I just got a traffic ticket. What can I do to avoid license suspension?

Read this in: Spanish / Español
Authored By: Northwest Justice Project

Information on how to request a hearing if you receive a traffic ticket and how to prepare for the hearing. This talks about community service and payment plan options. #9354EN.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This fact sheet helps you learn how respond to a traffic infraction (or a civil traffic ticket). You will also learn how to stop a suspension from happening if you can. As of 2023, your license can no longer be suspended for failure to pay traffic fines alone.

*This fact sheet only applies to non-criminal traffic tickets that have not resulted in suspension yet.

Yes, but you must ask for a hearing within 30 days of getting a ticket. If 30 days have passed, call the court clerk. Ask if you can still request a hearing. They might give you a late hearing if you have good reason.

*Do not ignore your traffic ticket! Ignoring a traffic ticket can result in license suspension.

  • Check the box on your ticket for the type of hearing you want.

  • Put your mailing address where the ticket asks for it.

  • Return the ticket to the court by mail or in person.

  • You might be able to ask for a hearing by phone. Look on the ticket for more information.

Make a copy of your ticket before giving it to the court. Take a picture of the ticket before you give it to the court if you can't make a copy.

  1. Mitigation Hearing: You admit you did what the ticket says. You ask for a lower fine. Prosecutors do not usually attend mitigation hearings.

  2. Contested Hearing: You argue you did not commit the infraction. The prosecutor attends the hearing to argue against you.

If you ask for a contested hearing, the court may let you have a pre-hearing settlement conference first. Do not miss this conference. You may be able to settle the ticket there. Then you do not need a hearing. If you do not settle your ticket, you still have the right to a contested hearing.

At the conference, the judge can lower your fine or change it to community service. The prosecutor may not be there.

  • Ask for the Ticket & Officer's Statement. These will be the main evidence at your hearing. Submit a written request for "discovery" to the court and prosecutor at least fourteen days before the hearing date. Ask the court clerk if there is a specific Discovery Request form for that court. If there is not, a sample form for a Discovery Request for Traffic Hearing is at the end of this fact sheet that you can use.

  • Look up the Law. At the bottom of your ticket, the officer should have put the law you allegedly violated. You can look up the law at a law library, or search for it online at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/. Read all of the law. See if you think you actually committed the infraction.

  • Take Pictures. You can take pictures of the area where you got your ticket. If it was a parking ticket, you can take pictures of parking signs, your car's position, and any other details about the scene you think the court should see. For a moving violation, you can take pictures of the intersection, street signs, or other conditions.

  • Call Witnesses. You may want to call the cop who gave you the ticket, or any other witness who was there when you got it. Make sure any witnesses you call are available and willing to testify.

  • If you do not think the witness will come to the hearing, you can ask to have them subpoenaed (ordered by the court to appear at the hearing). Generally, you must subpoena a cop. You must subpoena witnesses at least seven days before the hearing date. Ask the court clerk for help. Subpoenaing Witnesses and Documents has more info.

  • Hire a Lawyer. If you want a lawyer for your hearing, get one quickly, so the lawyer does not miss any deadlines. You may want a lawyer if you have a contested hearing over a more serious offense, such as a moving violation. Some traffic lawyers offer free first visits. You could use that visit to see if it makes sense for you to have a lawyer.

As of 2023, your driver's license can't be suspended for failing to pay a non-criminal traffic ticket. But, your license can still be suspended for:

  • Failing to respond to a summons related to a traffic ticket

  • Failing to appear at a court hearing for a moving violation

  • Failing to appear at a court hearing for a criminal traffic violation

*This means you can't ignore a ticket! Ignoring a ticket can result in suspension.

If you can't afford to pay your fines, you have 2 alternatives:

1. Payment Plans. If you can't afford the full amount at once, you can set up a payment plan with the court.

  • Payment plans are required if you can't pay the full amount.

  • A payment plan keeps the court from suspending your license or sending your fine to a collection agency.

  • A collection agency will charge extra fees and interest. You will owe even more if it goes to collections.

  • If you enter a payment plan and fail to make a payment, the court can require you to appear for a hearing and prove your inability to pay.

2. Community Service. If you cannot afford a payment plan, you can ask the court to change your fines to community service.

  • The court does not have to do this but you can ask for it and see.

  • You might not be able to do this if the court does not have an authorized community restitution program.

There are 3 ways.

  1. Checking the box on your ticket saying you can't afford to pay

  2. Stating at your ticket hearing that you can't afford to pay and asking for a payment plan or community service

  3. Calling the court as soon as possible and asking to set up a payment plan or request community service

If you ask for payment plan and prove that you can't pay the full amount, the court must provide you with a payment plan, unless:

  • you have already been granted a payment plan for the same ticket, or

  • the court has already referred your ticket for enforcement action to a collection agency

*The court must provide a payment plan option if you ask. But, the court does not have to give you community service if you ask for that option.

As of 2023, all tickets should include an option that allows you to admit responsibility for the infraction and attest (say) that you do not have the current ability to pay the full amount.

If there is nowhere on the ticket to check that you can't afford to pay it in full, you can write this statement on the ticket: "I attest that I do not have the ability to pay and I am requesting a payment plan."

Or if you are requesting community service, write this: "I attest that I do not have the ability to pay and I am requesting the fines be converted into community service." 

Then follow the instructions on the ticket for returning the notice to the court. Be sure the ticket has your return address.

You can ask during a contested ticket hearing or a mitigation ticket hearing. Even if you lose either of those hearings, you can still ask for alternative to paying the fine during the hearing. Bring proof of your income (pay stubs, child support, TANF, Social Security, and so on).

Ask the judge for a payment plan or community service when the judge imposes the fine.

You can ask before or after a hearing. If you didn't check the box on your ticket or if you didn't ask for it at the hearing, call the court. Ask how to set up a payment plan. Do this as soon as possible. The clerk may not be able to set up a payment plan once the fine goes to collections.

Prepare to have proof of your financial situation including proof of public assistance (examples: food stamps, ABD, TANF, SSI/SSDI), rent, mortgage bills, utility bills, pay stubs, tax forms, debts, and so on. Bring as many of these as you can to show you can't afford the fine.

You can ask the clerk about community service options too. You can also ask the court to convert your fines into community service by writing the court a letter. In the letter you should explain to the judge why you can't afford the fines and ask for community service instead. Ask the clerk to give the letter to the judge.

Yes, under certain circumstances. If:

  • 90 days have passed since the day you got the ticket and you have not started a payment plan

  • You did start a payment plan within 90 days but were not able to make payments on time

  • You received community service instead of the fine but didn't complete your community service on time. The court can then send your fine to collections if it decides you did not have a good reason for not finishing your community service on time.

Yes. The court is more likely to be lenient with you. Here are 2 ways how:

  1. File proof of community service if you do not get credit for community service hours otherwise. You must file your proof by the due date. Check with the court for how to file.

  2. If you miss a payment or community service due date, call the court to explain why. If possible, call them before missing the deadline. If you have good reason such as illness, job loss, or something else keeping you from meeting your obligation, the court may work with you by extending the deadline or lowering payments.

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Last Review and Update: Jul 27, 2023
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