Traffic Law Glossary

  • Amendment – A formal change to the offense the prosecutor is charging. In practice, with the aid of an attorney, amendments to lower level offenses in exchange for pleas of guilty can be arranged depending on the courtroom, the charge, and the driving history of the defendant.
  • Arrest date – Date of issuance of ticket regardless of whether an arrest occurred or not.
  • Bail – A security or collateral given surrendered to the court clerk to prevent being held in custody. Bail can take the form of a promise to comply, a surrender of one’s license, or cash held in exchange for release.
  • Bench trial – Trial in which the judge, upon hearing the evidence presented, renders a judgment of guilt. Bench trials are common in traffic court as no jury trial right exists unless charged with an offense punishable by at minimum 6 months in jail. This requirement includes Class A and B Misdemeanors.
  • Bond – Amount of bail surrendered to secure release from custody. For many traffic tickets, this is expressed as a sum between $1000-$2500. This is not a fine but rather the amount a defendant would forfeit if they fail to appear in court. For more information, see bond forfeiture.
  • Bond forfeiture – Attempt by court to seize the security posted as bail in response to violations of bond. In traffic situations, the most common violation is failing to appear in court. If you have missed a court date, speak to an attorney immediately as judgments on bond forfeitures can cost significant amounts of money. For more information, see bond forfeiture judgment.
  • Bond forfeiture judgment – Formal seizure of security posted as bond. In traffic cases, this often means a fine assessed between $1,000 and $2,500. Reducing this fine requires filing of motions and re-litigating the underlying case. For more information, see motion to vacate judgment of forfeiture.
  • Business class offense – Offense punishable by a fine up to $10,000. Although the fine may be assessed as high as $10,000, few traffic matters are assessed for more than $2,500. The most common examples of business class offenses are insurance and license plate related violations.
  • Certified disposition – An official record of the result of a court case available at the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the County that issued the ticket often for a fee. Certified dispositions are the only documentation of court cases accepted by the Secretary of State.
  • Class A misdemeanor – A criminal offense punishable by up to one year in jail and/or fine up to $2,500. The most common types of Class A traffic offenses are DUI’s, driving while license suspended, and speeding 35 mph or more over the limit. Due to these steep penalties, few courts will allow these cases to be resolved without an attorney present.
  • Class B misdemeanor – A criminal offense punishable by up to 6 months in jail and/or fine up to $1,500. The most common types of Class B traffic offenses are driving without a valid license and speeding 26-34 mph or more over the limit. Due to these steep penalties, few courts will allow these cases to be resolved without an attorney present.
  • Commercial driver’s license (CDL) – Special license that allows the driver to operate large, commercial vehicles. Due to federal standards, these drivers are held to higher standards and remedies such as supervision will not necessarily prevent violations from appearing on driving records. Before acting on a ticket, commercial drivers should minimally speak to an attorney to ascertain the damage that could result to their employment, insurance rates, and CDL privileges.
  • Community service – Requirement to complete unpaid work for a specified number of hours as punishment for an offense. Proof of service requires a signed letter from an employee on the organization’s letterhead. Additionally, the organization must be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization or church and generally cannot be one’s place of employment. Unlike Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program or SWAP, this service can be done at an organization of one’s choosing. See SWAP for more information on the differences of these two programs.
  • Construction zone – Areas in which construction is taking place regardless of whether workers are present. Often fines are significantly higher and offenses that would not be moving violations such as first time cell phone tickets constitute moving violations.
  • Continuance – Setting a new court date for a ticket sometime in the future. Most continuances are between 30-60 days. The new date is most often set for status, final status, or trial. For more information, see definitions for these terms.
  • Continued for payment – Continuance to a due date for payment. In most cases, if payment is received, no appearance is required on the due date. A notable exception for this is for Class A and B Misdemeanors in some Cook County courtrooms where appearance is sometimes mandated regardless of amount paid. To avoid appearance when the option is available, it is recommended that all fines be paid 14 days prior to the court date. Whether appearance is required is best confirmed by contacting the Clerk of the Circuit Court of the county that issued the ticket.
