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9 Smart Tips for Fighting a Parking Ticket

You return to your car and see it: That hideous ticket tucked under your windshield wiper. Here's what to do about it and how to avoid it.

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Don’t get ticketed in the first place

Here are a few ground rules to always follow:

  • After you park, carefully read all signs you can see to determine if parking is legal on the day/time and for as long as you planned to be parked.
  • If it’s metered parking, make sure to pay as directed, and don’t stay beyond the time you’ve purchased.
  • When available, use apps: Plenty of municipalities have their own parking apps One example is Park White Plains, which truly simplifies parking in the city Reader’s Digest calls home. Many will notify you when time is running out and allow you to add time without actually returning to your car.

In major cities around the world, you can use the SpotAngel app: According to co-founder Aboud Jardaneh, the app runs in the background of your smartphone, alerting you to parking rules where you happen to be parking; it also sends reminders to move your car or feed the meter.

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If you do get a ticket, read it

“In most circumstances, the key to a successful challenge is to focus on errors in the ticket that render it legally invalid,” says Marc A. Rapaport, of the Rapaport Law Firm in New York City “Examples of fatally defective errors include the issuing officer’s failure to correctly describe the make or model of the vehicle, tickets that do not correctly state the date and time of the alleged infraction, and failure by the issuing officer to legibly print or sign their name.”

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Take a photo

“To prove you didn’t commit a parking infraction, I recommend submitting photographic evidence,” Rapaport advises. Otherwise, you’re dealing with a “he said/she said” situation. If your ticket involves a posted sign, photograph it, advises attorney David Blair Nitka, as told to AVVO. If the ticket’s about parking too close to an object (like a fire hydrant), show how far you’re parked from the hydrant. If you’re dealing with a broken meter, make sure the photo shows that. Any appeal you make should include these photos, with a time stamp if possible. Be sure to brush up on these 11 driving etiquette rules too.

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Identify the statute you violated

The ticket will identify the statute you violated—if it doesn’t, you’re already off the hook. Look for a checked box or a strange set of numbers. Now go online and look it up. If you can’t find it online, you should be able to find it at City Hall or at your local library, according to attorney Nitka. Now verify that you did in fact run afoul of the statute.

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Look for excuses under the statute

The statute will inevitably provide some handy loopholes. For example, explains Nitka, some handicapped parking statutes require notice that the spot isn’t for everyone—for example, a painted curb, or a sign above the parking space. Sometimes, a statute will use the term “visible” or “obvious”—and, arguably, a dilapidated sign or a sign blocked by a tree is neither visible or obvious.

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To appeal, follow the directions on the ticket

Deal with the ticket as soon as possible—and definitely within the window for appeals as written on the ticket. If you don’t get the appeal in on time, you may be responsible for the ticket and a late fee. Need some help? Check out the DoNotPay app, which got its start helping people fight their parking tickets and has now expanded into many legal arenas to help “democratize legal help,” according to TechCrunch. These are the 8 things that could happen if you don’t pay a parking ticket.

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Write your appeal

The ticket may include a space in which you can write out your appeal, but attach your appeal on a separate sheet. Be brief, clear, unemotional, and respectful. Essentially, it comes down to including the following:

  • Date and time of ticket
  • Statute cited on ticket
  • Reason why you shouldn’t have been ticketed
  • A conclusion to the effect of, “Based on the statute, this citation should be dismissed because…”
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If there is a hearing

An appeal may require you to appear for a hearing. If it does, be sure to arrive on time. Dress neatly and look clean. Bring two copies of everything you mailed in for your appeal. Be brief and deferential when asked to tell your story. Answer any follow-up questions politely.

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What never to say

In the event you do get a ticket, here are the things that won’t work, and what you might hear in reply:

  • “I didn’t know the law.”—Ignorance of the parking laws—or any law— is not a defense.
  • “I was on my way to move my car.”—Too late.
  • “I can’t afford this ticket.”—Too bad.
  • “I’ve been doing this for years.”—Are you admitting to prior infractions?
  • “I checked with the parking officer, who said it was OK.” Sadly, parking officers have no authority to grant you immunity, says Nitka.

Got pulled over for speeding instead? Here are the words you need to beat any speeding ticket.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.