Dealing with a Traffic Ticket in California
Types of California Traffic Tickets
Traffic tickets are issued in California for a variety of infractions:
- Failed equipment, such as a headlight being out
- Non-moving violations, such as parking violations
- Moving violations, such as speeding
- Improper paperwork, such as not having proof of insurance, missing or expired driver's license, and expired registration
The Point System
All issued tickets will have a financial penalty associated with them, and the fines in California are some of the highest in the country, ranging into hundreds of dollars. Some tickets will also include having points placed on your record. While non-moving violations and failed equipment will not earn you any points, moving violations come with a penalty of 1 or 2 points depending on the infraction. In general, the penalties are accrued as follows:
- Among other infractions, speeding, running a red light, making an unsafe lane change, or having an at-fault accident will have 1 point placed on your record;
- Among other infractions, speeding in excess of 25 mph over the limit, engaging in a hit and run, driving recklessly or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or driving while your license is suspended or revoked will have 2 points placed on your record.
Accumulating points runs the risk of getting your license suspended. The California DMV may suspend your license for 6 months for these point totals:
- 4 points in a 12-month period,
- 6 points in a 24-month period,
- 8 points in a 36-month period.
Receiving points on your record can also cause your insurance rates to increase. Every time you apply for auto insurance coverage or try to renew your coverage, the insurance company will pull your driving record. Points on your license can cause them to charge you a higher rate or even deny you coverage. It is illegal to drive in California without insurance. Points may stay on your driving record for 3-7 years.
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.
Removing Points with Traffic School
Attending an approved traffic school, can keep points off your license. The state of California allows drivers who have received one point on their driver's license due to an eligible moving violation to have the charges of the ticket masked and the point kept off their record by successfully completing traffic school. If the ticket carries two points, is a misdemeanor, involves alcohol, or was committed while in a commercial vehicle during work, it is unlikely that the charges can be dismissed by attending traffic school; contact the court for clarification. You are also not eligible for traffic school if you've attended a course for another ticket received in the last 18 months.
If you plan on attending traffic school in response to your ticket, do not pay the full fine of the ticket. There will be an option to pay an administrative fee along with providing notice of intent to attend an approved course. If you have paid the full amount of the ticket, contact the court to determine your options.
When choosing a traffic school, make sure you select one that is DMV-approved such as TrafficSchoolToGo.com. Then you just have to make sure you complete the course and ensure the completion certificate is submitted to the court by the deadline provided. TrafficSchoolToGo.com removes the hassle by automatically submitting your certificate of completion to the DMV, who submits it to the court.
At this point, the ticket will be blocked from your record and you will not receive a point. This prevents the points from accruing and potentially getting your license suspended, and it will also prevent your insurance rates from going up.