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After a long day of running errands, you’re just ready to go home. But as you approach your car, you see a bright envelope under your windshield wiper. Yup, you got a parking ticket. You’re momentarily angry: the street is poorly signed, you weren’t parked there for long, and the parking police didn’t have to be such a jerk. You may even toss the ticket in your glove box for a while, then when you cool down, you fish it out and dutifully pay it. But what if you just ignored your unpaid ticket? After enough time, enough late fees, and maybe more tickets, you could theoretically get arrested. That seems ridiculous to write out, but it’s absolutely true.

What happens if you don’t pay a parking ticket?

The government makes the penalties for breaking a law worse the longer you break it. Why? To convince you to stop breaking the law, of course. Parking tickets are no different. You can get hit with big late fees, have your car impounded or booted, lose your license, or even get arrested.

Man in a blue uniform and bicycle helmet leaves a parking ticket on a car's windshield.
Parking enforcement officer | Pixplus/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images

What would be the point of a law if there was no penalty for breaking it? If you park in an illegal spot, a parking enforcement officer may hit you with a fee. And if you don’t pay that fee, your municipality will ratchet up the consequences until you do.

What exactly will happen if you don’t pay your ticket? Direct Auto Insurance says that depends entirely on your town or city. In some places you’ll get a pile of late fees. When you owe enough late fees, an enforcement agent may attach a boot to your car so you can’t drive until you have cleared your fees. In New York City, for example, you get “booted” if you owe more than $350 in tickets.

Of course, you must have your car parked in a public spot to actually get booted: think a city lot or streetside parking, really anywhere the parking enforcement agents are already patroling. They won’t hunt you down and boot your car on private property.

Even a series of unpaid parking tickets are a “non-moving” violation (unlike speeding tickets). So most towns will first ratchet up the pressure by preventing you from re-registering your car before going after you or your license.

Can you drive with unpaid parking tickets?

In most towns, you most have a ton of unpaid parking tickets–long overdue–before you lose your license. But it is possible to have your license taken away over parking tickets.

If you have unpaid parking tickets, you might find your car is “booted” or even towed from a public spot. But parking enforcement agents aren’t patroling for you driving through the streets. You can still drive with unpaid parking tickets–until your icense is revoked or a judge issues a warrant for your arrest.

Can you be arrested for unpaid parking tickets?

Theoretically, if you don’t pay any of your parking tickets for long enough you can be arrested. This will probably look like a judge issuing a bench warrant for your arrest and the police either coming to find you or pulling you over while driving.

Woman collects an unpaid parking ticket from the windshield wiper of her SUV.
Parking ticket | gotpap/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images via Getty Images

It is more common to lose your license and attract a bench warrant if you collect and don’t pay “moving violations” such as speeding tickets or running red lights. This is because you have proven yourself an unsafe driver. But it is possible to be arrested over “nonmoving” violations such as parking tickets if you get enough of them and/or refuse to pay them for long enough.

So, even though parking tickets can be annoying and seem unfair, it is a good idea to get yours paid down ASAP.

Next, find out how a typo may get you out of a parking ticket, or see more tips for getting out of a parking ticket in the video below: