Can I Really Fight a Traffic Ticket?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Many drivers assume they cannot fight a traffic ticket because the court system often appears stacked in favor of the police department. The word of the officer who issued the traffic ticket would be given significant weight during a trial, and traffic court judges rarely entertain lengthy defenses. To successfuly fight a ticket, you'll need gathering evidence, interview witnesses, review official documents and take uncompensated time from work. But a number of legal experts say that a driver who can clearly present a compelling argument should make an effort to fight traffic tickets in court.

Law enforcement often clocks a driver's speed.
Law enforcement often clocks a driver's speed.

During a traffic stop, a driver should remain courteous but alert. This is not the time to protest the unfairness of the officer's decision or to debate the specific details of the alleged violation. The ticket itself should provide enough information on when to appear in traffic court and what the standard fine would be if the driver chose to waive all rights to a trial. Some legal experts strongly discourage cited drivers from mailing in the ticket along with a check for the fine. The amount of the fine printed on the ticket is often a maximum amount, so if the driver decides to fight a traffic ticket and still loses, the judge may be inclined to order a lower fine.

Fighting a traffic ticket might be as easy as the citing officer not appearing in court for testimony.
Fighting a traffic ticket might be as easy as the citing officer not appearing in court for testimony.

There are essentially two different types of traffic violations, so it is important to understand the severity of the charge(s) listed on the ticket. Violations which would only result in fines or penalty points on a driver's license are considered civil infractions. Unless a driver has a very compelling defense, it is almost always better to consult the prosecutor or court clerk's office to plead out of a civil infraction. If a driver is most likely guilty of committing a minor civil infraction, such as failure to signal a lane change or making a rolling stop, there isn't really much reason to fight a traffic ticket in court.

During a traffic stop, a driver should remain courteous and alert, as this is not the time to contest a ticket.
During a traffic stop, a driver should remain courteous and alert, as this is not the time to contest a ticket.

The second classification of traffic violations, however, could be a different story. More serious moving violations or speeding offenses are considered to be traffic misdemeanors, a designation that adds a criminal court element to the proceedings. If a driver is cited for a traffic misdemeanor, it may be worth the effort to fight the ticket in court. The advice, if not not necessarily the court presence, of a professional attorney could prove very useful when charged with a traffic misdemeanor. The charges could be reduced to a civil infraction, which would be a much better result than jail time or loss of driving privileges.

Legal experts suggest that a driver who plans to fight a traffic ticket should take the time to photograph the scene of the stop from the vantage point of the driver and police officer, as well as provide an accurate diagram of the scene. Hazards such as fallen branches or potholes should also be documented. It is possible to argue that a driver's actions were justified under the circumstances, such as swerving to avoid road debris or speeding to avoid a collision. The officer's viewpoint of the alleged violation can also be challenged. If the officer's view was obstructed by another vehicle, for example, the driver could argue that the officer could not see a turn signal or a hazard in the road.

There is also the possibility that the officer might not appear in traffic court to provide testimony. In a number of courts, the judge may dismiss the charges entirely if the prosecutor cannot produce a witness. A driver who decides to fight a ticket, especially a more serious traffic misdemeanor, should not anticipate such an absence. In some cases, a case can be continued or carried over to another date, which does increase the chances that the officer will have other obligations on that new date. A driver should also not rely on a police officer's selective memory about the incident. Even if the officer cannot provide complete details about the alleged violation, he or she is still viewed by the court as an objective witness, whereas the driver has sufficient motivation to bend the truth or manipulate the facts.

In short, a driver who has been cited for a moving violation or other traffic offense does have the right to fight a traffic ticket in court, but the court system does not make the process very easy. Drivers with clean driving records may choose to fight their first traffic tickets, since the judge and prosecutor cannot use prior bad acts as leverage. If the driver does have previous tickets or cannot present a very assertive defense, it might be better to simply pay the fine or work out a plea agreement with the prosecutor.

Speeding offenses are considered to be traffic misdemeanors.
Speeding offenses are considered to be traffic misdemeanors.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Generally speaking, a police officer can issue a citation for just about any moving violation he or she observes in his or her district. The reasons why a person suddenly lurches forward in a drive-through lane aren't usually the officer's problem. The fact is that one car drove into the back of another and it wasn't caused by mechanical failure or road conditions. There's going to be a citation. Traffic court is the place to present arguments or explanations for the accident, not the side of the road while an officer fills out the citation.


Can a police officer issue a citation for an accident in a fast food drive through lane. I had my foot on the brake and was handed two shakes at once. I could only grab the top of one and it crushed in my hand causing it to spill out on my leg and the seat. My foot slipped off the brake and on to the accelerator, causing my car to bump the one in front of me. I was issued a citation for careless driving.


When you are pulled over by the police, rarely are they going to turn their lights on "two miles" behind you unless the violation is pretty big. The officer usually pulls up close to your vehicle to read your license plate and advise on the radio their intention to stop you and to check your plates against the vehicle and make sure it's not stolen or the such. Imagine a police officer stopping you for simply speeding and not knowing the vehicle is stolen. It could be very unsafe for the officer.

Additionally, police generally track vehicles as part of a speeding investigation. This can be done before or after you pass by the officer's location.

I would recommend contacting the court to find out who to contact for a plea deal. Some jurisdictions are friendlier than others.


I got a speeding ticket for driving 50 in a 35. How can I work out a plea agreement with the prosecutor? What do I have to do? This is my first speeding ticket in my five years of driving. Would it be a good idea to fight the ticket?


Always fight a traffic ticket. I am truck driver and recently got a moving violation for “obstructing a highway” – my trailer stuck on a very bad exit ramp, blocking 50 percent of some local road. The fine was $180, but I was worried about the points and my driving record.

I hired a local lawyer, went to court with the idea to pay the amount, but somehow to get a deal with the judge to keep my record clean. The judge was looking at my 10 years long record with no violations and dropped all charges! I only paid $118 in court fees. When you appear in court, if you don’t win the case, the judge almost always will reduce the violation to a smaller one.


I got a ticket this morning driving 166 in a 70. Clean record in Cali. Anyone know the fine, or what's my next step? Do I have to appear in court?


I had a very similar thing happen recently. I approached the cop parked on the side of the expressway traveling a spreed of 63. The passenger in the car noticed him approx a mile before and checked my speed. After passing him he waited for me to get ahead about a mile and flew up right behind me putting on his lights at the last minute.

He stated I was going 72 in a 55 zone.I am a female truck driver and am convinced if you check his previous citations I bet he has written a lot of speeding tickets to female truck drivers. There are still a lot of men who can't stand to see a woman doing a male's job. I'm 33 with a clean driving record.


i was stopped by state police for speeding. 70 in a 55. this is simply not true. he initiated the stop by pulling up on my bumper and didn't turn on his blue lights until he was almost in my trunk. I've been driving all over the world and in 52 years never had a moving violation.

The fine is $166. This is excessive -- no warning, etc. i saw him approach me from a mile or two behind me with no lights and no indication he was a police officer. i moved from one lane to another with my turn signal and only after he came within feet of my car did he turn on his blue lights.

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