If you're someone who drives, it's important for you to know what actions can result in a traffic ticket. While most traffic offenses are infractions, which are minor crimes, they can still have negative consequences. Traffic violations can result in expensive tickets, higher insurance rates, and possibly suspension of your driver's license. Some traffic violations can even result in a misdemeanor or felony charges. FindLaw's section on Types of Traffic Tickets offers general information for the most common traffic laws and violations. Since each state has its own traffic rules, this section also provides links to state laws for various violations when the law is available.
Whether you're late for an appointment or just eager to get to where you're going, chances are that you've driven over the posted speed limit. For this reason, speeding is one of the most common reasons for a traffic ticket. There are actually three types of speeding limits: absolute, presumed, and basic.
An absolute speed limit is the most common type of speed law. An example of an absolute speed limit is when a sign states that the speed limit is 65 mph. Under this type of speed limit, a person who goes even 1 mph over the posted speed limit has violated the law.
A presumed speed limit is a system that's only used in certain states, such as California and Texas. This system allows people to legally drive over the speed limit as long as they drive safely. For example, if a person drives 40 mph in a 35 mph zone, the driver is "presumed" to be violating the speed law. However, the judge could acquit the driver if he or she is able to convince the judge that the driving conditions made driving over the speed limit safe.
Finally, the basic speed theory states that you can violate the basic speed law even if you drive at the posted speed limit. In this situation, an officer can decide that driving the speed limit is unsafe given the driving conditions. For example, if it's raining heavily it can be unsafe to drive 65 mph, even if that's the speed limit.
Leaving the Scene of an Accident
One of the more serious traffic offenses is leaving the scene of an accident, also known as a hit and run. Generally speaking, the law requires that people involved in an accident pull over when it's safe to do so and exchange contact or insurance information. While the procedures after an accident vary from state to state, they are usually based on what type of damage occurred.
If a person hits an unattended car or stationary property, most states usually require that the driver leave a note with his or her contact information. If there are injuries involved, drivers usually have a duty to take reasonable steps to help the injured person, and report the accident to the police. A person who doesn't follow the proper procedures after an accident can receive a traffic ticket at minimum. If a driver leaves the scene of an accident where an injury or death occurred, it can result in serious criminal charges, including a possible felony charge.
Speeding tickets are easily the most common ticket issued in the United States. In every state, a traffic ticket can be issued to drivers who violate laws restricting the speed at which a vehicle may travel.
Generally, states carry two types of laws related to speed restrictions:
1. Laws that set specific maximum speed limits in certain settings. For example, a state may declare different maximum speeds at which a vehicle may be operated on a state highway (65 m.p.h.), on a residential street (35 m.p.h.), and in a school zone (25 m.p.h.).
2. Laws that require drivers to operate their vehicles at a speed that is reasonable under the circumstances. For example, even if the posted maximum speed limit on a rural highway is 65 m.p.h., driving on that highway at 65 m.p.h. in a torrential rainstorm at night could result in a speeding ticket, because driving at such a speed could be deemed unsafe based on the hazardous road and weather conditions.
There are essentially three types of speed limits being enforced around the country: “absolute,” “presumed” and “basic” speed limits. As you might imagine, the defenses differ for each one.
Absolute speed limits are the most common type of speed law. The sign will clearly state 55 mph, so if go 56 mph or faster, you have violated the law.
Presumed speed-limit violations are more nuanced. In states that use this system (Texas and California are examples) it’s legal to drive over the posted limit as long as you are driving safely. Say, for instance, you are driving 40 mph in a 35-mph zone, you are “presumed” to be speeding. But if it is 7 a.m. on a clear, dry morning with no other cars on a wide, straight road, and you can convince the judge that you were driving safely given those conditions, you could well be acquitted. That's a sizable "if," however.
The basic speed law theory states that you can be charged with speeding by violating the “basic” speed law, even if you were driving below the posted speed limit. An officer must simply decide that you were going faster than you should have been, considering the driving conditions at the time.
How to fight a speeding ticket
If you've gotten a ticket for speeding, you may be able to avoid the worst by learning how to fight a speeding ticket. For the best odds of success, you'll want to hire a lawyer, but there are some things that can increase your chances even if you don't have an attorney.
