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Civil vs. Criminal Traffic Violation: What’s the Difference?

For many of us, our knowledge of the law comes from tv shows and movies. But when you find yourself with a traffic ticket you may be disappointed to find out that there isn’t an actor assigned to play your lawyer. You need real legal representation – and fast.

But what about if it’s a civil traffic violation? How is that different from a criminal traffic violation? And what should you do in each of those situations?

First, take a deep breath. This article will explain everything you need to know about civil and criminal traffic offenses.

Civil vs Criminal Law

Civil law deals with an individual’s private rights. In fact, when a person’s rights are violated they may be involved in a civil court case. Examples of civil cases include:

  • Child support/child custody
  • Property damage
  • Contract dispute
  • Class action suits

Criminal law deals with a violation of local, state, or federal law. Thus, criminal law cases go through the criminal court system. Examples of criminal law cases include:

  • Drug possession
  • Assault
  • Murder
  • Theft

Generally, if a person is found guilty in a civil case the punishment is less severe than in a criminal case. Now that you understand the basic differences between civil and criminal law, let’s review the differences between a criminal traffic ticket and a civil traffic ticket.

Civil Traffic Violation

A civil traffic violation is usually a minor traffic offense. But, civil traffic violations can lead to a civil traffic ticket and points on your driver’s license. You can read more about the point system for different violations here. Here are a few examples of civil traffic violations:

  • An illegal U-turn
  • Speeding
  • Failing to stop at a stoplight
  • Parking violation

You might hear people refer to civil traffic tickets as traffic citations, moving violations, or just traffic tickets. Because a civil traffic violation is more common than a criminal traffic violation.

What to Expect if You Get a Civil Traffic Ticket

So, if you violate certain traffic laws, law enforcement will give you a paper citation. On the citation, you will find instructions on what to do. For some civil traffic violations, you can pay a fine and you do not have to go to court. Even if you do not go to court, you may get points on your driver’s license.

Too many points on your driver’s license can have serious consequences like suspending or losing your license. Driving with a suspended license is a criminal offense.

If you get a civil traffic ticket, you can request an informal hearing to discuss the case. You can also request a formal hearing and hire a defense lawyer to represent you. You may also choose to attend traffic school to remove points from your driver’s license.

Before you pay a fine or go to traffic school, talk to a defense attorney. They may be able to help you with a civil traffic offense.

Criminal Traffic Violation

A criminal traffic violation is more serious than a civil traffic violation. You can get arrested by law enforcement for a criminal traffic violation depending on the situation. Here are a few examples of criminal traffic violations:

  • Reckless driving (racing, weaving through traffic, tailgating, etc.)
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)
  • Driving while intoxicated (DWI)
  • Hit and run
  • Leaving the scene of an accident
  • Habitual traffic offender
  • Driving with a suspended/revoked license

The penalty for a criminal traffic violation depends on the severity of the case. A criminal traffic case may result in a fine, license suspension, or jail time. Some criminal traffic violations are misdemeanors and others are felonies.

Felony criminal traffic violations include hit and run, vehicular manslaughter, and third-strike DUIs. Almost all other criminal traffic violations are misdemeanors.

Looking for a defense lawyer in Tampa? Click here to learn more.

What to Expect if You Get a Criminal Traffic Ticket

If you have been charged with a criminal traffic violation, contact a defense attorney right away. Having legal representation will help you get the best possible outcome.

If you get convicted of a criminal traffic offense felony you may face jail time, prison time, probation, traffic school, and fines. You may also have your driver’s license suspended or taken away. Felony offenses may appear on your permanent criminal record. You cannot get a felony removed from your permanent record in Florida.

Many criminal traffic tickets are misdemeanor offenses. This will result in points on your driver’s license. In Florida, if you get 12 points in 12 months you receive a suspended license for one month. If you get 18 points in 18 months you receive a suspended license for 3 months. And if you get 24 points in 36 months you receive a suspended license for one year.

Points on your driver’s license go away after 36 months. Having points on your license will also increase your car insurance premiums, so it’s best to avoid any points at all.

Civil vs Criminal Traffic Violation

Civil traffic violations are not as serious as criminal traffic violations. The proceedings for a criminal traffic case are similar to any other criminal case. The defendant is expected to appear in court with legal representation.

In many instances, the defendant and their criminal defense lawyer will attend a bench trial. A bench trial is a meeting with a judge and no jury. However, if jail time is a possible penalty, the case may have a jury that helps decide the case.

Regardless of whether you’re facing a criminal or civil violation, you should seek advice from a legal representative. You don’t want to pay money or get points on your license if you can avoid it. Learn more about handling traffic tickets here.

Hire RHINO Lawyers

If you have a civil or criminal traffic violation, RHINO Lawyers can help. We will work with you to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

Our friendly and helpful team can answer all of your questions and walk you through every step of the process. We offer a free video consultation or free case review via email. You can also chat with someone online if you have questions or concerns about your case.

Don’t wait – contact us online or call us at (844) RHINO-77!


RHINO Lawyers can help and guide you through a system molded by law enforcement, judges, and lawyers for decades. Having won cases for our clients in similar circumstances, our criminal defense team knows what it takes to fight on your behalf.

Let RHINO Lawyers answer your questions and review the facts of your case with a Free Consultation. So, get started by completing the “Free Instant Case Evaluation” or by calling us any time, day or night, at (844) RHINO-77.