How to Appeal a Parking Ticket

America is a country that runs on automobiles and trucks, providing ample opportunities for parking tickets. While we may consider a small $10 or $20 parking ticket an annoyance, you should not ignore it because unpaid parking violations can add up to a real headache. Disputing an undeserved parking ticket is a right the U.S. legal process provides, but you must compile solid evidence to win.

There are almost 276,000,000 registered vehicles in the country. States with high populations represent enormous chunks of those vehicles, such as 30 million in California and more than 10 million registered in Texas, New York, and Florida. Yet the total number of vehicles in a state doesn’t accurately reflect the distribution of parking tickets written in the country.

The wide-open state of Montana has more vehicles per 1,000 people than New York, yet more parking tickets are written in New York’s busy cities than in Montana. Among the large cities with too many vehicles and too few spaces to put them is San Francisco, California, which is notorious for ticketing parking scofflaws.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says that states with the highest populations and most congested cities employ the most parking enforcement workers. Those states include Michigan, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

appealing a parking ticket

How to Avoid Parking Tickets

If you’re driving in an unfamiliar city, give yourself time to understand the parking situation. Review signs and street markings as you look for a legal spot. Guidelines for determining whether parking is allowed include:

  • Look for painted stripes on the pavement. Generally, red or yellow-painted curbing designates a restricted zone. White stripes within a box adjacent to a curb (where a vehicle might park) often signal no parking.
  • Check for signs posted along the block. Cities post information about parking restrictions specific to the block. Ensure you’re not on private property, which can be more punitive for those illegally parked than most city enforcement.
  • Apply common knowledge. Leave ample space for safety zones like crosswalks, fire hydrants, driveways, and street corners. Laws about parking too close to these common features may not be posted but are written in city or state bylaws that apply to parking violations.
  • Even if you only leave your vehicle parked illegally for “a minute,” you may be ticketed. There is no allowance for quick stops.

Types of Parking Tickets

It's common to get parking tickets in cities where streets may be zoned for public or resident-only parking during specific times of the day. That's in addition to multiple driveway openings, loading ramps, fire hydrants, crosswalks, and special zones. Finding a legal space can be challenging.

There are various types of parking tickets, and each may carry a specific penalty (fine). These include:

  • Meter overtime. In many cities, it's illegal to remain parked at a meter that has run out and continue "feeding" the meter beyond the stated parking period for the location. Often, the limit is two hours on a city street, but check signs to know for sure.
  • Restricted zones. Cities may prohibit or limit parking in part or in full for traffic flow, businesses, public safety, or congestion. For example, an area may allow 2-hour metered daytime parking until 5 p.m. when the zone turns into no parking to facilitate evening traffic or valet parking for restaurants. Or, to facilitate street cleaning, one side of the street may be a “no parking” zone one day a week.
  • Obstructing safety. Cities establish clearance zones for access to crosswalks, fire hydrants, and schools. Check signs and painted curbs to determine whether parking in a specific space is permissible.
  • Private property. Landlords and business owners may establish their parking restrictions on private property. These may include parking lots adjacent to shops, hospitals, residences, or industrial buildings. Most landlords will post warning signs that list the name and contact information for tow companies if their policy is to remove unauthorized vehicles. Landlords may write parking tickets, but they do not have the power to enforce payment like a city.

Appealing a Parking Ticket

When you return to your vehicle and find a parking ticket, your first reaction is likely to be anger. If you looked at all the signs, paid for a meter, and stayed clear of hydrants and crosswalks, it's normal to feel a sense of injustice when you are ticketed. As with any legal decision in the United States, you may appeal a parking ticket to a higher authority. If you believe your ticket was in error, collecting information on the spot is essential before you move your vehicle. Information from the location, day, and time can be crucial to an appeal.

A court clerk or magistrate, or in large cities, a specifically-designated administrative hearing officer in parking court, is likely to consider your appeal. These people are intimately familiar with state and local laws about parking and tickets. Concrete evidence that the ticket contains an error is crucial as it’s your best bet to winning an appeal.

Remember that parking enforcement officers (meter maids) may also take photos of your vehicle when writing the ticket. It’s challenging to have evidence that your interpretation of a ticketing error is more accurate than theirs.

Some approaches to appealing a parking ticket include:

  • Prove “Mistake of Fact.” Read the ticket carefully. Does it accurately describe your vehicle, and are details like your license plate information correct? Any errors by parking enforcement, including location, type of violation, or missing information, may be grounds for a successful appeal.

If possible, document any mistakes with photos of signage, curb markings, or encroachment on hydrants or crosswalks immediately. Photographs from several angles and date and time stamping the photos are helpful (look at your phone or camera's settings to turn them on). Getting an affidavit from a witness may also help.

  • Find a Parking Ticket Lawyer. Hiring professional help to fight a $20 or $40 ticket may seem silly. Still, parking tickets can add up and result in a higher penalty, such as nonrenewal of your driver's license if they remain unpaid. If you need legal assistance but cannot afford a private attorney, ask the district court if there is an attorney of the day who may provide some guidance for free.
  • Appeal to Local Courts. Read the parking ticket instructions to ensure you comply with all requirements, particularly the deadlines for filing an appeal. A magistrate or clerk will assign a time and date for a hearing when you can show evidence that the ticket was in error.


Parking tickets are a nuisance, yet they are necessary to prevent a free-for-all on congested streets. Save time and aggravation by only parking in clearly designated zones. Check your surroundings thoroughly before leaving your vehicle.