  • Conviction – A finding of guilt for an offense. If the offense is an immediate action offense, it will result in a suspension, revocation, or extension of ineligibility of driving privileges. If the offense is a moving violation, it may result in a moving violation suspension if you have had other recent moving violation convictions. Lastly, convictions appear on your public record for employers and insurance companies to see. For more information see immediate action offense and moving violation suspension.
  • Court costs – Fees that are assessed if you are found guilty and had a court date. Number of appearances has no impact on final court costs assessed. It is possible to avoid these by mailing in tickets but the chances of supervision drop significantly when tickets are mailed in with payment.
  • Court purposes abstract – A driving record that records all convictions, supervisions, and actions that are currently on your record. This document differs from public abstracts which insurance companies and employers generally have access to. Instead, court purpose record access is limited to attorneys, prosecutors, the Secretary of State, and the driver themselves. These documents can be acquired for $12 at any Secretary of State Driver Services Facility.
  • Court supervision – A finding of guilt that avoids a conviction in exchange for promises to pay fines and/or comply with other terms like traffic school. Court supervision lasts between 1-24 months (often 6 months or less) during which time no new traffic offenses or arrests can occur. If no new offenses arise and all terms are complied with, the case is dismissed against you, a guilty plea to supervision is recorded on your court purposes abstract, and no conviction enters. If the terms are not complied with, the prosecutor may seek a petition to revoke supervision and a conviction may result. In practice, court supervision is available twice per year for moving violations. For more information, see petition to revoke.
  • Dismissal – Withdrawal of the offense for which you are being prosecuted. No fines or traffic school obligations are required. Additionally, no record of the offense appears on either your court purposes or public abstract keeping your record clean. Lastly, no future court dates are required.
  • Driver’s license – A license that enables the holder to drive vehicles which he or she are authorized to drive so long as the license is in their possession. Depending on the age, there may be limitations to the driving privileges of certain drivers. For more information, see graduated driver’s license.
  • Driving too fast for conditions – A ticket commonly given for causing a traffic accident. By law, driving at or below the speed limit is not a defense to this ticket. In the event of accident tickets, it is best to consult an attorney to ensure minimal risk of future lawsuits.
  • Electronic communication device – Communication devices including but not limited to cell phones. If charged with a cell phone related violation, it is best advised that you speak to a lawyer to determine whether the offense is a moving violation to best protect your record as there are many exceptions.
  • Failure to appear – A formal record of your failure to appear in a court case where your attendance was required. Failing to appear can result high fines through bond forfeitures, convictions in your absence, and potentially license suspensions. If you have missed court, you should first update your address with the Secretary of State to ensure you receive any notifications regarding your driving record and speak to an attorney immediately so they might file a motion to vacate. For more information, see motion to vacate.
  • Failure to pay – Record of a driver’s failure to pay tickets for which fines and/or court costs were due. Continued failures to pay can result in late fees, reporting to credit bureaus, and inability to renew expired licenses. Before making payments, it is advised that you speak to an attorney to determine if any of your fines can be reduced. For more information, see hold/soft stop.
  • Failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident – A ticket commonly given for causing a traffic accident. By law, driving at or below the speed limit is not a defense to this ticket. In the event of accident tickets, it is best to consult an attorney to ensure minimal risk of future lawsuits.
  • Final status – Final court date before trial.
  • Fine – Penalties that are assessed upon a finding of guilt. These fines must be paid by the due date to prevent resentencing, late fees, and issues with license renewal. For more information see hold/soft stop.
  • Graduated driver’s license – The driver’s license issued by the Secretary of State to drivers under 21 years of age which carries numerous restrictions. Most notably stricter rules regarding moving violation suspensions, limits on passengers, and night time driving restrictions. A full list of these restrictions is available at http://tinyurl.com/Graduated-Drivers-License.
  • Guilty plea – A voluntary admission of guilt to a ticket. Drivers charged with causing accidents should take caution to not enter pleas to those offenses without speaking to an attorney as it may be used as evidence in a future lawsuit.
  • Harris and Harris (Law Office of Arnold Scott Harris) – A collections firm primarily tasked with managing overdue parking, tollway, and court fines in the Chicagoland area. Through firms like Harris and Harris, it is possible to enter repayment plans that can lift suspensions related to past due fines. Before beginning a repayment plan, it is advised that you speak to an attorney to investigate lowering your fines owed.
  • Hold/Soft stop – A license penalty that prevents renewal of expired licenses due to failures pay court fines. Having an expired license exposes you to new penalties for driving unlicensed and driving without a valid ID. Before making payments, it is advised that you speak to an attorney to determine if any of your fines can be reduced.
  • Individual bond (I-Bond) – A type of bond that allows the driver to be released on their own recognizance without posting money or surrendering a license as bail. On one of the tickets, a dollar amount between $1,000 and $2,500 is written. In the event that the driver fails to appear in court, they risk being fined that amount and/or being convicted in their absence. For more information, see bond forfeiture and failure to appear.
  • Invalidation – A license status that results from drivers under the age of 21 being subjected of moving violation suspensions. Following the termination of the suspension term, the driver’s license is not valid until a $90 safety course through the National Safety Council is completed. Drivers are advised to speak to an attorney before taking this class as this requirement can be eliminated through appearing in court.
  • Judge – Individual presiding over traffic court. The judge approves and delivers sentences as well as determining guilt in bench trials.
  • Jury Trial – A trial where 12 people, rather than the judge, hear all evidence and determine guilt. In order to be found guilty, a jury must be unanimous in its decision to find guilt.
  • Late fees – Fees that are assessed for failures to pay traffic court fines, tollway violations, parking tickets, and red light camera offenses in a timely manner. Before making payments, it is advised that you speak to an attorney to investigate lowering your fines owed.
  • Letter of rescission – A formal letter from the Secretary of State that serves as proof that a suspension not only has been removed from your record but should not have been there in the first place. Often judges and prosecutors will seek this document from drivers claiming their driving privileges should never have been suspended.
  • Mandatory insurance suspension – A 3 or 6 month suspension of driving privileges stemming from a conviction for operating an uninsured motor vehicle. If you have been convicted of this offense, an attorney may be able to reverse your suspension.
  • Mitigation – Evidence presented to the prosecutor or judge which gives context and reason for the court to show leniency. Such evidence may help in dismissing or amending tickets.
  • Nolle prosequi/non-suit – Formal phrasing used in court to describe a case being dismissed. For more information, see dismissal.
  • Motion – A formal request asking the court to take or refrain from taking some action on a court case. All motions must be filed at the Clerk of the Circuit Court and copies must be given to the opposing side. There is often a fee between $30-$80 depending on the basis of the motion.
  • Motion to quash (warrant) – A request to the court to terminate an warrant currently in effect. Care should be taken in drafting and arguing these motions as one will be taken into custody without warning if the motion is unsuccessful. Persons seeking to quash warrants are advised to seek out an attorney for assistance and bring sufficient cash to post bond and pay any additional fees required to be released. For more information, see motion.
  • Motion to vacate – A request to remove a judgment from one’s record and re-open a case once more to seek a different judgment. Persons seeking to file these motions should speak to an attorney first because attempting to vacate convictions can at times result in more harm than good if one is not careful. For more information, see motion.
  • Motion to vacate failure to appear – A request to remove records of a prior missed court date. If granted, the case will be re-opened as it were a new case having just been filed. For more information, see motion.
  • Motion to vacate judgment of forfeiture – Special type of request to remove bond forfeiture judgments related to missing court on traffic offenses. These motions can reduce large fines owed on traffic tickets. If you are facing a fine up to or beyond $1,000 on a traffic ticket, it is advised that you speak to an attorney before paying to determine if this fine can be reduced. For more information, see bond and/or motion.
