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Speeding

This section cannot possibly discuss the many traffic offenses and statutory variations that
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, speeding,
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 careful?
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 speed.

Q. What are the elements of a speeding charge?
A.
It depends on whether your state bases its speeding laws on "absolute/fixed maximum
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
visibility.

Q. Does the type of speed limit change the nature of the complaint against me?
A.
Yes. The complaint and notice or summons to appear for a fixed maximum violation
will specify both your alleged speed and the maximum speed allowable within the
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 that was
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 whenever you
approach a railway crossing or intersection, drive around a curve, or encounter special
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. Sometimes a
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 badge number,
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 and identify
themselves and their vehicles. Drivers must also notify police, and help any injured
persons. Neither the driver's intent nor the ownership of either vehicle involved in the
collision are elements of the offense. (See the "Accidents" section below.)

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.

 

 

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