Traffic

FAQs

You can go to traffic court without a lawyer.

If you want a lawyer for a traffic infraction (like speeding or running a red light), you can hire one. But the court won't give you one.

Find a lawyer.

For a misdemeanor like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it's a good idea to have a lawyer. If you can't afford one, the court will give you one.

Get more general information in "Do I Need a Lawyer?"

The police 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.

For infractions and some misdemeanors, the officer can write a ticket and ask you to sign it. The ticket is also called your "Notice to Appear" in court. The officer will give you a copy.

NOTE: Signing the ticket does not mean you admit that you are guilty. It just means that you promise to appear in court or pay the fine.

After you pay your fine, points may show up on your record at the Department of Motor Vehicles unless you can go to traffic violator school.

If the court lets you go to traffic school and you turn in your proof of completion of traffic school to the court before the deadline, the points should not show up on your record.

If you get points on your record, your insurance company may ask you to pay more for insurance because of this, or they may cancel your policy and tell you to find insurance elsewhere. Points can stay on your record for 3 to 7 years.

In California, you must have car insurance that covers you when you are driving any car. If a police officer stops you, you must show proof of insurance.

If you have insurance but don't have proof to show the officer, you will be charged with an infraction for driving without proof of insurance. In court, you will have to provide proof that you had insurance on the day that you got the ticket and then pay a fine.

It is against the law for someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs to drive a vehicle. In California, the law defines three types of violation:

Infractions, including:

  • Open container holding any amount of alcohol “on person of driver.” This could be in your hand, in your pocket or in your purse.
  • Open container kept in vehicle by driver or owner. You do not have to be driving the car to get a ticket for this. If the car is parked and you are in it, that is enough.
  • Driver drinking in vehicle. If a police officer sees you drink alcohol while driving, he or she will give you a ticket.
  • Marijuana in vehicle. You can get a ticket if you are driving with up to one ounce of marijuana in your car.

Misdemeanors, including:

  • Driving under the influence. It is illegal to drive if your ability to drive safety is significantly affected by alcohol or drugs. Your blood alcohol level doesn’t matter if your driving is impaired.
  • Driving with blood alcohol above a certain level. It is against the law to drive a passenger vehicle if the concentration of alcohol in your blood is 0.08% or greater. If an officer wants to test you and you won’t do it, your license can be suspended.
  • Attempted drunk driving. If you are drunk and try to start or drive a vehicle, you can get a ticket.

Felonies, including:

  • A fourth drunk driving conviction within 7 years.
  • Being responsible for a serious injury accident.

California law does not prohibit the use of a hands-free wireless telephone while operating a vehicle if you are 18 years of age or over.

However, the California Highway Patrol recommends common sense in its use. It urges users to familiarize themselves with their cellular telephone features and follow these tips:

  • If possible, dial while the car is not in motion, such as at a traffic light or stop sign.
  • Learn to operate the phone without looking at it.
  • Never allow a phone conversation to distract you from driving.
  • Keep calls brief.
  • While talking, keep your head up and your eyes on the road.
  • Frequently check traffic in side and rearview mirrors.
  • Don't take notes or look up phone numbers while driving.
  • If you must check information, arrange to call back and do your research while the car is safely stopped.

California requires the driver and all passengers to wear a seat belt or other safety restraint.

If any passenger is not wearing a seat belt when the car is pulled over, the driver may get a ticket. In addition, any passenger over the age of 16 who is not wearing a seat belt may also get a ticket.

  • The owner of a vehicle is personally responsible for maintaining seat belts in working order. If a car is pulled over and the seat belts are not in usable condition, the owner may be cited, even if he or she is not in the car at the time.
  • People riding in the back of open pickup or flatbed trucks must wear safety belts. (This restriction does not apply on farms, if the back of the truck is enclosed, or if the vehicle is being used in a parade that is supervised by law enforcement and the vehicle travels 8 mph or less.)
  • Every child under the age of 4 or weighing less than 40 pounds must be in a “child passenger restraint system” – a government-approved child car seat, usually with a harness. The person who gets the ticket is the child’s parent or, if no parent is in the car, the driver.

When the court has decided your bail, you can pay in person at the court, by mail, or in some courts, online.

