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What is a Traffic Violation?

Traffic violations occur when drivers violate laws that regulate vehicle operation on streets and highways. These violations are quite common. More than 90% of Americans over age 16 are licensed to drive, and many have more than one vehicle registered to their names.

Widespread motoring results in trillions of miles driven each year and millions of traffic infractions— including speeding, running red lights, faulty equipment, parking violations, and more. Local police usually issue traffic violations, and local branches of state courts process them. In some states, they are handled purely as civil violations, rather than criminal charges.

For definitions related to traffic violations, visit the Traffic Law and DUI Law Glossary in the FindLaw Legal Dictionary.

Traffic Tickets and Strict Liability

The majority of traffic tickets are for "strict-liability" offenses. This means that no particular criminal intent is required to convict a person of the offense. The only proof authorities need to present is that the accused person committed the prohibited act. The driver's intent or state of mind is not relevant to the inquiry, so 'accidentally' speeding, for example, is still an offense. Strict-liability traffic offenses typically include the following driving violations:

  • Speeding
  • Failure to yield
  • Turning into the wrong lane
  • Driving a car at night without headlights
  • Parking in a fire lane
  • Driving with expired inspection or registration stickers

Moving Violations and Non-Moving Violations

A moving violation occurs whenever a driver violates a traffic law with a vehicle in motion. Some examples of moving violations are speeding, running a stop sign or red light, or changing lanes without signaling.

A non-moving violation, by contrast, is usually related to parking or faulty equipment. Examples include parking in front of a fire hydrant or on a crosswalk, driving with broken taillights, or producing excessive muffler noise.

Speeding Tickets

States generally have three types of speeding laws on the books:

  • 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 mph), on a residential street (35 mph), and in a school zone (25 mph). These statutory limits apply even in the absence of speed limit signs.
  • Laws that allow local governments or other regulatory authorities to establish maximum speed limits. For example, a state may allow local governments to govern the flow of traffic in their neighborhoods and make these speed limits legally enforceable as long as they are clearly posted.
  • 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 mph, driving on that highway at 65 mph 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.

Traffic laws vary from state to state. Driving laws and expectations can even differ based on the city in which someone is driving. To understand more about a specific state's traffic laws, consult FindLaw's State Traffic Laws page.

Work With a Lawyer To Understand Details

You may feel comfortable defending yourself for a minor traffic violation, but an experienced Traffic Violations Attorney would improve your odds of success. If you are facing a serious criminal charge like DUI, operating after suspension, or reckless driving, you should absolutely consult with an attorney. The potential consequences in those criminal cases are more severe.

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