How do I Respond to a Traffic Summons?

Alicia Sparks

How you respond to a traffic summons depends on a variety of factors. Once you know whether you want to plead not guilty or guilty to the infraction, you can find out what options your area offers. Most often, these options might include appearing in court or paying a fine. The nature of the offense might significantly limit your options, however, which typically is the case with severe offenses such as driving under the influence. No matter what method you choose, it’s important to take action in the allotted time to avoid additional consequences.

A traffic summons may involve a speeding violation.
A traffic summons may involve a speeding violation.

Before you can decide how to respond to your traffic summons, you must decide whether you want to plead not guilty or guilty. Pleading not guilty means you believe you weren’t committing the offense for which the officer cited you. Pleading guilty means you accept you were committing that offense.

Traffic ticket dismissals can vary depending upon the location where the ticket was written.
Traffic ticket dismissals can vary depending upon the location where the ticket was written.

Many areas allow a variety of options for responding to a traffic summons, all of which depend on whether you want to plead not guilty or guilty. If you plan to plead not guilty, for example, you could appear before the judge and receive a date for a hearing. If you plan to plead guilty, you could simply pay your fine in one of the ways the court offers. Depending on where you live, you could pay the ticket in person, by mail, or even online. Typically, your options for responding to a traffic summons and possibly paying your fine will be printed on the ticket the officer issues you.

Jail time is one possible consequence of driving while intoxicated.
Jail time is one possible consequence of driving while intoxicated.

Depending on the seriousness of the traffic summons, you might not have many choices on how or when to respond. For example, a typical speeding ticket usually comes with options, like those listed above. A more serious offense, such as driving under the influence or DUI, could present only one or two options. You could be arrested and taken to jail immediately if a law enforcement officer pulls you over and finds that you’re driving under the influence. Your area’s laws might allow you to post bail or be released after spending one night in jail, or they might require you to stay in jail until your court appearance.

Regardless of how you choose to respond to the traffic summons, make sure you respond. Ignoring a traffic ticket doesn’t make it go away. Instead, you can incur additional consequences. Those consequences depend on where you received the ticket, and sometimes on the nature of the offense. Generally, though, if you fail to respond to a traffic summons you can expect consequences ranging from having your driver’s license suspended or revoked to serving time in jail.

Many areas allow a variety of options for responding to a traffic summons.
Many areas allow a variety of options for responding to a traffic summons.

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Discussion Comments

Ruggercat68

@AnswerMan- I understand what you mean about extenuating circumstances. One time I got a call from my wife telling me that her dad had taken a turn for the worse at the local hospital. I knew I had to get there as soon as possible, so I made the decision to go through a yellow light that turned red while I was under it. A police officer happened to be at that intersection, and gave me a traffic summons for running the light.

I knew the traffic court judge might have understood my predicament, but I didn't feel good about fighting a traffic ticket that I legally deserved. I found out you can pay your traffic ticket online in my city, so that's what I did.

AnswerMan

I have never pled "not guilty" to a traffic violation in my life, although there were a few times when I thought the officer didn't consider some extenuating circumstances before issuing the traffic summons. One time I was following a line of cars down a long stretch of empty road and I was maintaining what seemed to be the proper speed.

One by one, every car in front of me got directed to a residential road by police officers. They all got speeding tickets for driving 45 mph in a 30 mph zone. When they pulled me over, I said I was only keeping up with the flow of traffic, and the last speed limit sign I saw read "45 mph". The officer said the speed limit dropped down to 30 mph, and everyone was speeding. I think it was a speed trap. I didn't bother to fight the ticket, and it cost me $110 in fines.

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