  • “Motion up” – Informal way of describing the filing of a motion. For more information, see motion.
  • Moving violation – Offense for “governing the movement of vehicles” as defined by the Illinois law. Receiving too many moving violation convictions can result in a suspension or revocation of driving privileges. Care should be taken to verify whether an offense is a moving violation as the distinction can be unclear. For example, defective brakes tickets are moving violations while operating an unsafe motor vehicle is not. Consult with an attorney to protect your privileges.
  • Moving violation suspension – Suspension stemming from either too many violations within a period of time or certain “one strike” violations like street racing. Aside from these “one strike” offenses, a suspension will result of one of these occurs: 1). being 21 or older and being convicted of 3 moving violations issued within 12 months, 2). being under 21 and being convicted of 2 moving violations issued within 24 months, OR 3). being convicted of a moving violation issued prior to turning 21 after a previous suspension for moving violations while under 21 years of age. These suspensions range from 1-12 months in length though it is possible for an attorney to not only immediately terminate this suspension but also remove it from your record.
  • National Safety Council – An organization tasked with providing the specialized traffic school that can lift a license invalidation. The most common way for a license to be invalidated is by drivers under 21 suspended for moving violation suspensions. This class costs $90 and is only taught once per month at each location it is held. Before signing up for a class, speak to a traffic attorney to determine if this requirement can be waived. For more information, see invalidation.
  • No-bond warrant – A special type of warrant in which bail cannot be posted to secure release. It is highly recommended that persons facing these warrants seek out an attorney to quash or terminate this warrant. For more information, see motion to quash (warrant).
  • Non-moving violation – Offense not governing movement of vehicles. Do not ordinarily appear on driving records even if a conviction results. As with moving violations, determination of an offense as a non-moving violation should be made by an attorney as the distinction can be unclear. For example, defective brakes tickets are moving violations while operating an unsafe motor vehicle is a non-moving violation.
  • Not guilty plea – A statement made refuting one’s guilt relating to a ticket. In most courtrooms, this will cause the case to be set for trial on the next court date. Drivers in this situation should expect the next court date to be the final date.
  • Parking ticket – Ticket issued for parking violations. If 10 remain unpaid, a driver’s license can be suspended until they are repaid in full. For more information, see Harris and Harris.
  • Petition to revoke – Prosecution request to terminate a previous sentence for failure to comply with its terms. This can cause court supervision to change to a conviction and can often result in license suspension. Additionally, for misdemeanor offenses, this resentencing can result in imposition of jail time.
  • Petty offense – Offense punishable by up to $1,000. Most traffic violations are petty offenses for which the worst penalty is a conviction and high fine.
  • Points – Tools used to determine suspension/revocation penalties for violations. Issued for moving violation convictions. Unlike many states, Illinois does not suspend/revoke privileges based upon the number of points accrued. Rather, these points are used in combination with past suspensions only to determine punishment upon reaching a specified number of moving violation convictions within a time. For more information about the moving violation suspensions, see moving violation suspensions.
  • Promise to comply – Form of bond often granted to out of state residents who receive Illinois tickets. These promises to comply can result in a judgment of conviction in one’s absence or a failure to appear. Both of these can result in harm to one’s drivers license and in some cases require traveling back to Illinois to fix the issue.
  • Prosecutor – Attorney tasked with representing the police agency against the driver who as ticketed.
  • Public abstract (driving record) – Driving record available to insurance agencies and employers through the Secretary of State. Supervision is ordinarily not recorded on these records and thus court supervision is often an effective way to prevent it from appearing on your driving record. For more information, see court supervision
  • Red light camera ticket – Tickets issued by automated cameras at intersections. Having 5 or more unpaid violations is grounds for license suspension until all of the tickets are repaid.
  • Reduction – Specific type of amendment where the offense charged is reduced to a less serious category. An example would be reducing the extent over the speed limit which a driver is charged with violating. For more information, see amendment.
