Traffic Violations

Find out what you have to do after receiving a traffic violation.

About

I received a traffic ticket. Do I have to go to court? Are there ways I can handle my case online?

All traffic tickets include a court date, but you may be able to dispose of your case without appearing in court. The options include (i) “waiving” (discussed in the next question), which may be done online, in person, or by mail, or (ii) requesting an online reduction or online dismissal from the District Attorney’s office. To determine the online options available to you, go to Citation Services.

What does it mean to “waive” a traffic offense?

For some traffic offenses, such as minor speeding violations and equipment violations, you have the option of handling your case without going to court by paying the fine and court costs before your court date. These offenses are often called “waivable” offenses, because if you choose this option, you “waive,” or give up, your right to appear in court and contest the ticket. If you “waive” an offense by paying in full rather than going to court, you will be treated as if you were found guilty or responsible as charged, including any effects on your driver’s license or automobile insurance. If you choose not to waive an offense, you can attend court, or in some cases an attorney can appear in court for you.

How do I know whether my ticket is waivable?

Law enforcement officers typically note on the ticket whether the offense is waivable, and, if so, the fine and court costs that you must pay in order to waive. Each year the chief district court judges review and publish the list of offenses that may be waived. You can view a complete list of waivable offenses here, and a list of offenses that require a court appearance here.

How do I waive an offense?

As noted above, you can waive online, in person at the courthouse in the county where you were charged, or by mail. Follow the waiver instructions on your traffic citation. If you waive online, you must pay with a credit or debit card. If you waive in person, you may do so before a clerk or a magistrate by signing the waiver portion of your traffic citation and paying the required amount. If paying in person before a clerk or magistrate, you must pay by certified check, cashier’s check, or money order, made payable to the Clerk of Superior Court, or by cash. You also may pay by credit or debit card if you are waiving in person before the clerk. If waiving by mail, you must date and sign the waiver portion of your citation, and mail the citation along with your payment to the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where you were charged using the address provided in the waiver instructions on your citation. If paying by mail, you must pay by certified check, cashier’s check, or money order, payable to the Clerk of Superior Court. Do not mail a personal check or cash.

What are the online disposition options for a reduction or dismissal?

To determine whether requesting an online reduction or an online dismissal is an option in your case, go to Citation Services. For certain speeding offenses, the District Attorney’s office may agree to process an online reduction of the charge to a less serious offense. For certain “correctable” traffic offenses (for example, an expired inspection), the District Attorney’s office may agree to process an online dismissal of the charge upon receiving proof that you have corrected the problem.

I got a ticket outside my home county. Can I handle the ticket in my home county?

If the offense is one you may dispose of online or waive by paying by mail, you do not need to appear in person at the courthouse in the county where you were charged if you dispose of the offense online or waive by mail. If you prefer waive in person, you must make the payment at the courthouse in the county where you were charged. If you choose to or are required to appear in court to answer the charge, you must attend court in the county where you received the ticket. In some cases, an attorney can appear on your behalf without the need for you to appear in court personally.

How will my ticket affect my driver’s license?

The court system reports final convictions and findings of responsibility for traffic violations to the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles (NC DMV). The NC DMV (or the DMV in your home state if you are licensed elsewhere) can assess points or take other action against your driver’s license for traffic violations if you are found guilty or responsible, including by waiving the offense. If you accumulate too many driver’s license points, your driver’s license can be suspended. Some serious offenses, such as driving while impaired, require your license to be suspended regardless of your prior record. You can find more information about driver’s license points and offenses that result in suspensions in the North Carolina Driver’s Handbook.

How will my ticket affect my automobile insurance?

If you are found guilty or responsible for a traffic offense, this could affect your automobile insurance rates. You can view a chart showing insurance points for various offenses on Pages 7 and 8 of the Consumer’s Guide to Automobile Insurance, produced by the North Carolina Department of Insurance.

Where can I get a copy of my driving record or a crash report?

For information on obtaining a copy of your North Carolina driving record or crash report, view the information on the NC DMV website.

How can I find out what happened in a case?

You can look up the results of any North Carolina criminal or traffic case at the public terminals located in each clerk of court’s office, or by contacting a clerk of court’s office and asking staff to look it up for you.

Traffic Court

When is my court date?

You can look up court dates for traffic cases here.

What should I expect in court?

