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Road Law
Where does the money go?

Jeff McConnell & James Mennella
Attorneys at Law

Did you know that, on average, the annual revenue generated by traffic tickets, per state, is between $90 million and $120 million? 

Where does all that money go? As you might imagine, the actual process of distributing traffic citation revenue is very complex. 

When you pay a traffic citation, part of your money is for “costs,” part of it is for “fines” and part of it is for “assessments.”

For example, in New Jersey, the total, payable amount of each traffic ticket includes a “fine” and “cost” amount. Like most states, New Jersey also includes certain “fund assessments” as part of the fine amount. For example, for most routine traffic tickets issued in New Jersey, the fine amount includes money for two separate fund assessments – $1 for the Body Armor Replacement Fund and $1 for the New Jersey Spinal Cord Research Fund. 

Also, most states limit the amount of costs a court can charge for a particular offense. For example, in New Jersey, the amount of costs a court can charge on a basic traffic ticket can’t be more than the fine portion of the ticket, exclusive of any fund assessment.

So, for example, a New Jersey court tells you that the total payable amount of your ticket is $22. 

Therefore, the costs are $10 and the balance of $12 is made up of a $10 fine and $1 for each of the two assessment funds. Fascinating isn’t it?

Additionally, the total amount you actually pay for a traffic ticket will vary greatly depending on the particular state, nature of the ticket and the discretion of the judge. 

Any given state or municipality will use your traffic ticket money for many purposes, such as libraries, colleges, universities, road repair, local units of government, court funding units, retirement systems, state departments and a variety of programs providing grants to law- enforcement agencies. 

Listed below are a few of our most asked questions regarding costs associated with basic traffic tickets. We hope you find the information useful.

Question: I got a ticket in New Mexico, pleaded not guilty and went to court. When I was in court, the judge dismissed my case but still charged me court costs. Can he do that?

Answer: Yes. It’s very common for judges to charge court costs on a particular traffic ticket even though they dismiss the ticket along with the fine amount.

Question: I forgot to put proof of my new insurance verification card in my truck, and I got a ticket for “no insurance.” When I went to court, I took my proof of insurance with me and explained to the judge that I had insurance when I got the ticket, but I just didn’t have my insurance card with me. The judge agreed with me and dismissed my case, but he still charged me court costs of $50 and made me pay it that same day. Is that legal?

Answer: Yes, once again, charging you court costs, even after dismissing your ticket, is a very common practice with most every court. 

In fact, the judge may even make paying the cost portion of your ticket mandatory in exchange for granting a dismissal. The judge will usually explain this as “dismissing your case with payment of court costs only.”

Question: I got a ticket last year in Missouri for a logbook violation and just mailed my $42 fine to the court. Last week, I got basically the exact same logbook ticket in California. When I called the court, they told me my logbook ticket fine was $415. How can the California fine be so much more?

Answer: The particular amount of tickets will vary widely from state to state. Each state’s motor vehicle code will establish certain minimums and maximums and allows district courts to establish a schedule of fines and court costs to be collected for the various traffic infractions designated by the code. Also, individual district courts are expected to establish their own schedules of fines and court costs, and local units of government can adopt their own traffic ordinances.

Question: When I pay my ticket, does the police department get to keep my money?

Answer: Yes and no. The law-enforcement agency that issued you the ticket will usually get a portion of your money but not necessarily all of it. Of course, it could be argued that all money resulting from traffic violations should be used to support enforcement efforts because violators deserve to pay. But isn’t it also true that when law- enforcement officials have an interest in increasing, not preventing, traffic violations, they’ll be tempted to increase the take by turning law-abiding drivers into outlaws through excessive regulation? Think about it.

We hope you can use the information in this column to help with real-life problems you face on the road. Send questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134; fax to (405) 463-0565; send e-mail to or call (405) 463-0566.