  • Reinstatement fee – Fees owed to the Secretary of State to reinstate one’s license after a prior suspension. In general, $70 per suspension is owed for most violations, $100 per insurance related suspension, and $250 per DUI related suspension. Before making reinstatement payments, it is helpful to speak to a traffic attorney to examine if these fees can be waived.
  • Renewal – Renewing an expired license. The fee for this ranges from free up to $30 depending on the age of the driver. Drivers with failures to pay, suspensions, or revocations of driving privileges are not eligible for renewal until these issues are corrected. For more information. see stop/hard stop and failure to pay.
  • Rescission – An annulment of a prior suspension. This is different from a termination in that the suspension not only ends but the record is changed to reflect that it should never have happened. For more information, see letter of rescission.
  • Revocation – A permanent termination of one’s driving privileges. A driver is further unable to restore their privileges until a future eligibility date. Furthermore, drivers seeking to restore their privileges must do so through a formal hearing process with the Secretary of State.
  • School zone – Zones nearby schools where offenses are more harshly punished and court supervision is at times not available.
  • Secretary of State – Commonly referred to as the DMV, the Secretary of State controls records for driver’s licenses, handles suspensions and revocations, and provides documentation associated with these services.
  • Set for status – A court date where no trial is set to occur and officers and witnesses are not required to appear.
  • Set for trial – A court date where a trial may occur, officers and witnesses are required to appear, and is typically the final court date in a given traffic case.
  • SR-22 insurance – Special type of insurance that is required for persons guilty of specific insurance related offenses. Often available at one’s insurance company as an add on to their policy, this insurance reports to the Secretary of State that the driver has an active policy. This policy in most cases must be held for 36 months continuously. Failures to hold SR-22 or lapses in coverage will result in a suspension of driving privileges until the driver complies.
  • Stop/Hard stop – Often used interchangeably with suspension, a hard stop is any item on one’s driving record that is responsible for a termination of driving privileges currently in effect.
  • Subpoena – A demand from the court for a party to appear in court.
  • Supervision terminated successfully/satisfactorily – Court supervision term completed without incident. For more information, see court supervision.
  • Suspension – Temporary termination of driving privileges. Suspensions either last for a term between 1-12 months or until some required action is taken (paying past due tollway violations, acquiring SR-22 insurance, resolving failures to appear, etc). Although it is technically temporary, suspensions can last indefinitely if a driver fails to take actions when required to.
  • Tollway violation – Usually constitutes 3 or more missed tolls. If the Secretary of State receives documentation of 5 tollway violations, the driver’s license will be suspended until all fines are paid in full. Proof of repayment plans will not lift suspensions. To save money, it is advised that drivers speak to a traffic attorney and be wary of making payments to Harris and Harris or other collection agencies prior to consulting an attorney.
  • Traffic court – Courtrooms dedicated to traffic offenses as well as misdemeanor offenses. The level of formality of these courtrooms varies from formal courthouses like those found in Cook County to informal spaces rented such as Downers Grove Field Court in the American Foreign Legion building or police stations. Drivers should attend the address provided on their ticket to reach the traffic court and be aware that it may not be a formal courtroom.
  • Traffic safety school – A punishment often imposed on drivers receiving court supervision. For drivers under 21 years of age, it is a requirement for court supervision. Additionally, people who mail in tickets must complete traffic school to receive court supervision.
  • Trial – A formal hearing where witnesses against the driver are asked to appear and testify against the driver. If the court finds guilt after hearing the evidence, a sentence is imposed on the driver.
  • Warrant – A demand to all police officials to arrest an individual and hold that person until a future court date in front of the judge issuing the warrant. Persons with a warrant should be aware that they can be arrested at any time while in the jurisdiction it is active in. With an attorney, it is possible to quash or terminate these warrants.
  • Witness – Persons who have witnessed an incident alleged to be a traffic violation and can provide testimony of the events that occurred.