This depends on your county. Traffic tickets in North Carolina are handled by a prosecutor, and trials and pleas of guilty or responsible are heard by a district court judge. Larger counties typically have a dedicated traffic court, and if you choose to represent yourself, you will generally have the opportunity to speak to a prosecutor (also known as an assistant district attorney, or ADA) about the possibility of a reduced charge. In smaller counties, traffic tickets are often handled in criminal court alongside misdemeanor cases. Hundreds of traffic cases may be scheduled for the same court session, so you should come to court prepared to wait for several hours. In some counties, arriving to traffic court early can put you at the front of the line. In other counties, cases are called based on case number, which depends on the date you received the ticket. You can contact the clerk of court in your county or an attorney to learn more about what to expect.

Do I need an attorney for traffic court?

You have the right to hire an attorney for any traffic violation, but are not required to do so. An attorney can advise you on the consequences of a ticket in your situation, negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf, and represent you in a hearing if needed. In some traffic cases, an attorney may appear on your behalf in traffic court, and you will not be required to attend. See the Finding an Attorney FAQ for more information about locating an attorney. For offenses with the potential for jail time or a fine of over $500, you can request a court-appointed lawyer if you are unable to hire your own attorney. If you choose to represent yourself, the court will expect you to follow the same rules of evidence and procedure as a licensed attorney. Court officials like judges and clerks of court cannot help you with your case, such as by giving you legal advice about your rights and obligations, possible defenses, or the likely outcome of your case, or by helping you question witnesses properly at trial.

Will my case go to trial?

Traffic cases often are resolved without a full trial. However, you have the right to a trial if you choose to request one.

What happens if I miss my court date?
  • If you do not appear in court, your case will be marked “called and failed.” After 20 days, a Failure to Appear will be issued against you, which may result in an additional failure to appear fee (often called the “FTA fee”) if you are found guilty or responsible for the offense.
  • After 20 days have passed from your failure to appear, if you still have not appeared in court to answer the charge or disposed of the case, the court will notify the NC DMV of your failure to appear, and the DMV will suspend your driver’s license indefinitely until you resolve the case. You will receive a notice of revocation from the NC DMV. If you resolve the case before the revocation goes into effect, you can avoid the revocation.
  • In some cases, a failure to appear can result in an order for your arrest. If you were arrested for the offense and released on bond, failing to appear can cause you to “forfeit,” or lose, the bond.
What can I do if I missed my court date?

If you miss your court date, you may be able to reschedule your case for a new court date with the clerk of court’s office, particularly if no order for your arrest was issued. If a Failure to Appear is issued, in some cases a judge can “strike” the Failure to Appear and give you a new court date. Your attorney can assist you in making this request, or if you do not have an attorney, you can file it yourself with the clerk of court. You should bring proof of your reason for missing court. If the judge chooses to strike your Failure to Appear, the judge can also cancel the failure to appear fee and any bond forfeiture. For more on this, see the “What if I miss my court date?” question in the Criminal Cases Help Topic.

Can I get a continuance?

The judge may agree to “continue,” or postpone, your case to another court date. There is no guarantee that you will receive a continuance, so you should be prepared to handle the case on your court date.

Can I talk to the judge about my case?

No, you cannot have a conversation with the judge about the facts of your case. Neither you, your attorney, nor the prosecutor can talk to the judge about your case unless all parties are present. If you choose to have a trial, you can present your case to the judge during the trial.

Can I talk to the prosecutor about my case?

You can talk to the prosecutor about your case if you do not have an attorney representing you. If you have an attorney, the prosecutor is not allowed to speak to you without your attorney present, so your attorney will talk to the prosecutor for you. The prosecutor represents the other side of your case and therefore cannot give you legal advice and can use your statements against you.

Are there deferral programs, such as driving school, in which I can participate in exchange for a reduction of the charge?

  Deferral and reduction options vary from district to district. You can consult an attorney about the options in your county, or discuss this with the prosecutor in court. As explained above, there also may be online options for having your charge dismissed or reduced. To determine the online options available to you, go to Citation Services.

What is a “prayer for judgment continued” or “PJC”?

A “PJC,” or “prayer for judgment continued,” is an option for disposing of the offense that is available in some traffic cases. A judge can grant a PJC instead of imposing a fine, though you will still be required to pay court costs. There are circumstances when a PCJ still will be considered a conviction for the purposes of driver’s license and insurance points. An attorney can advise you about whether requesting a PJC may be beneficial in your case.

Can I have a jury trial on my ticket?

Jury trials are not available in District Court, where misdemeanor and infraction traffic tickets are initially heard. More serious traffic tickets are charged as misdemeanors, which can be appealed to Superior Court for a jury trial (or for a trial before a judge if you waive your right to a jury trial) if you are found guilty after a trial before a judge in District Court.

