In Texas, traffic tickets are Class C misdemeanors, the lowest level of criminal offenses. These misdemeanors carry a two-year statute of limitations. This means that if law enforcement does not issue a ticket within that time for a particular offense, the driver cannot be prosecuted for it.
Types of Traffic Citations in Texas
There are two types of Texas traffic citations:
- Minor citations: Include parking and other non-moving violations. Minor moving violations also fall into this category and include tailgating, speeding, failure to signal or yield, and driving without a seat belt. Infraction fees typically range between $20 to about $300.
- Major citations: Traffic violations that are considered major offenses. Some may be deemed criminal acts — typically Class C misdemeanors which carry fines, but not jail time. Felony traffic citations carry penalties of major fines and jail time. Examples of major citations can include driving while intoxicated, failure to appear, vehicular assault and reckless driving. Some traffic offenses involve injury or death.
Points and Surcharges on Traffic Tickets in Texas
Before September 1, 2019, Texas assessed points and surcharges for a variety of traffic offenses. After this date, all surcharge assessments were waived with no surcharges to be assessed in the future.
Texas drivers are still subject to fines and fees if they commit traffic violations and can face revocation or suspension for more serious offenses, like driving while impaired or without insurance. All Texas cities now have traffic fine schedules for different traffic violations; these vary from place to place.
Additional Costs of Traffic Tickets in Texas
Aside from traffic violation fines, other costs can add up for the offender, for example, fees to reinstate a suspended or revoked driver’s license. A license suspension requiring a driver to file for a Financial Responsibility Insurance Certificate (SR-22) can increase their insurance premiums 70 to 90 percent annually for at least three years.
Whether a moving or non-moving violation, traffic citations in Texas go onto the offender’s driving record. If the violation is a misdemeanor or a felony, it also goes on the offender’s criminal record, which may hurt the offender’s chances of employment for jobs requiring driving, or restrict their rights in other ways.
Statute of Limitations on Texas Traffic Tickets
Class C misdemeanors in Texas, including traffic violations, have a statute of limitations of two years. If law enforcement fails to file a complaint against a driver within two years of a violation, the state cannot prosecute the driver after the statute of limitations period has ended.
This does not mean that if a driver gets a ticket it is not valid after two years; the ticket does not expire. The only way to remove it is to get it legally dismissed.
The complaint is not the officer’s citation to the driver, but is the charging instrument for a Class C misdemeanor. This formal statement alleging an offense is filed with the court. The statute of limitations starts on the violation date. The filing of a complaint stops, or "tolls" the statute of limitations.
Visibility of Tickets on a Driver's Record
If a traffic ticket is on a driver’s record, it is visible for three years. During this time, it can be seen by other state and national databases and accessed by law enforcement or court personnel.
How to Plead a Traffic Ticket in Texas
A driver who gets a traffic ticket in Texas has one of several choices on how to go forward. They can:
- Plead guilty or no contest: In this instance, the driver admits to the violation and can either pay the fees and fines associated with the ticket and let it go on their driving record or they can attempt to have it dismissed by taking a defensive driving or approved driver safety course.
- Plead not guilty: In this instance, the driver can fight the ticket in traffic court. Texas allows offenders to make their case to the court to show why they believe they are innocent of the offense. The court will then decide to dismiss or confirm the ticket.
A no contest plea cannot be held against the driver in a civil suit, but a guilty plea can.
What Happens if a Driver Ignores a Traffic Ticket?
Ignoring a traffic ticket in Texas will not make it go away, and missing a court date can lead to serious consequences for a driver. The court can issue an arrest warrant for the driver, and they will be subject to significantly increased fines.
An arrest warrant does not expire, and if the driver is arrested, they can face jail time. Drivers who get traffic tickets should take care of them immediately.
A driver who can’t pay the fine can ask for a payment plan or community service. They may also ask for a reduction of the amount of the fine. The driver should bring evidence of their inability to pay to the hearing. Most courts have a Statement of Inability to Pay form that a driver can fill out to show their financial situation.
Looking Up a Traffic Violation in Texas
All traffic courts in the Lone Star State maintain online public inquiry or case systems. Ticketed drivers can look up violations through these systems. Sometimes, the websites may have ticket payment portals, allowing the driver to pay fines online.
A court's database will ask users for search information, such as:
- Driver’s last name.
- Ticket number.
- Case number.
- Driver’s birthdate.
- License plate number.
