Most traffic tickets are not criminal offenses. Instead, the majority of traffic tickets are classified as infractions, also known as violations and civil infractions. Although these acts or omissions are prohibited by law, they are not considered crimes.
Common traffic infractions include:
- Going 5 or 10 mph over the speed limit
- Rolling a stop sign
- Forgetting to use your blinker
- Failing to yield to pedestrians
- Operating a vehicle without proper lighting
- Not wearing your seatbelt
If you get a traffic ticket for one of these infractions, you may have to go to traffic court. However, traffic court is different than criminal court, and the consequences are much different. Most traffic infractions do not result in jail time, but you may have to pay fines, receive points on your license, or go to traffic school.
New York traffic laws can be found under the Vehicle & Traffic (VAT) section of the Consolidated Laws of New York.
What About More Serious Driving-Related Offenses?
Some traffic offenses are also criminal offenses. For example, consider driving while intoxicated (DWI). In New York, your first DWI is a misdemeanor, but if you get more than one DWI, the offense can quickly become a felony.
DWIs are crimes because driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is extremely dangerous. Using this same logic, your speeding ticket could become a misdemeanor if you were going an excessive, unsafe speed, and any traffic violation can escalate into a misdemeanor or felony due to property damage, injuries, and death.
In New York, prosecutors also consider whether or not you have been in trouble before. If you go 30 mph over the speed limit once, you might get a traffic ticket, but if you go more than 30 mph over the speed limit or you have been pulled over more than once, your ticket may escalate into criminal charges. Similarly, you may be charged with a crime if your speeding causes a serious injury or traffic fatality.
Being served with criminal charges is very different than receiving a traffic ticket. If you get a ticket, the officer will write a report of what happened, and you may be asked to appear in court or pay a fine, but if you face criminal charges, the officer may choose to arrest you.
Responding to Tickets and Criminal Charges
To respond to a traffic ticket, you should show up in court if asked and pay the fine. Be sure to listen to what the traffic court tells you. Remember, you can always fight your traffic ticket if you want to, and our firm can help.