The first thing to do is to identify the type of ticket you have received.  If your ticket is green or white, then you have probably received an infraction (non-criminal offense that carries only a fine).  If the ticket is gold, however, then you have likely been issued a criminal traffic violation with a notice indicating that you are being charged with a particular criminal offense that, in addition to carrying a fine, may also result in jail time.  You cannot ignore a criminal charge by simply paying a fine.  You will have to make an appearance in court.  Therefore, you should consult an attorney immediately!

So what should I do if my ticket is a traffic infraction?

In general, you have three options: 1) pay the ticket; 2) attempt to mitigate (reduce the fine) the ticket; or 3) contest (fight) the ticket. You will find these options on the back of the ticket infraction in a checklist. You must select one of these options and return the ticket within 15 days of the date the ticket was issued to you in person, or 18 days from the date the ticket was mailed to you.

Which option should I choose?

If you are not concerned about the impact of the infraction on your driving record or your insurance rates, the easiest option is to pay the fine. Keep in mind, however, that certain occupations require you to have a clean driving record. Those with a lengthy record of traffic violations also need to be careful as a new infraction may result in license suspension by the Department of Licensing. Sometimes, the easy way out is not necessarily the best outcome for an individual. So think carefully before you choose.

What about mitigation?

Mitigation usually results in a reduction of the fine. Most courts reduce the fine if you show up and offer some kind of an explanation for the infraction. But it doesn't really make much sense. If you are going to take time off from work and wait in a courtroom for your case to be heard, you may as well contest or challenge the ticket. Some people, however, don't feel comfortable denying an infraction. Instead, they prefer to admit the infraction and then ask the court for leniency. A mitigated or reduced ticket will still appear on your driving record and will still have the same impact on your insurance as a committed infraction.

What about traffic school?  I heard that if you attend traffic school, the court will dismiss your ticket infraction?

In general, most courts in Washington do not allow traffic school to keep a traffic ticket off your record. The courts do sometimes order it as part of a penalty, but rarely, if ever, will a court allow you to attend traffic school to avoid a traffic infraction.

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