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Traffic Tickets FAQ

The most common type of legal mishap most people encounter is a traffic violation, whether it's a speeding ticket, parking ticket, or some other infraction. Traffic violations usually can be taken care of simply by paying a fine, but not always. For example, you can have your license suspended or even revoked after accumulating multiple violations within a certain period of time. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions with regard to traffic tickets.

Q: What is a "moving violation"?

A: A moving violation occurs whenever a traffic law is violated by a vehicle in motion. Some examples of moving violations are speeding, running a stop sign or red light, and drunk driving. A non-moving violation, by contrast, is usually related to parking or faulty equipment. Examples include parking in front of a fire hydrant, parking in a no-parking zone, parking in front of an expired meter, and excessive muffler noise.

Q: If I am guilty of a traffic violation, shouldn't I just pay the ticket and get it over with?

A: If you plead guilty to a traffic charge, the court will typically require you to pay the maximum fine allowed by law and will record the conviction on your DMV record for a period of years. A conviction will most likely result in points on your license. A certain amount of points can increase your insurance premiums and accumulate with any other charges such that, eventually, you could lose your driving privileges. An experienced attorney can advise you on whether it may be worth fighting a ticket in your particular circumstances.

Q: How does police radar work?

A: Radar works by sending out pulses or a continuous signal of radio waves and "listening" for the reflection. When the pulse hits a moving object, its frequency changes. The exact amount of change depends on the speed of the object and the direction in which it is traveling. Most police forces use radar for measuring speed, enforcing speed limits, and collecting revenue. Some defendants have, however, been able to successfully challenge radar readings in court.

Q: How does laser detection work?

A: LiDAR (light detection and ranging) is different from conventional radar in that it uses laser light to detect vehicle speed and measures the distance from the gun to the target several times. From the change in distance, it can calculate the speed of a passing vehicle. The usual target of the laser is the vehicle's license plate, which is easy to see and is a good reflector. This is important because the gun relies on the reflections from the target to calculate the speed. It is essential that the gun be held very steady to get an accurate reading. LiDAR, unlike radar, is very hard to detect by "fuzz-buster"-type devices.

Q: Do police officers have a quota of tickets to write by the end of the month?

A: Although the enforcement of "quotas" is not standard police department practice, police work, like all occupations, does include performance standards. If a police officer consistently returns at the end of his or her shift with no stops or arrests to report, that could and should arouse suspicion from the higher-ups. Nonetheless, the real crux of the matter is not whether an officer was trying to achieve some magical number of citations, but rather whether the particular citation issued was valid and justified. If not, it may be worth fighting it in court, whether it was the first ticket of the month or the one-thousandth.

Q: Can I refuse a Breathalyzer test if I get stopped for drunk driving?

A: Although the answer can vary by state, in many cases such a refusal is itself a criminal violation subject to stiff penalties. In addition, if the case against you is proven anyhow, the penalties for the refusal may be above and beyond those for the drunk driving itself.

Q: Should I try to "pay my way" out of a ticket?

A: Offering a police officer money in exchange for not writing a traffic ticket can be viewed as bribery, extortion, or other serious crimes. If you want to contest the ticket, there are legitimate ways to do so that will not add to your problems, compound the penalties, and exacerbate the situation.

Q: What is the difference between a misdemeanor traffic offense and a felony traffic offense?

A: Although many traffic violations are deemed mere infractions, some are misdemeanors, which carry stiffer fines and the possibility of up to one year in jail. The most serious traffic crimes are felonies, which generally involve repeat offenses or violations that result in injury to persons or property. Felonies have even greater penalties, including higher fines and imprisonment for over a year.

Q: What if I lose my license but continue to drive anyway?

A: If a person whose license has been revoked or suspended due to previous traffic violations chooses to drive without a valid license and is pulled over, he or she stands to suffer more serious consequences, including fines and imprisonment. The more prudent course of action is to rely on friends and family for rides or use public transportation.

Q: Can a lawyer help me with my traffic tickets?

A: Yes, in many cases. However, it is not necessary to call a lawyer every time you get a traffic ticket, since the stakes are not typically that high. In fact, the cost of retaining an attorney likely will be much higher than the cost of paying the ticket. However, you may want to speak with a traffic ticket attorney if, for example, you're facing the prospect of license suspension or an insurance rate hike.

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