A traffic court is a judicial institution that mainly handles traffic laws. In some cases, the traffic court may be housed in an entirely separate facility from the regular court. This is often the case in larger cities. In other cases, it may be a certain day or courtroom where a judge handles nothing but traffic cases. Most of the cases involve routine matters, such as simple traffic tickets, which is why it may also be referred to as traffic ticket court.
Most of the matters handled in traffic court are what are known as scheduled offenses. This means the penalties are set by state code, according to a certain "schedule." Often, the penalty assessed will be based on how severe the violation was, whether it caused an accident, and if the driver has any previous violations. In the vast majority of cases, the penalty includes a fine, plus some court costs. There is very little room for judges to waiver from the prescribed penalties.
Accused violators who are ticketed usually will not have to appear in traffic court unless they want to contest the charge. Like any other court, the accuser, usually referred to as the "state," has the burden of proof. Traffic court violations, if the accuser insists, must be processed like any other civil case. In the United States, this could mean a jury trial. Most accused drivers do not go to this length, because of the time and expense involved, as well as the fact that the penalties are usually relatively small. Even if a person takes their own case to court without a lawyer, there could be significant court costs incurred if the individual loses the case.
The most common interaction with a traffic court most people will have is using it as a place to pay any fines. The individual may either send the fine by mail, or may go in person to pay. Clerks will process payments and provide a receipt. Most of those going to such a court to pay a fine may only do so because they have waited until the last minute to pay, and do not trust the mail to get it there on time. They will never go before a judge, or see the inside of an actual courtroom.
There are times when a traffic court may handle more serious cases as well. This applies mainly to charges of driving under the influence, or vehicular manslaughter. Whether this will be handled in the traffic court division, or higher court is largely dependent on the administrative law procedures in the jurisdiction. If the case rises to the level of a felony, which is possible for repeat offenders, it is normally handled in a higher court.