By E. Drew Nelson, Attorney
You see the flashing blue lights and hear the siren behind you. When you realize you’re the one being pulled over, you get that sinking feeling in your stomach. The officer requests your license and registration, then hands them back to you along with a citation. The officer mentions your court date and sends you on your way. If this is your first ticket (or maybe your first in North Carolina), you’re probably thinking, “I got a traffic ticket; what do I do now?”
North Carolina utilizes a points system for certain motor vehicle violations. The number of points is based on the action that resulted in the citation. As an example, passing a stopped school bus while its lights are flashing will earn you 5 points on conviction, while driving without the required auto liability insurance mandates 3 points be added to your record. If you accumulate too many points against your record within a 3 year period, your driver license can be suspended or revoked. Do note that a ticket from another state can impact your driving record and insurance rates in North Carolina.
Your first inclination may be to simply pay the ticket and court costs and get on with your life. Unfortunately, paying the citation is an admission of guilt and the points assigned for the noted violation will go on your record. No big deal, right? You vow you’ll just be more careful in the future. What you may not know is that your insurance company will raise your rates based on a separate “insurance points” table and the number of points that now appear on your record. In general, if your citation results in 3 points added to your record, your insurance will go up by 60%, while 12 points will result in a rate increase of 340%. This increase will be in effect until the points drop from your record—3 years. That’s a lot of money to pay in addition to the cost of the citation.
So what should you do now? Here are some basic guidelines to follow:
- Read the ticket carefully and make note of the court date assigned. If you miss attending the hearing and/or paying the fine by that date, your driver license will be revoked. If you plan to attend the hearing on your own, make sure you schedule the time off from work.
- If you decide to pay the citation, read the document carefully so you are clear on the due date, amount to be paid, accepted payment methods, and locations to mail or pay in person.
- If you choose to dispute your ticket, you may wish to have an attorney represent you. By disputing the ticket, it is possible the charge would be dismissed or the violation reduced in severity –for example, a reckless driving charge or speeding in excess of 55mph might be reduced to a lesser charge, thereby costing you less in the long run.
- Certain serious charges like a DWI or vehicular manslaughter conviction can result in jail time. You should always be represented by an attorney if you face a possible jail term.
Each case is different and there are multiple things to consider if you receive a ticket. There are some additional rules that impact provisional drivers in North Carolina. Likewise, if you are driving on a commercial license (CDL), the point system differs and conviction could cost you your job; and if you were ticketed for causing a serious car crash, you could be sued by the not-at-fault party. In short, if you have received a traffic ticket, you may wish to hire an attorney to represent your interests. Contact us to see how we can help.