Every trucker has or will likely receive a traffic ticket sometime throughout their career. Whether they deserve it or not, that’s just the way it goes. The severity of the ticket depends upon how and why the ticket was written. Traffic tickets generally fall into three categories: infractions, misdemeanors and felonies.
- Infractions are the majority of traffic tickets written. Infraction tickets are usually for the less dangerous non-moving and moving violations such as seatbelt violations or minor speeding violations. Infractions generally are violations where the penalty can be paid off and no jail time is associated with them. If you are convicted of the charge on the ticket, you pay the fines and court costs. The points associated with that violation go on your CDL and on your CSA, if you were inspected at the time. The jail time issue is what separates infractions from misdemeanors and felonies.
- Misdemeanors and felonies generally come from traffic tickets if they cause injury to a person or property. They can also come from a threat to injure a person or property. For example, failing to yield right-of-way at a stop sign, stop light, caution light, yield sign, etc. is usually a misdemeanor in most states, but can be upgraded to a felony if the driver is involved in an accident causing injury to a person or property. Keep in mind that the laws of each state can be different, but generally this is the rule nationwide. Drivers charged with misdemeanors or felonies are entitled to all constitutional rights that any criminal defendant has, including the right to a jury trial.
- Misdemeanor traffic tickets are those that are specified by law upon conviction to include a penalty of money and/or jail time of less than one year in a local city or county jail. Traffic misdemeanors are more serious than traffic infractions and they vary by state but most often include violations for driving without insurance, driving without a valid license, failing to stop at an accident, driving under the influence and even reckless driving. Many states allow the officer to take the driver into custody, and require the driver to post bail for traffic misdemeanors.
- Felony traffic tickets are the most serious crimes and the punishments are designed to go with the violation. Felonies start with larger fines and/or longer jail times. A felony is defined by punishment in jail of more than one year in a state penitentiary and even up to the death penalty in some states. Some examples of traffic felonies are vehicular homicide, repeat DUI convictions, and some hit-and-run offenses.
In addition to the fines and jail time with felonies, if convicted the driver may lose his or her right to serve on juries, own a gun, serve in the military, practice professions such as teaching, and their right to vote. Some states even have the ‘three strike’ rule, which means when convicted of a third felony, you are sentenced to prison for life.
Should you receive a misdemeanor or felony traffic ticket, I recommend hiring an attorney immediately to protect yourself from excess fines or jail time.
Protecting yourself and your CDL brings us back to the infraction tickets. They are the most common tickets received but still can hurt your CDL and CSA score. Granted they have fines, court costs and no jail time, and most truckers drive safely and do not injure persons or property. However, the driver’s intent or negligence can upgrade a normal infraction to a misdemeanor or felony. Think of it like a speeding ticket: how fast over the speed limit can you justify to the officer, the judge, or the jury? Would your excuse be enough to get the officer to charge you with an infraction, a misdemeanor or a felony? Would your excuse keep you out of jail?
Drive safe out there. Your career and your life, as well as other lives, are at risk if you don’t.