Traffic tickets are not a good thing to collect. If you've been negligent about paying yours, take stock of what's out there by running a search with the local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office or the relevant court website.
Traffic tickets aren't pleasant to get but, unlike wine, they don't get better with age. The parking ticket you could have dealt with for $20 today could cost you 10 times more by the time you find it in the glove compartment a year later. And worse, that speeding ticket you forgot to pay can cause you to be hauled into the police station after a routine stop.
Traffic tickets are generally official notices given by law enforcement personnel to a driver for traffic law violations. This includes speeding tickets, but that's not all. You can get tickets for breaking any driving law, such as distracted driving, driving without a seat belt, driving without a license, driving under the influence or reckless driving.
Some people refer to parking tickets as traffic tickets, but parking tickets are slightly different since they don't usually show up on your driver record. But, like other traffic tickets, they get more expensive over time if you don't pay them.
How to Find Out if You Have a Ticket
Unless you regularly drive across the country, you are likely to accumulate traffic tickets in just one state. To figure out how to check for unpaid tickets, go to the website of the agency that issues driver's licenses in your state. In many states, it's the DMV, but in others it is called the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
The procedure for running your driver record differs from state to state. For example, in California, go to the DMV website, visit the Driver Record Request page, and order your driver record for a minimal fee. It lists all unpaid traffic tickets you have received. If you failed to appear at a traffic court hearing, it will tell you whether a bench warrant has been issued for your arrest. You can also request the driver record in person or through the mail.
In Washington, find out about your unpaid tickets by calling Washington State Department of Licensing Customer Service at 360-902-3900. Call on weekdays between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Alternatively, you can go in person to your local Washington State Department of Licensing.
Read More: How to Find a Lost Traffic Ticket
How to Check Unpaid Tickets at Court
You can also check with the court to see if you have unpaid traffic tickets. For example, in Los Angeles, you can go to the website of the superior court of Los Angeles County. Look for the Traffic Online Services search engine and enter your driver's license. It's a good idea to check with the court in addition to the DMV before you take action. The court website will tell you about any amnesty programs you might be able to participate in.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.