Unpaid Speeding and Parking Tickets

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

Everyone hates tickets. But if you get ticketed for a driving or parking violation, you need to make sure that you take care of it. Failing to pay a ticket can result in unpleasant consequences, such as being arrested, spending time in jail, paying expensive fines, and getting slapped with a license suspension.

What do You do If You Get a Ticket?

If you are ticketed for speeding or some other traffic violation, the ticket should have all the important information printed on it. Generally, this information will include your options for dealing with the ticket.

Check the Due Date on Your Ticket

Traffic tickets always have a due date printed somewhere on the ticket. However you decide to handle your ticket, you want to get it done prior to the due date.

Generally, the date on your ticket is the last day you can either pay the ticket or appear in traffic court to contest the ticket. In some states, there's also an option to contest your ticket by mail or online.

If you're having trouble finding the due date or figuring out what the due date means, you should contact the traffic court clerk to get clarification.

Paying Your Ticket

For most traffic tickets, you can pay your fine in person, by mail, or online. The ticket itself will generally have the fine amount and how you can pay it.

Although paying a ticket is probably the quickest and easiest to resolve it, doing so generally amounts to admitting the violation and will result in a traffic conviction going on your driving record. Traffic convictions can lead to increased insurance rates and traffic violation points being assessed to your record.

Fighting a Traffic Ticket

If you decide to fight your ticket, you generally need to go into traffic court on or before the due date and let the judge know you're pleading not guilty.

When you plead not guilty to a traffic violation, the judge will typically set a trial for a future date. At the trial, the government must prove the violation. Otherwise, the judge is supposed to throw out the ticket.

Traffic School for a Ticket

In most states, traffic school is another option for dealing with a ticket. By completing traffic school, you might have to pay a fine or fee, but you can normally keep the violation off your driving record.

If your ticket doesn't explain how traffic school works, you can go to the traffic court website or contact the traffic court clerk.

Will Ticket Fines Increase If You Don't Pay on Time?

Typically, the fine for a ticket increases if not paid by the due date. Due dates vary depending on state or local law and the particular offense. But in many places, you'll have 30 or 60 days to deal with a ticket by paying the fine or going to traffic court.

In many areas, unpaid traffic tickets will eventually be sent to a collection agency. When this happens, the amount you have to pay will increase even further because of various fees that will be tacked on.

Through increased fines, a minor parking ticket can quickly become a major headache.

Can You Go to Jail For Failing to Pay a Ticket?

If you ignore a traffic ticket, it's sometimes possible to end up spending time in jail.

When you get a traffic ticket and fail to pay it by the due date and fail to appear (FTA) in court to fight it, a judge can issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Once a bench warrant is issued, you can be arrested and taken to court. If you are picked up on a warrant, you could be held in jail until the court has a hearing on your case. Also, if you are found guilty of failing to appear, you can be sentenced to jail time, or ordered to pay additional fees.

But if a judge does issue a bench warrant, you can typically resolve it by appearing in court. In most cases, the judge will recall the warrant and you won't have to spend time in jail.

License Suspension, Registration Problems, and Other Issues for Unpaid Traffic Tickets

Even if you avoid being arrested or going to jail, there can be serious negative consequences if you do not pay a ticket by the due date. While state laws vary, other consequences for failing to pay a ticket can include:

  • a suspended driver's license (and driving on a suspended license can get you another ticket or a criminal charge)
  • being ineligible to renew your driver's license or vehicle registration
  • having your car towed, and
  • increased car insurance premiums.

In many states, if your license or registration is suspended, you have to pay a reinstatement fee before you can drive or use your vehicle again.

Options If You Can't Afford to Pay a Traffic Ticket

If you can't afford to pay a traffic ticket, it's usually best to go to court and inform the judge about your financial situation. Judges normally have the ability to lower fine amounts and allow traffic offenders to pay tickets on a monthly payment plan. In some areas, judges can alternatively order community service in lieu of a fine.

Getting Legal Help

If you need to fight a traffic ticket, or if you are facing serious penalties as a result of failing to pay a ticket, you may want to talk to a local criminal defense attorney who handles traffic tickets. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and how to protect your rights so that you can obtain the best possible resolution for your case. Do not wait. If you have unpaid tickets, deal with them as soon as possible.

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