Whenever a driver violates any law related to vehicle operation, they’ve committed a traffic violation. There are a number of different types and classifications for traffic violations, each with their own penalties. These penalties can include jail time, fines, required driving safety courses, and suspension of driving privileges.
Types and Classifications
There are two primary types of traffic violations: Moving and Non-Moving.
Moving Violation vs Non-Moving Violation
A moving violation takes place any time a vehicle is in motion while the infraction is being committed, while a non-moving violation involves an infraction associated with either parking or the vehicle itself. Of these infractions, some are considered crimes while others are not. Which violations are considered a criminal matter depends on the state and jurisdiction within which they are committed.
Traffic Violations that are Considered Crimes
In most places, the following traffic violations are considered a criminal matter:
- Vehicular Homicide:An incredibly serious violation, vehicular homicide involves the unlawful or negligent operation of a vehicle that results in another person’s death.
- Driving Under the Influence:If a person is caught operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, they will be charged with driving under the influence (known commonly as a DUI) Drivers can also be charged if found using their car while under the influence of drugs, though these violations often have a separate name.
- Driving Without a License: If you operate a motor vehicle without a license (whether it's been revoked or you were never issued one) you are subject to significant fines.
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident:Fleeing the scene of a car accident is a criminal offense, often resulting in the suspension of your license. The charges will be more dire if you are the perpetrator of the crime, referred to legally as a “hit-and-run.”
- Reckless Driving:Operating a vehicle in a dangerous manner that puts others' individual safety or property at risk is considered reckless driving. This can range from driving aggressively and well over the speed limit to driving while under the influence.
- Racing On a Highway:Street racing is illegal in many states, though charges for racing on the highway tend to carry higher penalties. Being caught racing can result in several months of jail time and thousands in fines.
Traffic Violations That Are Not Considered Crimes
For more minor violations, no criminal charge will be filed. Instead, an officer will simply ticket the person, who will need to pay the associated fines. Traffic violations that fall under this classification include:
- Running a Red Light:Whenever a motorist fails to make a complete stop at a red light, they can incur a traffic violation. Even if there is no defined stop line, every red light (whether flashing or solid) requires you to stop completely. Many states will deduct points from your license, and you could see an increase in insurance rates.
- Texting While Driving:An incredibly dangerous habit, texting while driving is defined as diverting your attention to your cell phone while operating your motor vehicle. This can put the driver and other occupants of the road in danger, and cost you hundreds of dollars in fines.
- Unsafe Lane Changes:If you fail to check whether there are vehicles in the nearby lane or coming towards you, you have committed an unsafe lane change violation. Getting ticketed for unsafe lane changes can result in a several hundred dollar fine in addition to an increase in car insurance.
- Speeding:Exceeding the marked limit present on highways and side streets can result in a speeding ticket. The severity of the violation depends on how excessively the limit is exceeded; the higher the speed, the more likely it becomes a criminal matter.
- Running a Stop Sign:Similar to running a red light, all stop signs require you to stop your car’s motion entirely. Simply slowing down, also called a “California Stop”, can still lead to you being ticketed.
Difference Between Traffic Court and Criminal Court
Minor traffic infractions rarely result in the need for a criminal court case; the only traffic violations that require criminal court would be more severe crimes like vehicular homicide, hit-and-run, and driving under the influence. But if a traffic ticket is issued by the police, is a traffic violation a misdemeanor? Not at all.
You would much rather be in traffic court than a criminal court; in traffic court you will usually only be trying to get out of a ticket. Traffic court lacks the same formal atmosphere that a criminal court has, with most defendants representing themselves. While representing yourself in a criminal court can be a disaster, the worst result you can face if found guilty in a traffic court is far more minor.
Traffic Tickets: Consequences and How to Respond
What consequences you face will change depending on what state and county you are ticketed. Most of the time, the consequences for lower level traffic offenses amount to points on your license or fines. These fines range in cost, but for the most part don’t exceed $500. Traffic points can be more worrisome, as a large enough accumulation can lead to losing your license. If the traffic violation is more severe, you may be looking at a suspension of your license, much higher fines, and in some cases, jail time.
Your response to traffic tickets depends on whether you believe you are innocent or not. If you think you have been ticketed unjustly, you should go to traffic court and dispute the ticket. This can help you avoid the cost of the ticket and any points that may have gone on your license. You can also make sure employers or landlords don’t find the violation, which could be found through a simple driving records search.
Traffic Violations Can Be a Hassle
No matter what category or type of traffic violation occurs, it will come with unnecessary stress. It's always better to obey the rules of the road; that way you can keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers on the road safe.