Moving Violations

If you receive a traffic ticket for a moving violation such as speeding or running a red light, it is helpful to know your rights. If you owe a fine, or wish to enter a plea of not guilty and go to court, it is important to respond quickly within the dates stipulated on the ticket. Also you may receive points on your license for certain infractions, and you insurance rates may go up for any infractions for which you are found guilty.

Background

Traffic violations followed the invention of the automobile: the first traffic ticket in the United States was allegedly given to a New York City cab driver on May 20, 1899, for going at the breakneck speed of 12 miles per hour. Since that time, countless citations have been issued for traffic violations across the country, and states have reaped untold billions of dollars of revenue from violators.

Traffic violations can be loosely defined as any acts that violates a state or municipalities traffic laws. Most laws are local, though the federal government does regulate some traffic aspects, and it can deny federal money in order to coerce states to pass particular traffic laws. Today, motorists can find themselves faced with dozens of traffic laws, depending on where they are driving. These traffic laws vary by state, city, highway, and region

Types of Traffic Violations

Traffic violations are generally divided into major and minor types of violations. The most minor type are parking violations, which are not counted against a driving record, though a person can be arrested for unpaid violations. Next are the minor driving violations, including speeding and other moving violations, which usually do not require a court appearance. Then there are more serious moving violations, such as reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident. Finally there is drunk driving, also called Driving Under the Influence (DUI), which is a classification onto itself.

All but the most serious traffic violations are generally prosecuted as MISDEMEANOR charges; however, repeat offenses can be prosecuted at the level of felonies. As misdemeanor charges, most traffic violations require payment of a fine but no jail time. State laws do not allow a judge to impose a jail sentence for speeding or failure to stop at a signal. However, more serious traffic violations, such as drunk or reckless driving, can result in jail time at the judge’s discretion.

The most common type of traffic violation is a speed limit violation. Speed limits are defined by state. In 1973, Congress implemented a 55-miles-per-hour speed limit in order to save on energy costs, but these were abolished in 1995. Since then, most states have implemented 65-mph maximum speed limits. There are two types of speed limits: fixed maximum, which make it unlawful to exceed the speed limit anywhere at any time, and prima facie, which allow drivers to prove in certain cases that exceeding the speed limit was not unsafe and, therefore, was lawful.

Another common type of traffic violation is a seat belt violation. Most states now require adults to wear seatbelts when they drive or sit in the front seat, and all states require children to be restrained using seat belts. New York was the first state to make seat belts mandatory, in 1984.

Effect of Traffic Violations
The effect of a traffic violation depends on the nature of the offense and on the record of the person receiving the traffic violation. Beyond the possibilities of fines and/or jail, other consequences of traffic violations can include traffic school, higher insurance premiums, and the suspension of driving privileges.

Fines
Fines for traffic violations depend on the violation. Typically, states will have standard fines for a specific group of moving violations, with the fines increasing with the seriousness of the violation. Some states will also increase the fine if violators have other violations on their record. Courts will occasionally reduce fines on violations while still recording the violation as part of the violator’s record.

Traffic School
Virtually every state allows perpetrators of a traffic violation to attend some sort of traffic school in return for the violation being wiped off their records. Traffic school generally consists of a 6-8 hour class that describes the dangers of committing traffic violations. Different states have different procedures regarding their traffic schools. Some allow traffic schools in place of paying the fine; others require payment of the fine in addition to the traffic school cost of admission. Some allow traffic violators to go to traffic school once a year, whereas others require a longer waiting period between traffic school attendances. Also, the type of violation may affect whether the violator is allowed to go to traffic school: the more serious the violation, the less likely the violator will be allowed to go to traffic school to wipe it off their record.

Procedures for signing up for traffic school also differ from state to state: some states allow drivers to sign up with the school directly, others have them go through the clerk of court or judge in order to sign-up. Most states require drivers to go to a specific location for traffic school, although some, such as California, now offer an Internet option that allows a student to attend traffic school without leaving the comfort of home

Suspension of Driving Privileges

A traffic violation not wiped out by traffic school will count against the suspension of driving privileges. In most states, suspension of driving privileges is calculated using a point system: the more points drivers have, the more likely it is their driving privileges could be suspended. Some states calculate the number of violations drivers have in a straightforward manner; if drivers reach the requisite number of violations within a certain time frame, their privileges are automatically suspended. Age can also be a factor in determining when a driver’s license is suspended. Minor drivers typically see their licenses suspended with fewer violations than adults.

All states entitle persons facing suspended licenses to receive a HEARING, typically in front of a hearing officer for that state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. At that point, the person whose license is to be suspended may offer an explanation for why the violations in question occurred. The hearing officer usually has discretion in all but the most extreme cases (i.e. drunk driving) to reduce, defer the suspension, or cancel it entirely.

Insurance Premiums

Beyond the suspension of driving privileges, traffic violators typically can face higher insurance. Insurance companies will raise insurance rates for HABITUAL violators of traffic law. In many cases insurance rates will go up for as little as two violations within a three-year period. Different insurance companies follow different procedures. It is up to the discretion of the insurance company whether to raise rates as a result of a traffic violation.


Got a Ticket?

It can happen to any of us; sometimes, through no fault of our own.  In any case, you have the right to be defended by a lawyer – it’s the law.  No matter if you have been charged with a felony, a misdemeanor, or merely a violation. Under our legal system, you are innocent until proven guilty.

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