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How Traffic Tickets Work

Updated on September 25, 2014

Traffic Offense Categories

Traffic law can be mostly divided into two sections: infractions and violations. Infractions are not considered to be crimes, and the offender usually only has to pay a fine. Those who commit an infraction cannot be imprisoned, cannot be heavily fined and cannot go to trial. Non-moving violations and minor moving violations, which make up the majority of traffic offenses, are considered infractions. However, speeding tickets can still hold a hefty fine for those who are penalized for going excessively far over the speed limit.

Violations, on the other hand, are usually considered a crime, making them more severe than infractions. The definition of a violation will vary slightly by state, but a more serious violation will be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony traffic violation. Examples of violations include DUIs, driving without insurance, reckless driving and fleeing the scene of an accident. Those charged with one of these violations will be read their rights and put through the trial process.

A misdemeanor or felony traffic violation is usually given in a case where the offender damaged property, threatened a person’s safety or injured a person. In some cases, an infraction can turn into a violation depending on the specific situation. For example, failing to stop at a stop sign is an infraction that can be turned into a misdemeanor or felony if it resulted in a pedestrian getting hit by a vehicle. A felony is the highest class of crime, and an offender would be looking at a minimum of one year of jail time, and for especially heinous felonies, an offender could be given a death sentence. Examples of felonies include repeat DUIs, hit and runs, and vehicular manslaughter.

Traffic laws are different in each state, so focus on your specific state’s laws to avoid any confusion. However, most states recognize three basic categories of traffic infractions and violations.

Strict Liability Offenses - While most serious crimes require proof that an offender possessed “criminal intent,” strict liability offenses only require proof that a person did indeed commit the act. Offenses classified as strict liability offenses include speeding, failure to yield, expired parking meters and driving with broken taillights.

Moving and Non-Moving Violations - As given away by the name, a moving violation is one in which a moving vehicle was involved, and oppositely, a non-moving violation involves a car that was not moving. In most cases, a moving violation has an increased risk of potential damages, making them the more serious offense, which consequently results in higher fines than non-moving violations. Some common moving violations are speeding, driving in the wrong direction and passing in a no-passing zone.

Most citations for non-moving offenses are parking violations and include parking too far from the curb, blocking a fire hydrant or parking in a no-park zone. Illegal aftermarket car modifications can also get you a ticket. Examples include frame or suspension changes, certain lights, tinted windows and engine modifications. Infractions such as these count as non-moving violations if you were parked or even stopped after a police officer has pulled you over.


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