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What are California Traffic Tickets?

California traffic ticket is a formal “order to appear” issued to a road user after being accused of violating traffic regulations. Typically, a patrolling police officer is responsible for giving traffic tickets to offending road users. A traffic ticket may contain the statement of offense, the penalties of the crime, and the deadline for fulfilling the penalty requirements. There are three types of traffic tickets issued in California. They include:

  • Parking tickets: Issued for parking violations
  • Infraction tickets: These are issued following offenses such as running a red light traffic signal or exceeding the speed limits of an area
  • Misdemeanor tickets: Issued for driving without a valid license or driving under the influence (DUI)

Traffic tickets constitute a part of traffic records maintained by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Offenders may view and process tickets at the DMV, and the state’s Superior Courts are responsible for arraigning traffic violators for trial and receiving ticket fines. As a result, the courthouses also maintain records of traffic violations.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites are usually not limited by geographic location, which expedites the process of searching for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine, interested parties usually may need to furnish the search engine with:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved

Third-party sites are operated independently of government sources. Consequently, users are enjoined to verify the accuracy of the records or information obtained through these sites, as their validity, accuracy and availability are not guaranteed.

What Does a Traffic Citation Mean?

The term “traffic citation” is often used interchangeably with ‘traffic ticket.’ A misdemeanor traffic ticket is an example of a traffic citation as the violator is typically required to appear in court. In some cases, the offender may be detained or given an option of bail.

How Do I Pay a Traffic Ticket in California?

The process of paying a traffic ticket in California may vary with the type of traffic violation, the receiving court’s payment preferences, and the alleged offender’s disposition to the ticket. Superior Courthouses across the state typically receive payments for traffic citations and tickets. First, it is necessary to understand the type of traffic ticket issued. Thus, the individual should note the violation statement, the citation number, the required fine, a traffic school participation requirement (if any), and the payment deadline. Offenders may also need to decide whether to fulfill the ticket’s obligations or to contest it. Choosing to pay means pleading guilty as charged. When the fine is paid, the conviction appears as points on the individual's driving record. These points reflect poorly on the driver's vehicle insurance status and remain part of the driving record for a minimum of three years. Depending on the local courthouse preferences, payments may be made in person, by mail, phone, or online.

Can You Pay California Traffic Tickets Online?

Not all Superior Courthouses accept online payments for traffic tickets in California. Persons who wish to make payments may contact the Superior Courthouse of the county where the ticket was issued to confirm the acceptance of online payments. As with most court payments, the following details of the traffic ticket may be required to complete the process:

  • Full name and biodata of the alleged offender
  • The citation number of the ticket
  • The driver’s license number

How Do I Pay a Ticket Online in California?

County Superior Courts manage traffic ticket payments in California. Some offer online options for payment, while others do not. To find out if the county of interest accepts online payments, use the Superior Court Directory to obtain the applicable court’s contact information and inquire from court staff.

What is the California Traffic Ticketing System?

California has a comprehensive driving point system for offending road vehicle users. In the system, the degree of severity of the offense determines the number of points allocated. Driving privileges may be revoked when an individual accumulates four points in a year, six points in two years, or eight points in three years. Most traffic violations attract one to two points on a driving record. Points may be accumulated from multiple violations at a time or repeat offenses within a specified period. Teen driver violations usually attract more severe penalties. One-point offenses include:

  • Ignoring traffic light signals
  • U-turns at unauthorized places
  • Exceeding speed limits
  • Violation of child restraints regulations
  • Refusal to stop for a school bus

Two-point offenses include:

  • Operating a vehicle with an expired or revoked driver’s license
  • Reckless driving
  • Attempts to circumvent law enforcement agents
  • Collisions leading to property damage or human injury

A driver’s license is suspended in California when an individual is guilty of a misdemeanor traffic violation, some of which are:

  • Driving Under Influence
  • Absconding from a court appearance or trial
  • Driving without Insurance

Commercial vehicle drivers face penalties of one and a half times the number of points as private vehicles.

How Do I Know If I Have a Traffic Ticket in California?

In California, drivers found violating road traffic laws are confronted by police officers. Upon cross-checking basic requirements (driver’s license, insurance papers, and vehicle registration), the individual is given a “notice to appear”. The individual’s signature may be considered a commitment to appear in court. However, signing the form does not translate to the admittance of guilt. Upon signing the form, the individual is released. The only exception to being released is when the traffic violation is a misdemeanor violation, such as a DUI, or if the offender refuses to sign the form.

A mail notice is sent afterward to the ticketed individual as a reminder to appear in court. An appearance in court does not always translate to an arraignment. Appearance in court may mean payment of the fines, as the Superior Court receives traffic ticket payments for the state. Occasionally, a ticket or photo citation can be mailed directly to the driver if the alleged offender is captured by the road network surveillance system violating traffic laws.

Additionally, an individual can request a copy of his or her driving record in one of the following ways:

  • By mail: fill out the request form and mail this along with a $5 check to:

DMV Information Release Unit
MS G199
P.O. Box 944247
Sacramento, CA 94244–2470

Third-party requesters should use the third-party request form to access a driving record. Enclose a check of $5 and mail to:

Department of Motor Vehicles Public Operations
P.O. Box 944247
Sacramento, CA 94244–2470

  • By phone: Call (916) 657–8098 to request driving records.
  • In-person: The same forms as the mail option should be filled out and submitted in person and a check of $5 at a DMV field office. Personal records are processed the same day while an approval from the DMV headquarters is typically required for third party requests before release.
  • Online: Fill out the driver record request form online and submit. Users are required to create an account with the website to use the access tool. Requests require a $2 processing fee.

All requests should include the following information:

  • The title or number of the record
  • Number of copies (indicate if certified copies are requested)
  • The company or business name of the requester
  • Contact details, phone number, and street address

How Can I Find a Lost Traffic Ticket in California?

A traffic ticket is typically issued in paper form to the offender. If the ticket goes missing, visit the Superior Court of the county where the ticket was issued. The traffic record system in California is decentralized; therefore, affected persons should lodge complaints and queries with the Superior Court of Interest. Some counties maintain traffic tickets online for remote access. The requestor is typically required to provide the citation number, case number, or driver’s license number to use the online tools.

Another way to find a lost ticket is to visit the city or county police department where the ticket was issued. All police or sheriff departments should keep paper, and electronic copies of the ticket’s as part of police reports, mostly if the ticket was issued in association with a crash. Most county websites have links to the police or sheriff's department. Visit the county website of interest for more information.

How Long Does a Traffic Ticket Stay on Your Record in California?

In California, a traffic ticket is recorded as points on the offender’s driving record. The minimum length of time during which a ticket persists on a driving record is three years. More serious traffic violations attract more extended periods, up to 10 years, or a lifetime. Reduction in the number of points or an outright dismissal of the ticket is possible upon specific requirements such as:

  • Traffic school: having paid the required fine, a ticketed individual may qualify to have the records deleted from the system, provided they have not been guilty of another traffic violation for ten years since the last one
  • First-time offenders for minor traffic violations such as parking citations

Note that misdemeanor traffic tickets remain on the driving record for a lifetime.

Is a Summons Worse Than a Ticket in California?

A summons is not necessarily worse than a traffic ticket but may be included within it. A traffic summons refers to a traffic citation that mandates the individual to appear in court. Misdemeanor traffic tickets often entail a court summons and are associated with more serious offenses that attract hefty fines or jail terms. Parking tickets and vehicle equipment violation tickets usually don’t require a court arraignment; hence, there is no need for summons. The same applies to minor traffic violations, also known as infraction tickets unless the alleged offender decides to contest it.

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