Failure to Stop at a Stop Sign: The Law, Common Defenses, and Penalties

Traffic tickets for running a stop sign, including options for fighting your citation.

Anyone who's cited for violating the law is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This concept applies equally to traffic tickets such as stop sign violations. This article covers some of the basic ways to fight a stop sign ticket in court, typical penalties for stop sign violations, and some options for resolving a stop sign citation that might be better than just admitting guilt.

Stop Sign Rules: What the Law Says

Stop sign laws are fairly uniform across different states and jurisdictions. Generally, stop laws require drivers who are approaching a stop sign to make a complete stop behind the stop line or pedestrian crosswalk. If there is no line or crosswalk, the driver should stop before actually entering the intersection but close enough to get a safe view of traffic that might be approaching from different directions.

Most stop sign violations involve the driver:

  • not coming to a complete stop (rolling through the stop sign), or
  • not stopping prior to reaching the stop line, crosswalk, or intersection (stopping too late).

However, drivers are also required to yield to crossing pedestrians and vehicles that are already in the intersection. And, when two vehicles reach an intersection with stop signs at the same time, the driver on the left should yield to the driver on the right. Failing to properly yield to another driver or pedestrian can also lead to a ticket.

How to Get a Stop Sign Ticket Dismissed: Common Defenses

Drivers often want to know if there's any way to beat a stop sign ticket. As with all types of traffic tickets, when a driver pleads not guilty, the government must prove the violation in court. (As noted above, the driver is innocent until proven guilty.) Typically, the government proves traffic violations by having the officer who issued the citation testify in court.

Every case is different. However, some common ways drivers fight stop sign tickets include:

  • Challenging the officer's testimony. Because the officer is generally the state's only witness, discrediting the officer's testimony is a common tactic for getting a stop sign ticket dismissed. For example, if the officer did not have a clear view of the violation (due to a passing truck or poor visibility), the driver might be able to cast doubt on the officer's credibility. After all, without a good view of the vehicle and the location where the vehicle was supposed to stop, it's hard to be certain that the violation actually occurred.
  • Jurisdictional issues. Sometimes, stop signs are placed in private parking lots and parking garages. In some states, police don't have jurisdiction to issue traffic tickets on private properties. If this is the rule in your state and you received a ticket on private property, you might be able to beat a stop sign ticket by arguing the officer lacked jurisdiction to issue the ticket in the first place.
  • Stop sign wasn't clearly visible. While stop sign laws are relatively simple, the sign must be clearly visible to be enforceable. A driver who can show they couldn't see a stop sign because it was knocked down, obstructed by a fallen tree, or some similar reason might be able to get their ticket dismissed by the judge.

It's also worth noting that when an officer doesn't show up for a traffic trial, the driver will typically win the case by default. Although winning this way might sound like a long shot, it's fairly common for officers to be absent on trial day.

How Much Is a Ticket for Running a Stop Sign

In most states, a stop sign violation is a traffic infraction. Fine amounts differ by area but generally range from $25 to $300. In many areas, court costs and fees can increase the amount that the driver actually has to pay for a ticket.

Normally, a stop sign ticket is classified as a "moving violation." So, in states that have traffic violation point systems, a stop sign ticket will typically result in the DMV assessing points to the driver's record.

For traffic infractions, jail time generally isn't one of the possible consequences. However, in a few states, a stop sign ticket is a misdemeanor. In these states, jail time is possible, though it's still quite unlikely.

Alternatives for Resolving a Stop Sign Ticket

Fighting your case in court isn't the only way to get a ticket dismissed. Many states have alternatives such as traffic school and diversion agreements that give eligible drivers other options to get a ticket dismissed. Typically, drivers can find out about the possibilities by talking to an attorney, contacting the traffic court clerk, or checking the traffic court's website.