Traffic accidents cause, on average, more than 30,000 deaths and over 3 million injuries every year. For that reason alone, law enforcement agencies nationwide aggressively enforce traffic laws, particularly those referred to as moving violations. What is a moving violation, and what distinguishes it from other types of traffic offenses? What is the potential impact of conviction for a moving violation?
A moving violation is one that occurs while a vehicle is either in forward or backward motion, although offenses that are considered moving violations can vary from state to state. Moving violations are typically considered more serious than other types of traffic offenses—”nonmoving violations”—because the risk of injury increases significantly when a vehicle is in motion.
Depending on the circumstances and the specific violation, a moving violation may be considered an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a felony.
A large number of moving violations are treated as infractions, with the penalty typically involving only a fine. As a technical matter, infractions:
Examples of moving violations that are commonly deemed to be infractions are:
Moving violations that are considered more serious than infractions are almost always charged as misdemeanors. If your violation is deemed to be a misdemeanor, you can expect greater consequences. A misdemeanor is a criminal offense and therefore may result in incarceration, in addition to any fines. For misdemeanors, the period of incarceration is generally capped at one year, and the sentence is almost always served in a city or county jail.
You can anticipate significantly higher fines if convicted of a misdemeanor moving violation. In addition to fines and potential jail time, you may be ordered to make restitution if your moving violation has caused property loss or other financial injury. In addition, there are some misdemeanor moving violations, such as DUI or DWI, that can carry an automatic suspension of your driver’s license. You may also be ordered to attend traffic school.
With a misdemeanor moving violation, there’s also a greater likelihood that you will add points on your driving record, which can lead to an increase in your insurance premiums. If you accumulate more than a certain number of points within a specified period, you risk suspension of your driving privileges. Those points will automatically drop off your driving record after a period of time, but you can also get rid of some points by attending approved driver education courses.
Examples of traffic violations that rise to the level of misdemeanor moving violations include:
Though it’s rare, you can face felony charges for a moving violation. Traffic violations that may result in a felony charge include:
If convicted of a felony moving violation, you can be sentenced to serve time in a state prison, and the period of incarceration may exceed one year. Furthermore, some states categorize certain misdemeanor moving violations as aggravated or gross, with penalties similar to those associated with felony convictions.
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