Running a Stop Sign: Defenses and Consequences

Should you fight a ticket for running a stop sign?

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law

Driving through a stop sign without stopping is a moving violation, like speeding. If you are caught, a law enforcement officer will issue a ticket, you will be required to pay a fine, and you may receive additional punishments. However, under a few circumstances, you may be able to fight your ticket.

Defenses to Running a Stop Sign

If you ran a stop sign, but had a defendable reason for doing so, a judge may reconsider your punishment. Possible defenses include:

Invisible stop sign. If you could not see the stop sign because it was hidden by plants, obscured by some other object, or missing, you may have a good defense. To be successful at fighting your ticket, you will have to show the judge that there would have been no way for you to see the stop sign in time to stop. The best way to do this may be to take photographs of the intersection, ideally from the perspective of a driver approaching the sign.

You stopped early. If you did stop at the stop sign, but you stopped far enough behind the line that the officer waiting to catch you couldn't see you stop, you may be able to fight your ticket. The trick to this defense will be to prove to the judge that the officer was waiting in a place that precluded him or her from seeing where you stopped.

The sign is new. This rare defense will only work if you habitually drive though this intersection and the stop sign is new. You will have to prove both of these things, and the judge may not buy it. It might help if you can also show that the sign could not be seen from a distance – for example, behind a curve in the road – so that when you drove through it, you did not have time to stop after seeing it for the first time.

The line is faded. If the officer ticketed you for stopping over the limit line, you may be able to fight your ticket if you can show that the line was so faded, you had no way of knowing where to stop. Again, photographs may be the best way to prove this to the judge.

Keep in mind that ignorance of the law is no excuse. So it is not a good defense to say that you didn't see the sign (if you should have) or that you didn't know that you needed to stop. You are responsible for knowing the driving laws of your state.

Consequences of Running a Stop Sign

If an officer issues you a ticket for running stop sign, unless you have a good dense (possibly like one of those discussed above), you will be required to pay a fine and the incident may be reported to the DMV and your insurance company. You may be able to go to traffic school. This would keep the ticket off your record, but you would still have to pay the fine. Consequences may be more severe if an accident occurred as a result of your mistake, if you have other recent tickets or accidents on your record, or if you ran the stop sign in combination with another ticketable offense, such as speeding or driving under the influence.

Visit our companion site,, for more detailed information on your state laws regarding running red lights and stop signs.

Hiring a Lawyer

If you want to fight your ticket and your circumstances are relatively simple – that is, you just ran a stop sign without any of the complicating situations described above -- you may be able to defend yourself. You will need to do research on the exact law you're being accused of violating, and you will need to carefully prepare your defense in a way that the judge will understand. Not everyone has the inclination or skills to do this successfully. A lawyer can help. Definitely hire a lawyer to help you if you were involved in an accident where someone got hurt or if you are also charged with another serious offense like reckless driving or driving under the influence. A lawyer will be able to put your case in front of the judge in the most convincing way. You may have to pay the lawyer more than it would cost just to pay the fines, but if you win, you will be able to keep the ticket off of your record – and this may save you more money in the long run.

Get more free legal information about Car Accidents, Insurance and Injury Law, Fighting Traffic Tickets, or DUI Laws. Or for in depth information about how to fight your ticket, read Beat Your Ticket: Go to Court & Win, by David W. Brown (Nolo).

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