This section cannot possibly discuss the many traffic offenses and statutory
exist among the fifty states. Generally, minor infractions are those in
which a first offense
is likely to yield a fine and no jail time. Examples include parking offenses,
failure to keep to the right of the center line, driving an unregistered
car, and driving a
vehicle with defective equipment. More serious offenses carry stiffer
fines and the
possibility of a jail sentence. These include reckless driving, leaving
the scene of an
accident, and driving after a license revocation.
Q. How could I have received a speeding ticket when I was being
A. A lack of due care is not an element of the charge of speeding.
Simply because you
were not in an accident does not prove that you were driving at a reasonable
Q. What are the elements of a speeding charge?
A. It depends on whether your state bases its speeding laws on
limits" or "prima facie limits." It is a violation to exceed
a fixed maximum limit regardless
of the circumstances at any time. On the other hand, prima facie limits
allow drivers to
justify the speed at which they were driving by considering traffic and
road conditions and
Q. Does the type of speed limit change the nature of the complaint
A. Yes. The complaint and notice or summons to appear for a fixed
will specify both your alleged speed and the maximum speed allowable within
locality. In contrast, in prima facie jurisdictions, driving above the
posted speed limit is
not the offense. The police must charge you with driving above a speed
reasonable and proper given the existing conditions. One example might
be driving fifty
miles per hour in a school zone.
Speeding laws vary greatly from state to state. Therefore, it is a good
idea, for legal
and safety reasons, to get into the habit of reducing your driving speed
approach a railway crossing or intersection, drive around a curve, or
hazards, such as severe weather.
Q. Are there any excuses I can offer that might prevent a police
officer from writing
up a speeding ticket?
A. If you are taking a pregnant or sick person to the hospital,
you might be spared a
speeding citation, and you might even get a police escort to the hospital.
court emergency (be sure to display the court papers to the officer),
or a broken
speedometer (be prepared to give the officer a test ride) may succeed
but only, of course,
if they are truthful reasons.
Q. What kind of information is included on a traffic ticket?
A. The color, model, and registration of your vehicle, and the
date, time, and place of the
alleged offense is provided on the ticket. Also, the specific violation
charged (if it's a
parking meter offense, the meter number as well), the officer's name and
the fine schedule, and a notice of your ability to have a hearing to contest
the ticket will
probably be on a ticket as well. However, each jurisdiction has its own
form. If the officer
includes incorrect information in writing the ticket, such mistakes may
provide you with a
defense against the citation.
Q. What does "leaving the scene of an accident" mean?
A. Consult a lawyer about your state's law. Generally, drivers
of vehicles involved in an
accident in which personal injury or property damage occurs must stop
themselves and their vehicles. Drivers must also notify police, and help
persons. Neither the driver's intent nor the ownership of either vehicle
involved in the
collision are elements of the offense. (See the "Accidents"
Q. What are the defenses to such a charge?
A. It is a complete defense if no personal injury or property
damage resulted from the
accident, or if you had no knowledge that an accident had occurred. On
the other hand,
claiming that you left intending to drive directly to the police station
to report the accident
probably would not be a good defense.
Q. What is "reckless driving"?
A. The language varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but
increasingly, states are
following the Uniform Vehicle Code, which defines it as "willful
or wanton disregard for
the safety of persons or property." Essentially, the prosecution
must show that reckless
drivers were indifferent to the probable harmful results of their driving,
and that the
reckless drivers should have realized that such driving posed a hazard.