There aren’t many lawyers who haven’t been hit up by a friend, relative or client to handle a traffic ticket. They are the mosquitos of the legal world: always there and always annoying. If you ignore a traffic ticket a warrant will issue for your arrest and sooner or later it will catch up to you. If you just send in a check points will be assessed on your driving record which could result in a license suspension or revocation and higher insurance rates. We have summarized below a hit list of some of the main points of advice we give to our family and friends when they call with a traffic ticket:
- Be Polite and Courteous with the Officer. Police have a tough job. When they pull you over they don’t know who they are dealing with. If a police officer pulls over someone wanted on a serious felony warrant or someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol they could be in for a hostile encounter. There are many instances of police officers getting shot or run over by people they pull over on innocent traffic charges. You might be thinking, “Well that’s not me” and you are right, but the police don’t know that. As annoyed as you might be at pulling over try to be respectful, keep your hands on the wheel or where they can be seen (don’t go diving into your console to look for an insurance card until asked to do so), try to avoid sudden movements that could be interpreted as suspicious and don’t jump out of your car to try to explain. Take a deep breath and wait for the officer to give you instructions.
- Be Prepared. Always drive with a valid license and have an updated insurance card available.
- Don’t Ignore the Ticket. Do not throw the ticket in the glove compartment and forget about it unless you are prepared to spend a weekend in jail when you get pulled over the next time.
- Be Aware of Points. A moving violation such as speeding will assess points on your driving record if you get too many within a set period of time. Different violations carry different points. Some, such as a DWI or driving on a suspended license, can result in an immediate suspension. The Missouri Department of Revenue has a list of all moving violations and their points as well as the rules for when you get suspended on their web site:http://dor.mo.gov/forms/899.pdf
- Take Control of the Situation. Many jurisdictions will agree to amend a moving violation to a different charge that will not result in points going on your driving record if you meet certain conditions such as a clean driving record and pay a fine. Other jurisdictions allow you to attend a defensive driving class in order to avoid points. You can go in and try to plead your case to the judge or prosecutor but we always recommend talking to a lawyer who can go over all your options. Of course you can always just drop a check in the mail and pay the fine but you need to realize that this will result in points on your record. There are lots of reasons to want to avoid points. Not only can it affect your insurance premiums but if you get another moving violation down the road the prosecutor may be unwilling to amend the second charge if she sees you already have points on your record.