To pay your bail by mail, send a check or money order made payable to CLERK OF THE SUPERIOR COURT any time before your scheduled court date.

  • Write your ticket number and the name of the person who received the citation on the check or money order to insure proper credit.
  • Include your current mailing address.
  • If you need to make monthly installments, call or visit your court -- or visit your court's website - to find out if these installment plans can be:
    • set up by court employees in the Clerk’s Office,
    • if you have to have a hearing in a courtroom and have a judicial officer decide, or
    • if the court has some other arrangement.

Find a phone number for your court.

Check the ticket, courtesy notice, or court web site to see whether you can also pay by phone or online.

The court can tell you what amount to pay. The fine, penalties, and fees for infractions can be $435 or more. If your misdemeanor case is not a DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs), your fine, penalties, and fees can be up to $3,850.

If you can't afford the fine, your court may have other options for you. These might include payment plans, community service, or other options. Some courts have special court programs for veterans or people who are homeless. Contact your court to find out what your options might be.

If you've been charged with a DUI for the first time, you may go to jail for up to 6 months and pay up to $3,850 or more. You may also lose your driver's license for 6 months and be ordered to complete a 3-month or 9-month program.

If this is your second DUI in the last 10 years, you will:

  • Go to jail for a period of time between 96 hours and 1 year;
  • Pay up to $3,850 or more; and
  • Lose your driver's license for 2 years and complete an 18-month or 30-month program.

If this is your third DUI in the last 10 years, you will:

  • Go to jail for a period of time between 4 months and 1 year;
  • Pay up to $3,850 or more; and
  • Lose your driver's license for 3 years.

After the court has decided your fine, you can pay in person at the court or by mail. Check the ticket, courtesy notice, or court Web site to see whether you can also pay by phone or online.

If you got a ticket for an infraction (like running a stop sign), you can probably do everything you need to do by mail.

The Department of Motor Vehicles does not automatically take away your driver's license when you reach a certain age. Your mental and/or physical condition -- or your inability to follow traffic laws and rules regardless of age -- determines whether your license is renewed, restricted, suspended, or revoked.

All drivers age 70 or older must renew their driver's license in person at a DMV office.

Get more information about Senior Drivers.

Read the “Senior Guide for Safe Driving."

Teen drivers can get a ticket for breaking the special rules of the provisional driver’s license issued after he or she passed their first driving test.

  • With your provisional driver's license, you must be accompanied and supervised by a licensed parent, guardian or other licensed driver 25 years of age or older, or by a licensed or certified driving instructor when you:
    • Transport passengers under 20 years of age at any time, for the
      first 12 months.
    • Drive between 11 pm and 5 am for the first 12 months.
  • This means you cannot give anyone under 20 years of aged (your friends, your brother(s), sister(s), cousin(s), etc.) a ride unless you have a licensed parent, a guardian or other adult 25 years old or older in the car with you.
  • You are also not allowed to drive between 11 pm and 5 am during your first year after getting your license unless you have a licensed parent, a guardian or other adult 25 years old or older in the car with you.
  • With a provisional license, you can drive by yourself between the hours of 5 am and 11 pm. If you are under 18, you cannot be employed to drive a motor vehicle.

When you turn 18 years of age, the provisional part of your license ends. You may continue to drive as an adult using your photo license, which will expire on your birthday 5 years after the date you applied.

For more information read “Provisional Instruction Permit or Driver License Information.”

If you are stopped by a police officer for driving too fast or running a red light, you may be given a ticket. If you have proper identification and promise to go to court by signing a “Notice to Appear” ticket, you probably won’t have to go to jail.

  • The police officer will ask you to sign the ticket. (Signing doesn’t mean you are guilty. It just means you promise to go to court or pay the fine.)
  • You could pay $435 or more for each infraction.

If you get a photo-red-light or photo/railroad-grade crossing ticket, you will get a notice in the mail about how to handle the ticket.

If you don’t want to go to court, you can ask the court if you can:

  • Plead guilty and pay the fine by mail,
  • Plead guilty and pay to go to traffic violation school, or
  • Have a trial by mail (also called a "trial by written declaration").

