This guide briefly discusses issues related to a traffic infractions and tickets. Most references are to materials for Washington State. Visit either of the following web sites for definitions of the terms used here:
Traffic Violations Defined
Traffic violations fall into two categories, traffic infractions and criminal traffic offenses. Traffic infractions are "non-criminal offense[s] for which imprisonment may not be imposed as a sanction." (RCW 46.63.060.) They can be issued by a variety of officials including city police officers, sheriffs, prosecutors and Washington State Patrol officers. Receiving a traffic infraction may affect your insurance rates and your privilege to drive. Criminal traffic offenses, which carry the possibility of imprisonment, are defined at RCW 46.63.020. They include, among others, driving under the influence, reckless or negligent driving, and vehicular assault. If an offense is not listed at RCW 46.63.020, it is a traffic infraction.
Where to Start
The ticket is your best source of initial information. It will include the specific traffic infraction noted, how much the ticket will cost you, your options for responding to the ticket, and any time deadlines by which you must act. (RCW 46.63.060.) Generally, once you have received a ticket, your options are to pay the fine, challenge the ticket, or request a Mitigation Hearing.
If You Choose to Pay
If you decide to pay the infraction, follow the instructions provided on the ticket itself. Many courts allow you to pay infractions online with a credit card but may charge a processing fee for that convenience. King County District Court notes that there may be a lag between the time you receive your citation and the time it appears in the court's payment database. Payment of the ticket is an acknowledgment of the infraction and may affect your insurance rates and your privilege to drive in Washington State. For more information about the consequences of traffic infractions, see the Nolo Press Traffic School web page.
If You Choose Not to Pay
If you decide to challenge the ticket or to request a Mitigation Hearing, you should review the official procedures, the traffic laws, and relevant case law. The procedures for challenging a ticket are governed by the Infraction Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction (IRLJ). The IRLJ can be found in the Washington Court Rules, kept at the reference desk and on the Web.
Traffic laws may be made at the state, county, or local level. Your ticket should indicate the specific traffic code under which you have been charged. Washington State's "Rules of the Road" are found in RCW chapter 46.61. King County's "Traffic Code" is found in King County Code Title 46. King County's Infraction Instructions are located at the King County District Court web site. Seattle's "Traffic Code" is found in Seattle Municipal Code Title 11. If you are charged in another jurisdiction, you can use this web site from AOC to learn if the District Court you are dealing with has traffic infraction information available. You will need specific information from your ticket so do not discard it or misplace it.
Finding cases similar to your own will help you determine how a court might rule in your case. You can find relevant case law by using digests or annotated statutes, or through the secondary sources listed below. Ask at the desk for a guide to locating case law. Remember, most traffic infraction cases are not appealed, so you will not find many cases.
There are several good resources that discuss traffic infractions. All book titles can be found on the shelves in call number order, except for the last title, which is kept at the reference desk.
Traffic Tickets (Nolo.com Law Center materials) Nolo publishes a wide variety of self-help law books (including the "Beat Your Ticket" book below). The articles and questions on their web site may be of use.
Photo-Enforced Tickets in King County This portion of the King County District Court's web site specifically discusses infractions recorded by cameras monitoring intersections and roadways.
Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court and Win!, KF 2231.Z9 B76. This guide is a very useful overview of the procedures for challenging a ticket. It covers legal research, basic concepts, and the steps of challenging your ticket all the way to a jury trial. This is a general guide to be used in all 50 states, so you will also need to check Washington-specific material. Some of the chapters in this book is available for free online here.
The E-Z Legal Guide to Traffic Court, KF 2231.Z9 T43 1994. This is a useful guide if you choose to challenge your ticket. Written for the non-lawyer, it discusses rights, options, court procedure and protocol, and the basics for preparing for court. This practical guide is general enough to be used in all 50 states, so you should never use it alone. Always consult Washington specific materials as well.
Manual on Uniform Traffic Signals for Streets and Highways, KF 2234.A4 M4 2009. This volume contains the national standards for traffic control devises on public roads. Local codes must conform to the national standards detailed in this book. The entity with jurisdiction over the roadway is responsible for the selection, installation, operation, and maintenance of the devices. The local entity may establish its own codes, but they must conform to these national standards.
Washington Criminal Practice in Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, by Linda Portnoy, KF 9619 .P67. This two-volume set, written for lawyers, contains detailed discussions of all criminal and traffic matters that may come before a court of limited jurisdiction. Chapter 31 addresses traffic infractions and Chapter 35 covers speeding offenses and radar. The book has excellent footnotes to relevant cases and statutes.