If you believe that you're not guilty of a speeding offense, you should begin to prepare your argument immediately. Start writing down details as soon as possible. Get the names and numbers of any and all witnesses.
Map out the area where you were accused of speeding as soon as possible, while the incident is still fresh in your mind. Go to the position where the officer was measuring your speed from, and look for conditions that may have caused a false reading.
The more information you have, the better your chances of fighting a speeding ticket successfully.
One of the simplest strategies for fighting a speeding ticket is postponing your court date. If you postpone the date, you may find that the officer is unable to attend. In some states, you will win the case if the officer fails to show up. However, keep in mind that some jurisdictions may give the officer more than one chance to show up.
If you're worried you won't know how to fight a speeding ticket in court, there is another option. You may qualify to request a trial by written declaration, which eliminates the need to appear in court at all.
Applying for a trial by written declaration requires the police officer to provide a written statement about your ticket. If the officer fails to do this by the due date, you may have a better chance of the court ruling in your favor.
To request a trial by written declaration, you must complete the appropriate paperwork by the due date for taking care of your ticket. You cannot apply for this type of trial if your assigned court date for handling the ticket has passed.
When you complete your application for a trial by written declaration, you can include several forms of evidence. These may include written statements or letters from the defendant as well as witnesses. Make copies of all your documentation before mailing it.
If you lose the trial by written declaration, you usually still have the right to request a new trial. This is known as requesting a "Trial de Novo." Be sure to pay attention to any rules about how long you have to request a new trial so you don't find yourself stuck. For example, California requires you to request the trial de novo within 20 days of the decision.
There are many different ways to detect a vehicle's speed. If you're charged with a traffic violation, it's important to understand how your speed was determined. Knowing this information may give you an edge in fighting your speeding ticket.
Pacing is one common way of determining a vehicle's speed. This involves driving behind the defendant's car for a set period of time and maintaining pace with it to determine the speed. It's also a highly unreliable method.
If an officer used pacing to determine your speed, you may be able to argue that certain circumstances skewed the results, including:
· Nighttime driving conditions
· Unusual road configurations
If your speed was determined by an aircraft, both the aircraft officer and the ground officer will typically need to appear in court. This alone can increase your odds of successfully fighting the case. It's also notoriously difficult to get an accurate reading using an aircraft. VASCAR (Visual Average Speed Computer and Recorder) technology measures your speed by calculating the time it takes a vehicle to pass between two points. You can argue that a VASCAR reading is incorrect based on:
· Distance (either too short or too far)
· The officer's reaction time
· An odometer error
· The officer's observation of a distant point
Radar readings are some of the most difficult to argue against, but even radar isn't perfect. Radar signals don't function over hills or curves, and straighter beams return more accurate readings.
Radar can likewise fail if it bounces off more than one target. If an officer is operating the radar in rain or wind, the weather may cause inaccurate readings.
Finally, you can also argue that the officer operating the unit didn't have proper training or experience. A poorly calibrated unit could be to blame as well.
There are three different types of speed limits. Absolute speed limits, basic speed limits, and presumed speed limits.
Absolute speed limits are difficult to argue because they involve a single, clear-cut number. Anything over that is considered speeding, even if it's a simple matter of a single extra mile per hour.
If you're in a jurisdiction that recognizes presumed or basic speed limits, however, you have more room to make your case.
Presumed speed limits allow you to drive over the posted speed limit if you can argue that you're driving safely. This means that you can generally drive faster on a clear road with no other motorists and favorable weather conditions.
Basic speed limits are, in some ways, the opposite of presumed speed limits. An officer can give you a ticket based on a basic speed limit by arguing that you should have driven under the posted limit due to adverse road conditions.
If you're facing a ticket based on basic speed limits, you may be able to argue that you were, in fact, driving safely under the conditions present at that time.
Necessary circumstances are extremely difficult to argue. You cannot simply argue that you needed to drive over the speed limit because you were running late.
If there was a true emergency, such as a medical situation, you may have grounds to argue necessary circumstances. Gather as much documentation as possible to support this argument. Know that you may be asked questions such as "Why didn't you call for an ambulance?"