If you do not contest a traffic ticket in court, or, if you are found guilty, the consequences can be quite sobering. The most common negative effect is a fine.
Fines are the penalty for any routine traffic violation. The exact monetary amount often depends on a number of variables, including the state, the violation, specifics of the violation, and your personal driving record. Typically, fines will fall between $50 and $500. Often, there are set fines for specific violations and these can be found on the ticket. If the ticket does not contain this information, you can call the court; they should be able to provide the information. Paying the fine without a fight is easy, but the violation will appear on your record, usually for three years. Going to traffic school can eliminate a ticket from your record before the end of the three year period.
Another negative consequence of being found guilty is rising insurance rates. Rates typically do not rise for occasional (one every three to five years) moving violations. However, repeated violations or accidents will likely cause a hike in your insurance bill. Specifics will vary from company to company. It is advisable to know if your insurance rates are going to rise before deciding to fight a ticket in court. This is not as simple as it sounds. While you could call your insurer and ask, you run the risk of them becoming aware of the accident (which is what you are trying to avoid by contesting it). A second option is to call anonymously and pose as an individual considering signing up with the insurance company. One of the “hypothetical” questions you would ask is if rates are increased after a second (third, fourth, etc) traffic violation.
Being found guilty of enough traffic violations will eventually lead to the suspension of your license. Suspension is based upon the point system. Each state has its own variation, but the general principle is the same. Each violation corresponds to a particular point value, the more serious the offense, the greater the number of points. Reaching a certain total of points within a certain time period results in the suspension of your license. The risk of losing your license is a strong motivation to contest a ticket.
There is typically a court hearing before a license is suspended. If you are in this situation, there are several arguments you might raise. You should point out any traffic violations that may have been issued in error and explain why you did not contest them at the time. You should state clear and practical steps you have taken to drive in a more safe manner, since the receiving the tickets. Another important point is if driving is critical to keeping your job (for the purpose of commuting or the job itself). If you drive more the 15,000 miles per year, then you have one final argument. You could point out that you drive more than the average person, and therefore run a greater risk of being ticketed or involved in an accident.
Finally, though rare, jail-time is a possible consequence of being found guilty of enough traffic violations. There are a number of traffic offenses that are misdemeanors and felonies and thus carry the risk of jail-time, including DUI/DWI, hit-and-run, and reckless driving. You cannot be jailed for simple traffic violations, such as speeding or running a stop sign. Some states give judges the authority to jail repeat offenders, but it is almost never used.