The DPS also has a search engine allowing drivers who have gotten tickets within the last 24 months from Texas Highway Patrol officers to obtain information.
Traffic Ticket Dismissal and Eligibility in Texas
A driver will typically receive a notice from the court indicating if they can have their ticket dismissed. The notice may also contain dismissal instructions. The requirements for dismissing a Texas traffic ticket are:
- Driver was not behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle when they received the traffic ticket.
- Driver did not take a Texas court-ordered defensive driving course in the year before receiving the ticket.
- Drive has a valid Texas driver's license.
The ticket’s severity also plays a role in the possibility of dismissal. Usually, only lower-level tickets can be dismissed. These include driving:
- With no driver’s license.
- Without proof of insurance.
- On an expired driver’s license.
- With an expired motor vehicle inspection or registration tag.
- With an altered license plate.
- With defective equipment.
The driver must gather relevant documents on or before the date of their scheduled court hearing. If a driver has a compliance (where the driver must show proof of insurance or a driver's license) or a fix-it ticket and the ticket is dismissed, they will be charged a dismissal fee of $10 to $20.
Reasons Traffic Tickets in Texas Won't Be Dismissed
For higher-level traffic tickets, dismissal is not an option. The types of tickets that cannot be dismissed are those for:
- Speeding at least 25 miles per hour over the speed limit.
- Driving at least 95 miles per hour.
- Passing a school bus.
- Failing to stay on the scene after vehicular accident the driver was involved in.
- Violating rules in a construction zone with present workers.
- Fleeing from law enforcement.
Other violations that can prevent dismissal of a ticket are up to the court and the police officer’s discretion.
How to Take a Defensive Driving Course
When a driver gets a ticket, it contains information about eligibility for getting the ticket dismissed, including taking a defensive driving course. The ticket also notes a specific court that the driver should contact about dismissal. Drivers should not sign up for a course until they have the court’s permission.
Taking the defensive driving course and obtaining a completion certificate will not eliminate the fees and fines associated with the ticket. If the driver does not pay the ticket before the deadline, they may not get it dismissed, even if they obtained a defensive driving certificate.
Drivers can take the course only once a year. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation allows drivers a maximum of six hours to finish the course, including a mandatory break of one hour. Drivers can take classes online or in person. They can locate classes in their area on the department’s website.
Submitting a Defensive Driving Certificate to the Court
After completing the course, the driver receives a certificate to give to the courts. If there is a place for a signature, they must sign the certificate to validate it. Most Texas courts allow submission of defensive driving certificates by email, but some may still require hard copies via the USPS or in person. The driver should check their court notice for specific instructions.
A driver submitting their certificate in person must:
- Give the court the original certificate and keep a copy.
- Show payment confirmation (receipt).
- Take their driver’s license or another valid photo ID to the court.
If they submit the certificate by email, they scan the payment confirmation and their certificate, and attach the images to the email. Some courts may require drivers to submit a copy of their driving record. This can be ordered online through the DPS and can be sent to the driver to print immediately. Depending on the type of driving record, there will be a small fee of between $4.50 and $22.
What Happens After Court Processes a Driver’s Certificate?
After submitting the certificate, the driver should follow up with the court to make sure it received the documents necessary to dismiss the ticket and request a confirmation in writing. Once everything has been processed, the ticket will be dismissed.
Within a few weeks, the driver should request a copy of their driving record to make sure the ticket was removed. If it hasn’t been removed, they must inform the court immediately.
- Texas State Records: Traffic Violations in Texas
- IDriveSafely: Texas Traffic Tickets and Violations
- Plano Criminal Defense Attorneys: How Long Do Traffic Tickets Stay On Your Record
- Aceable: When Can and Can't I Dismiss a Traffic Ticket in Texas?
- Texas Law Help: Ticket Help Texas: Resolve Your Unpaid Fines and Restore Your Driver’s License
- Texas Statutes: TITLE 1 Code of Criminal Procedure Chapter 12 Limitation
- Texas DPS: Texas Highway Patrol Citation Search
- DriveSafely: Texas Approved Defensive Driving Courses
- Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation: Driver Education & Driving Safety
- TxDPS: Texas Department of Public Safety Driver License Division Licensee Driver Records
- TxDPS: FAQ
- Legal Beagle: How to Get Rid of a Speeding Ticket in Texas
- Legal Beagle: What Are the Degrees of Felonies in Texas?
- Roanoke Texas: Compliance Dismissals
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.