Just got my first speeding ticket in California. Advice?

What Happens When You Get a Traffic Ticket?

The officer will ask for your driver’s license, your car’s registration, and your proof of insurance and may ask you to step outside your car. If the officer charges you with a violation, he or she will present a “Notice to Appear” listing the charges and ask you to sign the form. Signing the “ticket” is not an admission of guilt but is a promise to appear in the listed court no later than the listed date. If you refuse to sign the ticket the officer is required by law to take you into custody and present you before a judge for arraignment on the charges.

As of May 1, 2017 you should receive a notice from the court reminding you of the promise to appear. You must appear no later than the date given on the ticket regardless of whether you receive a notice.  

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Understanding the Ticket

A traffic ticket will stay on your record for up to three years. Many times, people want the ticket to simply go away, but after you have signed the ticket and paid it, there’s not much that you can do. It will remain on your record for three years, and this will have a negative impact on your insurance rates. After you have received a speeding ticket, you could see your rate go up as much as 13 percent on average. You go to traffic school with the intentions of getting the points off your record, but you could still expect to pay the fine.

Many times, if you agree to go to traffic school, it can reduce the fee that you will pay for your ticket, but it won’t completely remove it.

Making the Effort

One of the advantages of going to traffic school is that it shows how you have made the effort. You have shown the courts that you are willing to learn how to be a better driver, and they will often go more lenient on these drivers. Having a clean driving record will leave you room for mistakes.

You should, however, understand how attending traffic school for speeding ticket California isn’t a get out of jail free card. You will still have to pay the fees. And most states put a limit how often you can do traffic school. For example, in the state of California, you will be eligible for traffic school once every 18 months for vehicle violations that are only one point.

California Speeding Ticket Stats

These stats can help you understand how the California traffic ticket system works:

  • More women contest their speeding tickets than men.
  • Women receive fewer speeding tickets in the country than men.
  • In about half of the cases, police officers do not show up at the court, which can help you get your ticket dismissed.
  • Each officer helps the city earn about $300,000 in traffic fines per year. On the other hand, the city only has to pay about $75,000 per year to the average officer.
  • Drivers between the ages of 17 and 24 make up the largest group as they’re very commonly caught for speeding.
  • The number of speeding tickets issued in California has increased by about 87 percent during the pandemic for drivers going above the speed of 100mph. On average, they are said to be going 35mph above the speed limit.
  • A total of 1,335 citations were issued in March 2019 and the number jumped to 2,493 in March 2020.
  • Driving above the speed limit is the cause of more than 10 percent of all road accidents.
  • According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, a drop of just 1 mph in average speeds can cause a 4 percent reduction in accidents.
  • The risk of serious injuries stands at 17 percent at 40 mph and goes up to 60 percent at 50mph.

Submitting a Plea

In response to your traffic ticket, you have 3 possible plea options: guilty, no contest, or not guilty.

If you plead guilty or no contest: You can simply send in a payment for your fine along with a copy of your citation to the court. When your fee is received, your case will be considered closed and the citation as well as the point(s) will be added to your driving record at the DMV. These points will stay on your driving record for 3 to 7 years. You may have the option to take a California traffic school class to mask your ticket, but you’ll need to get approval from the court first.

If you plead not guilty: You will be required to plead your case in court in front of a judge or submit a written “trial by declaration” to the court. You have the option to hire an attorney to represent you or you can represent yourself. Even if you plead not guilty, you will be required to pay your traffic fines up front. If you win your case your payment will be returned to you. Remember, you may get a reduced fine or have your charges dropped, but if you lose your case you’ll be required to pay court fees on top of any attorney’s fees.

Responding to a Ticket

When you receive a ticket, it will have information on how to pay as well as the deadline to do so. For most tickets, everything you need to do can be completed through mail or online. If you receive a ticket for a misdemeanor, you will have to go to court. The “Notice to Appear” found on your ticket will include the name of the court that will decide your case, the deadline to pay the ticket or go to court, and what you must do to respond to the ticket. Most courts will also follow up with a courtesy notice sent in the mail around two to three weeks after you receive your ticket. If that time passes and you have not received your courtesy notice, you can also contact the court in the county you received the ticket with any questions you have. That court will be listed in the “Notice to Appear,” or you access court contact information.

If you would like to take traffic school, wait for the courtesy notice to come in the mail, or contact the appropriate court if you are unsure about eligibility. You will have to pay an administrative fee to the court, but not the full penalty of the ticket. Send back notice of your intent to attend traffic school along with the required fee, which will be included with the courtesy notice. The court will reply back with acknowledgement and acceptance of your intention to attend traffic school and provide a deadline for completion. Traffic school can reduce the financial penalty of a ticket, and remove from your record, as explained below.

An exception to the above comes from San Diego County, whose courts require you to pay for their ticket while completing traffic school. If you receive a ticket in San Diego County, the court will send you information explaining this policy.

How to Fight a Speeding Ticket: FAQ

  1. Can you fight a speeding ticket?

    Yes. You may choose to appear in court for a chance at having your speeding citation dismissed.

  2. Is getting a speeding ticket bad?

    It doesn’t have to be! First offense speeding tickets are typically pretty harmless if they are not super-speeder or reckless driving offenses. You may even be able to choose to attend defensive driving school in exchange for paying the fine and avoiding any points on your DMV record.

  3. If I pay a speeding ticket, what happens?

    Once your speeding ticket is paid for, the violation will show up on your DMV record as a ‘point.’ Having too many convictions or points on your DMV record may result in your auto insurance charging you more money or asking you to cancel your policy with them.

  4. Is a speeding ticket worth fighting?

    If you feel that you have received a speeding ticket undeservingly, then it is worth a chance at fighting for it’s dismissal. Sometimes, all it takes is for the officer not to show up in court, or not to have his paperwork to match your citation, for your ticket to be dismissed.

  5. Do cops show up for traffic tickets?

    Most of the time, officers will show up for traffic but occasionally they do not show up if they are needed at a more important event.

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