Follow these 10 steps, and you may just save $50

12 years ago by in Uncategorized Tagged:

Photo 1
Observer photo by Andrew Knapp

How to contest a D.C. parking ticket


You get out of work or class just like you do any other day. You head to your car, but when you reach it, there’s a white and pink slip of plastic-textured paper underneath a windshield wiper. It reads “$50.” Seems like a hefty fine for parking too close to a stop sign in a zone clearly marked for legal parking. But if you follow these 10 steps in challenging the ticket, maybe you’ll avoid dishing out any of that hard-earned cash.

1. Calm down and look around. You swear you did everything right. You parked in the spot without any reservation that what you were doing was legal. This is unjust. You want to drive to City Hall and denounce this outrage. But it’s OK. It’s only 50 bucks. Yeah, that’s a couple of week’s worth of groceries, but it won’t force you onto the streets. On the other hand, you’d like to keep that money. Think of the things you could buy if you didn’t have to pay this ticket.

2. Adjudicate your own case. You want to challenge your ticket. You want to shove it in the parking enforcement officer’s face that you’re right, and he’s wrong. Instead, you should look at your case objectively. Do you really have a chance? The ticket says you parked less than 25 feet from a stop sign. So apparently there’s a law against parking too close to an intersection, even on quiet residential streets. You look at your car. Yep, shucks: You’re closer than 25 feet (See Photo 1). But then, you remember seeing other intersections in the city where signs clearly allow you to park 15, 10, five feet from a stop sign. No signs here — just one 50 feet behind your car saying you can park alongside the curb anywhere on the block (See Photo 2). So what’s the deal? Did the parking man have a bad day?

Photo 2
Observer photo by Andrew Knapp

3. Gather evidence at the scene. You know you have a case — one based upon the argument of the spot enforcement of a dumb rule. But you have to document your current situation for yourself. Take pictures of your car, so you can later prove that it wasn’t a very dangerous distance from the intersection — only 12 feet. Of course, you’ve got to measure that, too. If your car is 0 feet from the stop sign, well, give up now. Be reasonable.

4. Talk to others. Let it out. A therapist might be going too far, but explain your situation to your roommate, your landlord, your neighbor, your goldfish. Just make sure the person you speak to has knowledge of the city and its vast bureaucracy. Anyone who has lived in Washington for a while has probably had some run-in with the parking folks. Ask for advice. Has your friend challenged a ticket before? If so, what’s the best way out? Should I send my case in by mail? Or should I walk into the C Street office of the DMV to contest my ticket in person? Your landlord tells you to walk in: You stand a better chance that way. But he charges you $1,000 per month for rent, and you don’t really trust him. Or maybe he’s giving you advice because he wants you to pay him, not the government. You’re confused. Either way, you don’t have the time to make it to C Street. It’s too far. You’re too busy. So you decide to do your hearing by U.S. Postal Service. It’s only 50 bucks after all, right? Still, it’s worth a shot.

Photo 3
Observer photo by Andrew Knapp

5. Plan your attack. Visit the Web site,, or just go to the address listed on the back of your ticket. It will give you helpful tips in preparing your case by mail. Not as good as this list, but helpful nonetheless in that sort of legal-mumbo-jumbo kind of way. You can’t ignore the technicalities. So you find out they want evidence. How do you get it? You need tools. In this case: a camera and a measuring tape.

6. Find your facts. Hit the streets. Start measuring the distance between the stop sign and the parking sign delineating parking zones. Take pictures. Make sure they show cars parked much closer to stop signs than you would ever dream to be (See Photo 3). You then find a parking zone with a sign that’s just five feet from the stop sign. (5 feet 6 inches, to be exact). Stretch the measuring tape out, lock it and take a picture of the parking and stop signs along with the tape showing the ridiculously short length (See Photo 4).

7. Review your facts. Pull all your information together. You found 15 intersections all with parking zones closer than 25 feet from the stop sign. This makes you mad again. Then you calm down again. Then you’re excited that you have such a solid case. Make sure all your measurements match the pictures and mark where the photo was taken. The judge of your case has to be sure these pictures are real and not something you contrived in Photoshop. You’re the honest one in this case. They’re the connivers.

Photo 4
Observer photo by Andrew Knapp

8. Make your case. Explain why you got a ticket. Acknowledge the law, but write about how contradictory it is. Why is it OK to park close to the stop sign on this block but not on the neighboring one? Make sure your pictures and explanations are arranged in a logical and easy-to-understand manner. Refer to the appendix in the main body of your argument. Don’t go into too much detail in the body. Let the pictures do that. Besides, each one is worth 1,000 words, right? And you have 15. Don’t go on power trips about how unjust the city and its parking Nazis are. It’s true. But that’s not copasetic for a legal argument.

9. Print and send it. It’s got to be good quality. No lines through the pictures. No coffee stains on the paper. Make sure you’ve got page numbers so you don’t have to staple it. It probably won’t get through the metal detectors at the adjudication office if you staple it. Security is tight in Washington. The numbers have to be in logical order, too. Try something like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. And your information has to be in the same order requested by the government.

10. Revel in victory. Go to the mailbox, four months later. The Web site says you’ll receive a reply in six to eight weeks. Again, they lie. You get your mail. D.C. government, it says on the return label. Inside: “Dismissed, in light of the evidence.” Now, have a drink. But don’t drive.

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