NOTE: If you plead guilty and pay the fine, you will get points on your driving record and your car insurance may cost more.

If you don’t go to court or pay the fine, your license can be suspended and the court can charge you with a misdemeanor and issue a warrant for your arrest.

If a police officer gives you a "fix-it" ticket on a "Notice to Appear," the "yes" box will be checked below "Correctable Violation" on the front of the ticket.

  1. First, you have to have the mechanical problem corrected.
  2. Once you have fixed the problem, take your ticket to a police station and ask a police officer to sign the “Certificate of Correction” on your ticket.
  3. Return the signed-off copy to the court with the fees shown on your courtesy notice before the deadline. To learn how to pay your fees, click here.
  • You can check your ticket or contact the court to see if the court accepts proof of correction by mail.
  1. The court will then dismiss your case and it won't go on your record.

NOTE:

  • If you no longer own the vehicle, it is still your responsibility to clear the citation by either paying the bail or appearing in court.
  • If you have junked the car, and appear in court, a receipt from the wrecking yard may be acceptable to clear this citation.

You can handle this problem by going to your local Department of Motor Vehicles office.
Find your local DMV field office. Ask a clerk at the DMV to help you.

After you correct the problem, the DMV will sign the "Certificate of Correction" part of your ticket.

Take or mail the signed ticket with proof of correction to the court -- along with your dismissal fee -- before the deadline shown on your ticket.

Learn how to pay your fees.

The court will then dismiss your case and it won't go on your record.

If you have been cited for an auto insurance violation, you must provide the court with written evidence of financial responsibility. This means you must show proof of having had a valid auto insurance policy when you received the ticket.

To prove you have the required insurance, you must get a form from your insurance company that shows that the insurance:

  • was in effect on the date you were cited,
  • covered the vehicle involved, and
  • covered the person driving the vehicle.

Take or mail the insurance company form to the court along with your dismissal fee before the deadline shown on your ticket. Learn how to pay your fees.

If you can do this the court will dismiss your case and it won’t go on your record.

If you are unable to provide all of the proof described above, you must go to court to discuss your particular situation. Insurance violations cannot be signed off by a police officer.

If you got a misdemeanor traffic ticket for a fairly serious crime, like driving without a license, you must go to court.

The date to appear will be shown on your ticket (unless the court sends a notice telling you a different date for your hearing).

You can ask the court how much bail you have to pay and how to pay it.

  • For more serious misdemeanors, like driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, you could pay up to $3,850 or more.
  • You could also go to a city or county jail for up to 1 year.

If you don’t go to court, your license can be suspended and the court can charge you with another misdemeanor and issue a warrant for your arrest.

The address of the court that will hear your case is on the "Notice to Appear" on your traffic ticket.

If the court address is not on your ticket, find the address for your local court.

If you get a traffic ticket and you think you are not guilty, go to court on the date and time shown on your ticket, or shown on the notice the court mailed to you.

In court, the judge or judicial officer will ask you if you are "guilty" or "not guilty."

If you say "not guilty," the judge will give you a date for a trial.

NOTE: For most infractions, you can write a letter to the court to ask for a trial. In this case, you may have to pay the fine in advance of the trial.

If you have a misdemeanor or felony case, the judicial officer will ask you if you have enough money to pay for a lawyer. If you don't, the court will give you a lawyer for your case.

REMEMBER: You can be found guilty for most traffic offenses even if you did not intend to break the law. For example, if you were driving over the speed limit but do not believe you were driving as fast as the officer said you were driving, you still have violated the law. If, in this example, you were cited for driving 75 miles per hour in a 65 miles per hour zone but you believe you were only driving 70 miles per hour, you were still speeding.

If you think you are not guilty, you can ask for a trial. You may also ask for a trial if you want to ask the court to pay your fees in installments, or to do community service (if your court allows this).

You can go to the courthouse on the date shown on your ticket and ask for a trial.

For most infractions you can send a letter to your court asking for a court trial or a trial by mail (also called a "trial by written declaration").

NOTE: You may have to pay the bail if you want to have a trial by written declaration. Send your
letter by certified or registered mail, at least 5 days before the "appearance date"
on your ticket.

