Traffic Violations Legal Information

OVERVIEW

Traffic violations lawyers defend people charged with violating state and local motor vehicle laws. Some traffic violations lawyers are criminal lawyers; others specialize in traffic violations, or in a specific violation such as speeding tickets. These lawyers are experts in the traffic laws of the areas where they work.

Traffic violations lawyers are important because many traffic offenses are “strict liability” offenses. That means the state doesn’t have to show that you meant to commit the offense; all that matters is that you did. For example, if you were pulled over for having a burned-out tail light, the problem may have been news to you -- but you’re still responsible for the ticket. A traffic violations lawyer may find ways to reduce your penalties or your charges for this kind of strict liability offense.



“WHAT COUNTS AS A TRAFFIC VIOLATION?”

Traffic violations are exactly what they sound like -- any violation related to traffic. That includes moving violations like speeding as well as non-moving violations like parking in a red zone. Some of the more common traffic violations include:

  • Speeding
  • Running a red light, stop sign or yield sign
  • No valid license or registration
  • Parking tickets
  • Not wearing a required seat belt or helmet
  • Jaywalking
  • Reckless driving
  • DUI/DWI/OUI

Whether your traffic violation counts as a crime depends on the violation and where you were cited. In many places, minor violations like speeding are considered civil violations or “infractions,” which are less serious than crimes but more serious than a civil violation. It’s most likely to be charged as a crime if somebody was hurt during the incident; if there was significant property damage; or if alcohol or drugs were in your system.


“IS IT WORTH GOING TO COURT FOR A TRAFFIC TICKET?”

Many people think that they should just pay the fine for a traffic violation and move on. If you haven’t got much to lose and really did commit the infraction you’re charged with, this may be the best choice. However, even if you’d rather plead guilty, there are a few things that make a court case well worth your time:

  • You can lower your fines.
  • You can lower the points on your license, if any are assessed.
  • You can stop the DMV from suspending or revoking your license.
  • If the officer who wrote the ticket doesn’t show up, the case is sometimes (but not always) dismissed.

“WHY SHOULD I HIRE A TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS LAWYER?”

Traffic violations lawyers are experts in the traffic laws of your area. That means they have a lot of specialized knowledge about the ins and outs of local traffic violation laws and customs, and they will put it to work for you. Frequently, traffic violations lawyers know how to get you a better deal than you’d get on your own. If you choose to fight the ticket without representation, you probably won’t know the rules in your area as well as someone who works with traffic law every day.

For the same reasons, a traffic violations lawyer can save you serious money. Traffic violations lawyers can reduce the points on your license or help you plead guilty to a lesser crime, which can save you hundreds of dollars in fines and insurance costs. If you were facing a severe punishment or need a clean driving record for work, the legal services may even pay for themselves.

Finally, of course, a traffic violations lawyer can often save you the trouble and expense of going to court. That’s a serious consideration if you are facing a violation in another state, or if you absolutely can’t miss a day of work.



“WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF HAVING A TRAFFIC VIOLATION ON MY RECORD?”

Penalties vary according to the violation, of course. But for minor traffic violations (which would not be criminal charges in most states), you can expect at least one or two of the following:

  • A fine, ranging from about $30 to hundreds of dollars.
  • Traffic school
  • Points on your license, in states that assess them
  • Higher auto insurance premiums.
  • Suspension or revocation of your license.

The traffic violation will stay on your record for a few years, depending on the state. That’s where the insurance rate hike will come from. If you drive for a living or have problems on your driving record already, these black marks on your record can cause further problems.

Major traffic violations, like DUI or vehicular assault, carry these consequences plus jail time and other criminal penalties.



“COULD THE OFFICER’S STATEMENT ABOUT MY SPEED BE WRONG?”

Law enforcement can certainly make mistakes. Most law enforcement agencies use some combination of simple timing -- watching vehicles go past stationary objects -- and radar technology to nail speeders. Of course, when law enforcement officers time a driver, they are subject to all of the same limitations and mistakes that other humans make. And if they use radar technology, they may not be getting the most accurate numbers either. Radar guns may not be accurate if there are several moving objects on the road; if they’re at an angle to the vehicle; or if other electronic equipment interferes. The older the technology, the more likely it is to give a bad reading. Mistakes by officers may also cast doubt on radar technology’s accuracy.


“AREN’T ‘SPEED TRAPS’ ILLEGAL?”

Speed traps are areas where law enforcement hides officers or radar equipment in order to find and ticket speeders. Towns that frequently mount this sort of effort may also be called speed traps. In most cases and in most states, this is entirely legal. Some states, such as Texas, have made laws limiting how much money a “speed trap town” may collect; the excess is handed over to the state.

The exception is the State of California, which will not admit evidence from certain types of speed traps. Speed traps are illegal in California when:

  • An airplane “paced” the driver by measuring his or her speed against fixed objects, and an officer on the ground did not confirm the measurement.
  • An officer used radar, but a traffic survey hasn’t been done for the area in five years or more, or a recent traffic survey recommended a higher speed limit than the area has.
  • If you want to fight a speed trap ticket in California, you’ll have to be very knowledgeable about these laws and resulting cases. That’s why legal experts recommend that you hire a traffic violations lawyer to help you.

 

“CAN’T I JUST IGNORE AN OUT-OF-STATE TICKET?”

Traffic violations, like crimes, have a statute of limitations -- a time limit after which you can’t be charged. Because of this, some people believe they can ignore tickets from a state they don’t plan to visit in the next few years and just wait out the statute of limitations. There are several reasons why this is a bad idea.

The first is that your state likely has an information-sharing agreement with other states. If you get a ticket in one such state but live in another, your home state will be notified when you fail to pay or contest the ticket. Your home state’s motor vehicle department may charge you the fine before you can renew your license, or even suspend your license outright. You may be charged an additional fine for not responding to the ticket. And because they don’t always notify you of your license suspension, you may be liable for driving on a suspended license as well. If you ignore a very large amount of traffic fines, the state could also sell them a collection agency, which will hurt your credit.

An even worse consequence of ignoring a ticket could be getting arrested. When you don’t show up for a hearing or ignore a fine, the judge has the right to issue a bench warrant, a document allowing law enforcement in the area to arrest you. Because police agencies share their information, it’s likely that law enforcement in your home state will find out about it. The next time you’re pulled over at home, you will likely go to jail.




PAYMENT

Traffic violations lawyers may charge either a flat fee or a retainer with an hourly rate. Which one your traffic violations lawyer uses depends on the lawyer, your area and the type of violation you’re charged with. Flat fees are most likely for relatively routine matters like a simple speeding ticket. A flat fee could range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, with the price going up if you face a trial.

If you’re facing a trial or have a more complicated problem, you may end up with a lawyer who asks for a retainer -- a payment of a few thousand dollars. The lawyer subtracts his or her hourly pay from that retainer, and may ask for another retainer before the case is over. But no matter which type of payment is required, your traffic violations lawyer should offer at least a brief initial conversation before asking for payment of any kind.