How to Understand a Traffic Ticket

How to Understand a Traffic Ticket
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Getting a traffic ticket is a frustrating experience for any driver. When you are handed that yellow carbon copy with the scribbling of the traffic officer on it, interpreting what exactly it all means may be difficult. Not all of the jargon typed in the instructions is relevant to you, and neither are all the marks the officer has made. By figuring out what is the relevant information, you will be able to more fully understand the implications of the ticket.

Front of the ticket

Step 1

Examine the first row of the ticket outlining the time and date. Here, the officer has filled out the time, date and day of week of the ticket being issued.

Step 2

Examine the next several rows of biographical information. The amount of space will vary depending on which state, county or city agency is issuing the ticket, but typically the next two to five rows contains biographical information about you and the car, such as name, address, vehicle registration number, driver's license number and vehicle type.

Step 3

Verify that the name and vehicle information are correct. If the officer handed you a ticket with an incorrect name or vehicle on it, this may be cause for dismissal in court if you choose to challenge, according to Speeding Ticket Central. Note that dismissal is only likely if the officer put a completely wrong name or vehicle make and color, not if the name is simply misspelled or the vehicle color slightly off.

Step 4

Examine the next section explaining the citation. Typically this is in a sort of chart that allows room for multiple citations. There is usually a column indicating whether or not this is a "correctable" violation, meaning that you pay only a small fee to the state after sending evidence that you've corrected what was wrong, such as an expired license plate, and subsequently the violation is dismissed.

Step 5

Note the code and section number. This is in the same portion of the ticket as the above step, and it will be a series of numbers and letters indicating where in the state or county law book to find the ordinance you allegedly violated. Next to that is a short description of the manner in which you allegedly violated the ordinance.

Step 6

Note the violation type. Somewhere in this same portion should be a column that says "I or M," or, "Infraction or Misdemeanor." If the officer has marked misdemeanor, the violation is somewhat serious, and you may want to consult an attorney.

Step 7

Examine the acknowledgment by the officer and yourself of the violation at the bottom. The officer will put his name and badge number on the ticket, which you can use to report or research him if you feel that you were treated poorly. Below that is some legal language saying that you agree to pay the fine or appear in court, with the line for a signature below to acknowledge that you will address the citation. The signature is not an admission of guilt.

Step 8

Follow the officer's instructions at the bottom. Usually the officer will write something like, "Correct and pay reduced fine," or "Pay fine," depending on the situation. She may also write the address to which payments or requests for trial may be sent. In any case, there should also be printed instructions to flip the ticket over for directions on how to deal with the ticket.

Read More: How to Fix a Fix-It Ticket

Back of the ticket

Step 1

Read the options. The ticket will have a section outlining the various options you have at this point, usually separated by letter or bullet point. Usually, they are something like this: Pay the fine. Appear in court. Correct the violation. Contest the violation. Request traffic school. Request trial by written declaration.

Step 2

Learn the meanings of the options. Below the bullet-point listings are expanded explanations of each option and whether or not it applies to this particular violation. Use the knowledge from the front of the ticket to narrow down which options are available to you.

Step 3

Heed the deadlines. Either at the top or bottom of the ticket's back should be warnings about the amount of time you have to pursue one of the options. Typically this is somewhere between 30 and60 days, and you should take notice of this because you may lose the right to contest if you wait for too long, or the fine may increase.


  • Do not lose the ticket, or the court will have trouble referencing the case, and it may add time, money and stress.


  • You always have the right to contest a ticket and confront the accuser in court. If you do not understand how you violated the ordinance cited on the ticket, consult an attorney.
  • You can look up the violation code on the ticket by visiting the DMV Web site of the state in which the ticket was issued. If you can't locate the list of violations, the DMV is obliged to help you do so.

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