California Traffic Tickets and Violations
Getting a ticket is no fun! And it can feel overwhelming trying to figure out what to do next. We’re here to help demystify the California traffic ticket process and help you move on after your moving violation.
This page will walk you through:
- Deciding whether to plead guilty or not guilty
- How points work in California
- How getting a traffic ticket impacts your car insurance
- How you can take traffic school to keep the points off of your driving record
Deciding Your Plea
Reference your California traffic ticket to ensure you file your plea by your assigned date. Do not rely on the traffic court to notify you about anything related to your citation — it is not required to do so. Your ticket will have the following information:
- Court date
- Court contact information
- How much you owe
- Whether you are eligible to go to traffic school
If you were pulled over and got a traffic ticket in California, you have three options.
Option 1: Plead Guilty
This means that you are pleading guilty or “no contest,” in other words you’re admitting you did what the ticket says. Your traffic ticket will explain how to pay and how much you owe. You can usually pay online or by mail, but in some cases, you may have to go to court to pay for your ticket.
Outcome: When your fee is received, your case will be considered closed, and the citation and point(s) will be added to your driving record at the DMV. These points will stay on your driving record for 3 to 7 years.
Option 2: Plead Not Guilty
If you choose to contest the traffic ticket you are essentially saying you did not do what the ticket says you did, and you would like a trial. You’ll either go to court and represent yourself or hire a lawyer. Alternatively, you may be able to get a trial by declaration, which will enable you to send in a written statement in lieu of going to court.
Even if you contest the ticket, you must pay your traffic fines by the designated date on your ticket.
Outcome: If you win your case your payment will be returned to you. You could also get a reduced fine or have your charges dropped. If you lose your case you’ll be required to pay for your ticket on top of any attorney’s fees.
Option 3: Plead Guilty and Mask the Points with a Traffic School Course
Depending on what the ticket is for, you may be able to take a California traffic school course to “mask” the ticket so your insurance company, employer, or anyone looking at your driving record won’t see the violation. The ticket can’t be completely erased from your record – traffic tickets stay on your driving record for a minimum of three years – but completing a traffic school course will ensure that only you and the DMV know about your ticket.
Outcome: You keep the violation from going on your public record, and your insurance premiums won’t go up.
Points and Your Driving Record
What exactly does it mean to have a point on your driving record? The California DMV point system assigns a value to each traffic ticket or accident. Traffic tickets can carry one to three points. These points are added to your driving record, and if you exceed a designated number of points in a certain amount of time, you may lose your driving privileges. Minor offenses typically remain on your driving record for 3 years. Major violations that carry two points, such as DUI, hit-and-run, or reckless driving, will stay on your record for 10 years.
Tickets for common traffic violations or an accident will be counted as one point on your driving record. More serious offenses such as a DUI or hit and run will result in two points on your record. Penalties are harsher for drivers of commercial vehicles. Major traffic violations committed by drivers with a commercial license can result in having three points added to a driver’s record.
You can be considered a “negligent driver” and your driver’s license can be suspended or revoked for accumulating the following point values on your driving record:
Serious crimes or violations such as a DUI conviction or hit and run that causes an injury will also result in a suspended or revoked license.
Avoid Points by Following California Driving Laws
To avoid getting a ticket, make sure you are aware of and follow California’s driving laws
California drivers must not:
- Talk or text while driving.
- Wear a headset or earplugs in both ears.
- Drive a vehicle that has a video monitor that is visible to the driver and displays anything other than vehicle information and navigation.
- Smoke when a minor is in the vehicle or throw a cigarette, cigar, or other flaming or glowing substance from your vehicle.
- Abandon animals on a highway.
- Drive a vehicle with property or people that obstruct your view or make it difficult to control your vehicle.
- Carry cargo that extends more than four feet from the back-rear bumper of the vehicle without a 12-inch red or fluorescent orange square flag.
- Allow a person to ride in the back of a pickup or other truck unless the vehicle has seats and a safety belt.
- Put signs or other objects on the front windshield or back or side windows that block your view.
- Interrupt a funeral procession.
- Alter a license plate or make it hard to read the plate numbers.
- Drive in the dark without headlights.
- Drive with brights on within 500 feet of an oncoming vehicle or within 300 feet of a vehicle you are following.
How Getting a Ticket Impacts Your Car Insurance
If you plead guilty, or you are found guilty by the court, your traffic violation will be recorded with the DMV, and you will get a point on your driving record. One point might not seem like a big deal, but even just one violation on your DMV driving record gives your auto insurance carrier the ability to raise your premiums or even cancel your insurance.
How Defensive Driving Can Keep Your Insurance from Going Up
You can avoid having your insurance premium go up by taking a traffic school defensive driving course to “mask” your points on your public driving record. Before you sign up, it’s a good idea to contact your insurance company to make sure you are eligible to have your point masked.
Once you get the thumbs up from your insurance company, it’s time to choose a traffic school.
Choosing the Right Traffic School
First, you’ll want to make sure you choose a school that is licensed by the state.
You can find a list of state-approved traffic schools on California’s DMV website.
The IDriveSafely California Traffic School offers 2 different online versions (text-based or video) of the course. This allows you to choose the best way to absorb the information based on your learning style. With IDriveSafely, you can knock out your traffic school requirement in as quickly as one day, and avoid having your insurance go up. Once you’ve completed the course, we send your proof of completion directly to the DMV.
What to Expect from Traffic School
In California, traffic school is required by law to last 8 hours. To earn credit for your course, you must earn a passing score of 70% on the final exam. But don’t worry if you don’t pass on your first try; you’ll have a second chance to retake the test.
Once you pass the course, your completion information is processed and sent electronically to the DMV. No action is required on your part, but it is a good idea to follow up with the DMV a couple weeks after you successfully pass the final exam.
When you take IDriveSafely’s defensive driving course, you’ll learn:
- California traffic law
- Good defensive driving habits
- How to deal with hazardous road conditions
- The dangers of drunk driving
Taking Defensive Driving Could Save You Money!
Even if you weren’t recently issued a traffic ticket, you could still benefit from taking a defensive driving course. Taking one of our traffic school courses is a great way to become a safer driver. And insurance companies love safe drivers! The discounts insurance companies offer vary, but you may be able to save as much as 10% on your car insurance just for taking our eight-hour course. Check with your insurance company to find out what you could be saving each month.
Whether you choose to take defensive driving to get an insurance discount or to mask points on your public driving record, we can help!
For more information on what to expect with the course, visit our Help Center!