your state to find out more about its specific points system.

How long do I need to wait for a decision in a traffic ticket case?

Usually, a judge will make their decision immediately after hearing the case, but this does not always happen. If you did not consent to a delay in the judge making their decision, you may have a basis for an appeal. Sometimes a driver will receive the decision in the mail, which means that it might have been lost in the mail if they do not receive it. You will need to file an appeal within a short time of the decision, typically about 30 days, so you should follow up with the court every few weeks to make sure that the decision has not been mailed.