Many, if not most, drivers can relate to the experience of receiving a ticket. The lights and sirens turning on, the sinking feeling when you realize they’re for you, the police officer asking for license and registration. Despite the frequency of this seemingly mundane event, there are many misconceptions and gaps in the average driver’s knowledge about what happens after someone gets a ticket.

Most people do not know that if they don’t pay their ticket in a timely manner, or fail to appear for a ticket that requires a court appearance, a bench warrant is issued for their arrest and if they don’t move quickly, their license will be suspended.

The ticket is your sole “notice,” which is problematic because of the small size of the type font, sometimes illegible handwritten officer notations, and the poor quality of carbon-copy paper. An additional notice “may” be mailed to you, but if where you live doesn’t match the address on your driver’s license, you’ll never receive it. Anyway, not receiving any additional notification does not relieve you of your responsibility to the court.

What neither the ticket nor the officer tells you is there are usually some options if you don’t have the money to pay the ticket in the time allotted. There are often options to perform approved community service as a way to reduce your fine. Some courts offer credit against your fine for attending approved training classes. Finally, most courts offer some kind of payment arrangements that allow you to pay your fine in much more affordable monthly payments.

Without knowing that community service, reduced fines, or payment plans are possibilities, people often think their only option is to pay. With fines at an all-time high, many simply can’t pay, so instead, they do nothing – not realizing that doing nothing can set in motion a financially disastrous chain of events.

As described above, when people with tickets do not pay the full fine on time, traffic courts respond swiftly. They notify the state and your license is suspended often within 30 days. Again, if the address on your driver’s license isn’t where you live, you’ll never receive the notice that your license has been suspended.

By the way, that $100 to $200 fine you owed initially, has grown considerably. A warrant fee of $50 has been added, plus a $127 reinstatement fee per citation. That means, if the officer writes you up for speeding, not having your seat belt fastened, and not having your child secured properly, you have to pay a reinstatement fee for each of those infractions. If your ticket required a court appearance, court costs have also been added to the amount you owe. Yikes! With the fine for all three infractions, you’re lucky if it won’t cost you $1,000 to get your license back.

Most traffic violations are considered infractions, and not punishable with jail time. However, driving on a suspended license is a misdemeanor, punishable with a much larger fine and potential jail time. Plus, you now have a criminal record.

The mandatory minimum penalty for the first driving on a suspended license in Kansas is $100, plus court costs, which could include booking fee if the officer took you to jail. In Wichita, several years ago, they stopped taking people to jail on their first driving-while-suspended charge.

The mandatory minimum fee for your second driving-while-suspended charge is $250 plus 5 days in jail. Some courts will let you serve all or part of that time under house arrest. In Wichita, Municipal Chief Judge Jennifer Jones says the city usually accepts a 2:3 split, with the offender spending two days in jail and three days under house arrest.

The mandatory minimum fee for the third driving-while-suspended charge is $1,500 plus 90 days in jail. Again, depending on the court, you may be able to serve all or part of it under house arrest.

Along the way, a lot of other charges have been added to the amount you owe. In addition to basic court costs, there are additional costs for each continuation you request, fingerprinting, and a booking fee, just to name a few. Depending on where you live, the house arrest monitoring fee can cost between $8 to $15 per day and the cost for a day in jail varies greatly by location, but could easily run from $50 to $100 per day.

In case you haven’t figured it out, the cost of not paying your fine is outrageous. What you don’t want to happen is to let your license get suspended, especially when there are options available. The best recommendation: be proactive and when you can’t comply, go and talk to some one about the options available for you.

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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