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Common Types of Traffic Tickets and Their Penalties

by Peter Njunge

If you are a driver, there’s a high chance you will receive a traffic ticket at some point, if you haven’t already – regardless of how careful you are on the road. And, while most traffic violations are considered minor offenses or non-criminal infractions, they can still have serious consequences on your life.

Traffic tickets may lead to higher insurance premiums, a suspension of your driver’s license or even hefty fines, depending on the violation. In this article, we will walk you through the most common types of traffic tickets and their penalties. We will also share tips of how to fight traffic tickets and how to avoid getting them. With that said, let’s jump straight in.

Types of Tickets and their Penalties

Here are some of the most common types of traffic tickets and their penalties. But, we should point out that the exact penalty will vary from state to state, since each state enforces its own traffic rules.


There’s a high chance you’ve driven over the speed limit at some point. You may have been late for work or an appointment or you simply wanted to get to your destination faster. And, you aren’t alone. Speeding remains one of the most common traffic violations.

But, as much as speeding may be a common traffic violation or it may appear harmless, it can be extremely dangerous. According to the National Highway Safety Administration, speeding killed approximately 12,330 people in 2021, which is around 29% of all the reported fatalities that year.

Due to the dangers it poses to the public, law enforcement officers don’t hesitate to aggressively issue speeding tickets to anyone found driving over the allowed speed limits.

If you are caught speeding, you will be issued a ticket, indicating a fine you are required to pay. The amount the officer will require you to pay will depend on various factors. These include:

  • The speed you were driving at
  • Your state
  • Prior driving record
  • Additional infractions

Also, if you were in a high-risk area at the time of your speeding, such as a construction zone or a school, then you can expect to get a higher fine compared to speeding in a non-high-risk area.

Using a Cellphone While Driving

Over 200 million people in the country have cellphones. And, research suggests that close to 80% of this number use their cellphone devices while driving. While you may be the most experienced driver out there, using a cellphone while driving even for a second, can cause a car crash, resulting in fatalities and serious injuries.

As a result, most states across the country have enacted laws that make it illegal to use a cellphone while behind the wheel. In most states, you aren’t allowed to read or send text messages, emails, or social media posts while driving. Also, you can’t use a cell phone to watch or record videos while behind the wheel.

So, what are the consequences of using a cellphone while driving? Again, the penalty varies from one state to the next. In general, you can expect a fine of around $50 for a first offense and up to $250 for subsequent offenses. Also, you will get a couple of points on your driver’s license. You may eventually end up losing your driver’s license if you accumulate too many points.

We should point out that you can still use your cell phone while driving, as long as it’s in hands-free mode. Also, you can use it at a red light or stop sign. But you must put it down immediately the light turns green.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is defined as driving or operating a vehicle with complete disregard for the safety of other road users. Some of the offenses that may fall under reckless driving include:

  • Making unnecessary or erratic lane changes
  • Drag racing
  • Tailgating or following other vehicles too closely
  • Nearly striking or striking pedestrians
  • Driving in the wrong direction
  • Driving at a certain speed over the speed limit
  • Overtaking at inappropriate times
  • Running a police barricade

Reckless driving comes with serious consequences in most states. It carries a minimum fine of $100, which increases with each subsequent offense. You may also end up spending up to 30 days in jail for a first offense and several months for additional offenses.

This traffic violation will also add some points on your driver’s license. For instance, if you are a New York citizen, then a reckless driving conviction will add up to five points on your driver’s license. In addition, if you accumulate 11 points within 18 months, the state DMV will suspend your license.

Also, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor offense in some states, meaning you will end up with a permanent criminal record. And, such a record can make it hard to get decent housing, job or going to college.

Driving Without a Valid Driver’s License

You must have a valid driver’s license to drive a car. So, driving without one is automatically a traffic offense, which will get you a traffic ticket. You can get this traffic ticket in three different scenarios.

First, if you haven’t been issued with a driver’s license by your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV). Second, if your driver’s license has been temporarily suspended. Third, if your state’s DMV has permanently revoked your driver’s license.

The penalties for this traffic ticket vary from one state to the other. But, you can expect to get a fine of between $100 to $500 for a first-time offense. If you are a repeat offender, then you can expect to pay thousands of dollars in fines and possibly some jail time.

Driving without a valid driver’s license is also treated as a misdemeanor in some states like California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, and Virginia, just to name a few. And as we pointed out earlier, a misdemeanor stays on your record indefinitely, unless you can successfully petition for a removal or expungement.

Running a Red Light

All states across the country have traffic laws requiring motorists to observe traffic lights and other traffic control signals. So, if you fail to observe or obey traffic lights, then you can be issued a traffic ticket.

Running a red light is undoubtedly one of the most common traffic violations under these laws. Under these laws, you can be issued a traffic ticket if you proceed through an intersection when a traffic signal displays a red light. Also, you may get this ticket if you fail to follow right-of-way requirements at an intersection or when you make an illegal turn.

Like other traffic violations that we’ve discussed here, the penalties differ from state to state. In most states, you can expect a ticket fine of around $50 to $500 and points on your driver’s license depending on the extent of the violation.

Tips to Avoid Getting Traffic Tickets

As you can see, traffic tickets can have serious consequences on your life, even the minor infractions. So, you need to try as much as possible to avoid getting them in the first place. Here are some tips on how to avoid getting traffic tickets.

Obey Traffic Rules

At a risk of stating the obvious, motorists get traffic tickets because of breaking traffic rules. Therefore, obeying and following traffic rules is undoubtedly the easiest way of avoiding getting traffic tickets.

So, regardless of whether you are driving in the urban or rural areas, make sure you always obey the traffic rules in that particular jurisdiction. And once you get into this habit, the chances of getting traffic tickets will be minimal.

Be Respectful

Occasionally, you will be pulled over by police officers, claiming you’ve violated a particular traffic law. If this happens, it’s highly advisable to remain respectful and calm. With this approach, the officer may decide to simply give you a warning instead of a ticket. But, if you are abusive or confrontational, you can be almost certain that you will get a traffic ticket.

To Pay or Fight Traffic Tickets?

You may be the most careful or respectful driver on the road. But, you may still end up getting a traffic ticket. If this happens, you have two options; you can either pay for the ticket if it’s a waivable offense or decide to fight the ticket. So, can you just pay off the ticket and move on with your life or do you fight it in court?

Well, paying off the ticket is an admission of guilt. And each admission of guilt adds point to your driver’s license, which can lead to suspension. Also, this conviction may remain on your driving record for up to five years. Furthermore, your insurance rates will increase with every ticket that you decide to pay. So, the most effective way of handling a traffic ticket is by appearing in court and fighting it.

While trying to fight a traffic ticket may look like a challenging task, it may be worth it in the long run. If you manage to win the case, then you may avoid paying the fine completely or pay a significantly lower amount. Also, you will end up with a clean driving record.

In Summary

Getting a traffic ticket is always a possibility whenever you are on the road. If you happen to get one, we strongly advise you to consider fighting it instead of ignoring it or rushing to pay it off. You simply need to contact an experienced traffic attorney, who will review your case and craft a strategy that will either help you win the case or have the charge reduced.

About the Author

"Peter is an automotive enthusiast and a lover of the great outdoors. When he isn't writing, Peter spends most of his time exploring wilderness areas, gardening, cooking, and watching travel, nature and history documentaries."