California Traffic Tickets and Points
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If you're stopped for a traffic violation in California, an officer will likely ask for your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. If the officer charges you with a traffic violation, a "Notice to Appear" will list the charges and require your signature.
Notice to Appear
Signing the Notice to Appear is not an admission of guilt. It's a promise that you will appear at the listed court no later than the listed date. If you refuse to sign the Notice of Appear, the officer is required to take you into custody and you will be arraigned before a judge on the charges.
Types of citations
There are three types of citations in California, below. You can find more information about tickets at the California courts website.
- Parking tickets.
- Infraction traffic tickets.
- Misdemeanor traffic tickets.
These tickets are not filed with the court. The ticket will show the amount you have to pay to the parking agency. If you want to dispute the ticket, you have to contact the parking agency. If you fail to pay the ticket, there may be an increase in fines and you may not be able to renew your vehicle registration.
Infraction traffic tickets
There are typically three types of infraction tickets:
- Traffic offense. This is for a traffic violation such as running a red light or speeding. The officer might write you a ticket and ask you to sign the Notice to Appear. You will have the option of paying the fine or filing a plea with the court.
- Correctable violation. This is also known as a "fix-it" ticket. For example, you may have a broken headlight, have an expired driver's license, or failed to show proof of insurance. Once you fix the problem, an authorized person will sign a "Certificate of Correction." You will have to take this certificate to the court before the deadline on your ticket and pay a dismissal fee. The California Court's has more information on correctable violations.
- Photo citations. You will receive a notice in the mail if a traffic camera takes a photo of you committing a violation -- such as running a red light. The notification will have instructions on how to handle the ticket.
Misdemeanor traffic tickets
These tickets are typically for more serious crimes, such as driving without a license. If the offense doesn't involve driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the officer will ask you to sign a Notice to Appear.
If the officer believes you were driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, you can be taken into custody. If you are convicted of driving under the influence, you could face more severe fines and penalties.
More: California DUI penalties
Your options after getting a ticket
If you do receive a traffic ticket, there are several ways to handle it:
- Plead guilty and pay the fine. Traffic tickets are handled at the county office where the ticket was issued. Check the ticket, reminder notice or the court website to determine if you can pay by phone, in-person at the court, or on online. When the court receives your payment, your case will be closed.
- Financial hardship. If you are unable to pay the full amount, you may be able to plead guilty and ask the court to consider reducing the fine. However, you must appear before the court to request a financial hardship.
- Traffic school. The court will send a reminder notice that says if you're eligible for traffic school. Generally, this is for drivers who have a valid license, were driving a non-commercial vehicle and got a ticket for a moving violation, such as running a red light. If you complete traffic school you may not get points added to your driving record.
- Provide proof of a correctable violation. If you received a "fix-it" ticket and you fixed the issue, you need an authorized person to sign a certificate. Generally, a police officer, DMV clerk or court clerk can sign the certificate, depending on the specific issue. Once signed, you need to provide the certificate to the court.
- Appear at court. You can appear on the date listed on your ticket or contact the court prior to that date and request a date to enter your plea. You can plead guilty, not guilty or no contest. If you plead guilty or no contest, you can ask the court for a trial. The trial can be by a court officer or a trial by mail (also called a trial by written declaration).
California traffic tickets and points
If you plead guilty or are found guilty of a traffic violation, points can be added to your driving record. Also, getting a violation could result in an increase in your auto insurance rates.
The DMV could also suspend or revoke your driving privileges if you get too many points within a certain timeframe:
- Four or more points in 12 months.
- Six points in 24 months.
- Or eight points 36 months.
Updated July 9, 2018