If you ask for a trial by mail, the court clerk will give or mail you forms. Use these forms to explain why you want a trial.

In most cases, if your ticket is for an infraction a judge or judicial officer will hear your case instead of a jury.

However, you may ask that an infraction charge be tried instead with a jury as a misdemeanor if the offense could be charged as an infraction or a misdemeanor under California Penal Code, Sections 17(d) and 19.8.

NOTE: Unlike infractions, jail may be part of the sentence in a misdemeanor case.

At your trial, the police officer will state why he or she gave you the ticket. You or your lawyer can:

  • Present evidence,
  • Argue the law,
  • Bring witnesses, and
  • Question the officer who gave you the ticket.

If you are found "not guilty", the court will return your fine.

If you are found "guilty", you must pay the fine. In misdemeanor or felony cases, you can also go to jail.

If you get a traffic ticket and it is not dismissed by a court, a report of the violation will be sent to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Insurance companies have access to the DMV’s records and your insurance rates may go up because of the ticket.

One way to prevent a first violation from showing up on your public DMV record (and therefore keep your insurance rates lower) is to attend a traffic violator school.

NOTE: The Department of Motor Vehicles will only allow one citation to not show on your driving record in an 18-month time period. If you attend traffic school more than once in 18 months, you will not receive the benefit of having the additional violation(s) hidden from your driving record. (The 18 months is from the date of one traffic offense to the date of another traffic offense.)

When the court receives your proof of completion of traffic school, you will not get a point against your driver’s license which may affect your insurance.

You must get permission from the court to attend traffic violator school. In general, you will be allowed to attend traffic violator school if:

  • The violation is not too serious;
  • You have a valid driver’s license;
  • It has been at least 18 months since your last traffic violation; and
  • If you have not attended traffic school in California in the past 18 months.

You cannot attend traffic school if your ticket was for speeding, and your speed was more than 20 miles-an-hour over the posted speed limit.

You cannot attend traffic school if your ticket was for any charge involving alcohol or drug use or possession.

NOTE: Drivers with commercial driver’s license, or drivers driving a commercial vehicle, cannot attend traffic school to have a violation suppressed from their record. (see California Vehicle Code, Section 42005)

To request traffic school, sign and date the “Request to Attend Traffic School” option on the courtesy bail notice that was sent to you by the court. Return the notice to the court with payment of the bail amount, plus the court’s administrative fee.

If you do not receive a courtesy bail notice, you may send a note to the court requesting permission to attend traffic violator school. With your note, include payment of the bail amount, plus the court’s administrative traffic school fee.

You may also ask the judicial officer hearing your traffic case at the courthouse for permission to attend traffic violator school.

If you have a second violation on the same citation which requires proof of correction, you have to submit the signed proof of correction, plus a transaction fee for each correctable violation, at the same time that you request traffic violator school.

If you qualify for traffic school and have paid in full the amount of your bail, plus the court’s administrative traffic school fee, then a clerk will send you a traffic school permission letter with further instructions.

Traffic violator schools are private businesses: the courts cannot make any recommendations about which one to attend. However, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles maintains lists of schools it approves:

a. List of approved traffic schools
b. List of approved online and study-at-home traffic schools

NOTE: Make sure that your court accepts the traffic school you choose before signing up!

Some courts allow people to attend traffic violator school on-line. These traffic violator schools are private businesses: the courts cannot make any recommendations about which one to attend. However, the National Traffic Safety Administration maintains a list of on-line and at-home-study traffic schools:

NOTE: Make sure that your court accepts the traffic school you choose before signing up!

Traffic violator schools are private businesses which charge for enrollment. The amounts vary from school to school, so shopping around is a good idea. Usually the fees need to be paid directly to the school at the time of registration for the program.

NOTE: The traffic violator school fees are in addition to the fine (bail) due for the ticket and the court’s administrative traffic school fee.

You usually have about 60 days to attend traffic school from the date the court informs you in writing of your eligibility for traffic school. (This notice from the court should tell you how to submit proof of completion of traffic school and when this proof is due.)

After you have attended a traffic school, send proof of paying for and completing traffic school to the court where your case is being heard.

Send the original certificate of completion. Copies of the completion certificates will not be accepted by the court. (However, keep a copy for your own records.)

