Alas, there is no abracadabra way to get rid of old, unpaid traffic tickets. You may get lucky with an amnesty program, but generally you'll have to go to court and take the best deal you can get.
Old Tickets Grow Worse Over Time
You may try to close your eyes to old traffic tickets, but like most things you pretend don't exist, they have a way of appearing to haunt you. If you collect scads of unpaid parking tickets, street cleaning tickets or the dreaded violation for parking in a bus zone, you may come out of your house one morning to find your car booted, or towed away.
If you get speeding tickets or illegal left turn tickets, or even seat belt violations, you're given a hearing date by which you must plead guilty and pay the fines, or plead not guilty and appear in court. If you fail to do either, the court usually issues a bench warrant for your arrest. So, the next time you are stopped by the police, you could end up being carted off to jail. As the citations add up, you may accrue enough points to lose your license.
Discovering Old Tickets
When you finally decide to bite the bullet and get rid of traffic tickets that have accumulated over the past few years, the first thing you have to do is find out what's out there. Yes, you probably got a notice or two in the mail about each one, but you may not have kept them. Head to the Department of Motor Vehicles or go onto their website and ask for a printout, or abstract, of your driving record.
On this printout, you will find every ticket you have been issued, whether you pleaded innocent or guilty, whether you had a hearing and a disposition, or whether you paid a fine. From the printout you will be able to compile a list of unresolved matters that you must attend to, whether they are fines you have to pay or bench warrants to clear up. You can also find out if your license has been suspended.
Read More: Do Parking Tickets Affect Your Insurance?
Resolving Old Tickets
To get rid of the old tickets, you'll need to go back to court to either pay the fines assessed or to get the judge to reduce them in order to clear back bench warrants for traffic offenses. You may be allowed to elect traffic school to avoid a full fine or to get the violation off your record more quickly. If not, ask about setting up a payment plan that you can afford.
Keep your eye out for amnesty programs, which make paying off underlying tickets easier. Occasionally cities, counties or states offer amnesty for old traffic tickets, where your interest and penalties are waived and fines cut significantly. For example, California allowed millions of drivers whose licenses were suspended for unpaid traffic tickets the chance to get back their driving privileges at a discount. The state amnesty program that ran from September 2015 to March 2017 cut fines by at least half, and waived late fees for payments on tickets that were due before Jan. 1, 2013.
- Courts have the power to issue arrest warrants for people with unpaid traffic tickets. The ticket penalty, any late fees, as well as a warrant fee, that may be higher than the original cost of the ticket, are all owed as a result of failure to pay the original ticket. Most large metropolitan areas report the outstanding fines to national credit reporting agencies. Statutes of limitation do not apply to unpaid traffic tickets.
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.