Can I appeal the judge’s decision on my ticket?

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor traffic ticket in District Court, you can appeal for a new trial in Superior Court. If you are convicted in Superior Court, you can appeal to the Court of Appeals. For more information on appeals, see the Criminal Cases Help Topic.

How can I tell whether I was charged with a misdemeanor or an infraction?

Whether or not an offense is a crime or infraction depends on the statute (law) that was violated. You could look up the statute, or you can consult an attorney if the statute is not clear. However, one quick way to tell what kind of offense was charged is to look at the case number on your citation (ticket), warrant, or other charging document. The case number begins with the last two digits of the year in which you were charged. For instance, cases charged in 2018 will begin with “18.” If the next two characters are “CR,” you were charged with at least one criminal offense (for example, a misdemeanor). If the next two characters are “IF,” you were charged only with infractions in that case. Note that you might be charged with a crime and an infraction in the same case (in which case the next two letters will be CR because of the criminal offense), or you might have charges under multiple case numbers, some of which might be criminal and some of which might be infractions.

Paying Tickets

How do I calculate the cost of my ticket?

If your case is disposed in court by a judge, the judge will determine the appropriate amount you must pay (fine, court costs, and possible other fees) based on the statutes that apply to your case. If you dispose of your case by waiver, you must pay the amount set for the offense on the traffic offenses waiver list. The chief district court judges determine the amounts due for waivable offenses. The traffic offenses waiver list is available here. For more information on court costs, view the Court Costs Help Topic.

How can I pay my ticket if I decide to waive?

See the question “How do I waive an offense?” earlier in this Help Topic.

Can I waive by paying my ticket online on the day I am supposed to appear in court?

If Citation Services allows you to complete the transaction, then you can waive online, even on the day you are supposed to appear in court. To allow time for your payment to be processed, however, you should try to pay at least 24 hours before you are scheduled to appear in court. This will allow you time to confirm payment and ensure that you are not expected in court.

Can I pay a ticket with a past court date?

Yes, but if you missed your court date and your payment is processed after you were scheduled to appear in court, it is possible that the court has issued an order for your arrest for your failure to appear, and the court may have reported your failure to appear to the NC DMV and assessed the additional failure to appear fee. You can contact the clerk of court’s office to learn what happened in your case.  For more information, see the question “What happens if I miss my court date?” earlier in this Help Topics.

What happens if I don’t pay my ticket?

If you missed your court date, then once 20 days have passed from your court date, the court will report your failure to appear to the NC DMV if you still have not appeared in court to answer the charge or disposed of the case. If your case was disposed in court by a judge, and you failed to pay the amount ordered by the judge within the time ordered by the judge, then once 40 days have passed from the failure to pay, the court will report your failure to pay to the NC DMV if you still have not paid. The NC DMV then will revoke your license based on the failure to appear in court or the failure to pay. If you failed to appear in court, your license will remain revoked until you either (i) dispose of the charge or (ii) demonstrate to the court that you are not the person charged with the offense. If you failed to pay as required by the court, then your license will remain revoked until you either (i) pay the amount ordered by the court, or (ii) demonstrate to the court that your failure to pay was not willful and that you are making a good faith effort to pay, or that the amount should be remitted. You will receive a notification of revocation from the NC DMV. If you resolve the case before the revocation goes into effect, you can avoid the revocation.

License Revocation and Restoration, and Limited Driving Privileges

When can a driver’s license be revoked?

Driver’s licenses can be revoked for many reasons, including (among other examples) the following: a conviction for certain offenses, such as driving while impaired and excessive speeding; refusing to take a breath or blood test when arrested for driving while impaired; accumulating too many driver’s license points for traffic offenses; and failing to appear for, or failing to pay, a traffic ticket. You can read more about the revocation and restoration of driver’s licenses in the North Carolina Driver’s Handbook.

What is a limited driving privilege?

A limited driving privilege is a document signed by a judge that allows a person whose license has been suspended or revoked to drive for certain limited purposes, such as driving to and from work, or driving for emergency medical care. If a judge has issued a limited driving privilege to you, you should take care to drive within the limitations the judge has set. If you violate the conditions of the privilege, you may be charged with driving while license revoked.

How do I file for a limited driving privilege, and what are the requirements?

Whether you are eligible to receive a limited driving privilege, and the procedures and fees that apply to the filing and issuance of the privilege, will depend on your particular situation, including the reason for your revocation. You can discuss your limited driving privilege eligibility with an attorney. For assistance in locating an attorney, see the Find an Attorney Help Topic.