When the court receives your proof of completion of traffic school, it will dismiss the violations against you.

Yes. If you have a trial and you're found "not guilty," the court will return the bail to the person who paid it.

Judicial Council Form CR-141-INFO has instructions on how to appeal infractions (inclulding parking tickets) and Form CR-142 is used for a notice of appeal for infraction cases.

NOTE: It is important to understand that an appeal is NOT a new trial. The appellate judge will not consider new evidence, such as the testimony of new witnesses or new exhibits. The appellate judge's job is to review a record of what happened in the trial court (or parking agency) to see if certain kinds of legal errors were made in the case:

  • Prejudicial error: Including things like errors made by the judge about the law, or errors or misconduct by the lawyers that harmed the appellant.
  • No substantial evidence: Asks the appellate judge to determine if there was substantial evidence to support the judgment, order, or other decision being appealed.

You do not have to have a lawyer; you are allowed to represent yourself in an appeal in an infraction case. But appeals can be complicated, and you will have to follow the same rules that lawyers have to follow.

Find a lawyer.

If you were found guilty after a trial by written declaration, you can file a request for new trial.

Use a Request for New Trial (Trial De Novo) (Trial by Written Declaration)
(Form TR-220).

Also check out Instructions for Defendant (Trial by Written Declaration -- Traffic) (Form TR-200).

When you sign your ticket, you promise to go to court or pay the bail. If you do nothing, the court may decide that you chose a “Trial by Declaration in Absentia.” It may find you are guilty without hearing your side of the story -- because you did not show up.

  • If you don't go to court or pay your bail, your driver's license can be suspended. And you may not be able to renew your car's registration.
  • The judge can also charge you with "contempt of court" or "failure to appear." If that happens, the court can charge you with a misdemeanor and issue a warrant for your arrest or add an additional fee (called a "civil assessment") of up to $300.

If you can't afford the fine, your court may have other options for you. These might include payment plans, community service, or other options. Some courts have special court programs for veterans or people who are homeless. Contact your court to find out what your options might be.

If you don't pay your fine and/or complete your jail sentence within the time the court gives you, the court can add new fees to the total amount you owe, and suspend your driver's license. You also won't be able to renew your car's registration.

The court can charge you with "contempt of court" or "failure to pay a fine." If that happens, you can be charged with a misdemeanor and the court may issue a warrant for your arrest or add an additional fee (called a "civil assessment") of up to $300.

If you can't afford the fine, your court may have other options for you. These might include payment plans, community service, or other options. Some courts have special court programs for veterans or people who are homeless. Contact your court to find out what your options might be.

If you received a notice from the Department of Motor Vehicles that there is a hold on your driver's license, you may clear the hold by paying the entire bail amount OR by appearing in court. Check with the court for information about your specific case.

Some counties issue warrants when someone does not appear in court or pay their fine. If you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest, you must pay the full bail amount or appear in court to have the warrant recalled (cancelled.)

If you have been arrested on an outstanding warrant and posted bail, or were released on your own recognizance by an arresting agency, you must appear on the specified court date, or the court will issue a new warrant for your arrest.

California law requires that Ignition Interlock Devices (IIDs) be installed on vehicles owned and operated by motorists convicted of driving on a suspended license due to a previous alcohol-related conviction.

The IID is slightly larger than a cell phone and is wired to your vehicle's ignition. The device can be installed in a vehicle while you wait.

After installation, it requires your breath sample before the engine will start. If the IID detects alcohol on your breath, the engine will not start.

As you drive, you are periodically required to provide breath samples to ensure the continued absence of alcohol in your system.

Court-Ordered IID

When the court orders use of an IID, you must have one installed by an authorized installer and provide proof of the installation to the court.

The court has special forms and procedures to monitor drivers ordered to have the device installed.

After the court notifies the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), DMV marks your record so law enforcement officers will be aware of the IID requirement if you are stopped. DMV will also place a restriction on your driver license.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles must notify the court if you fail to submit proof of installation of an IID within 30 days from date of notice. A person who is required and fails to install an IID is guilty of a misdemeanor and will be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 6 months or by fine of not more than $5,000 or both.