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What Traffic Violations Are Considered Criminal Offenses?

Whether it’s a traffic issue or any other part of life, we all want to keep our noses clean and stay out of trouble with the law. But if you see the flash of blue lights in your rearview mirror, you might wonder if you’ve committed a criminal offense.

There is a difference between going a few miles over the speed limit and committing a serious traffic violation. We’re going to shine a light on exactly what traffic violations are actually crimes.

Read on to find out what traffic violations are actually criminal offenses.

Traffic Violations: What’s the Law?

A traffic violation is any unlawful activity that occurs while you are operating a motor vehicle. Generally, each state has its own laws for this, so there are no federal traffic crimes as such. Federal agents do not usually have the authority to issue traffic tickets but can call the police to do so.

Many states categorize traffic violations in three ways:

  • civil infractions
  • misdemeanors
  • felonies

It’s important to note that the police will take other factors into account when classifying the offense. This includes your prior convictions and the level of damage to people or property.

Traffic Infraction

A traffic infraction can also be known as a violation or a civil infraction. Although the action is against the law, it is not a crime.

This could include:

  • failing to stop at a stop sign
  • failing to signal
  • not wearing a seat belt
  • speeding (usually 5-10mph over the limit)
  • red light violations

So rest assured, if you got a couple of speeding tickets for going 5 miles over the limit, you are not a criminal. You have not committed traffic crimes. You will almost certainly however get demerit points on your license and a fine.

Traffic infractions are often broken down into two further groups – moving and nonmoving violations. Moving violations are usually the more serious as there is greater risk involved.

Criminal Traffic Offenses: Misdemeanors and Felonies

Infractions are not punishable by jail time. A traffic offense that is punishable by imprisonment is usually considered to be a criminal offense. There are two types of criminal offenses – misdemeanor and felony.

As the name suggests, a traffic misdemeanor is a violation of traffic law. Many offenses can be either misdemeanors or felonies. The difference is usually the risk of harm to others that the violation causes.

For example, an infraction like speeding may become a misdemeanor. This happens in certain states if the driver exceeds the speed limit by an excessive amount. Serious speeding can be a traffic felony. In this case, it could become reckless driving.

Examples of traffic violations that are misdemeanors include:

  • DUI – driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • driving while suspended
  • hit-and-run
  • vehicular homicide
  • reckless driving
  • expired registration

Some of these could become traffic felonies if certain aggravating factors are present. These include:

  • being a repeat offender
  • causing damage to property or people
  • causing death

Repeat offenders face stiffer penalties in all states for the same offenses.

What Is a Habitual Traffic Offender?

Many states charge repeat offenders as habitual traffic offenders (HTOs). Each state has its own criteria for what qualifies as such. If you receive a certain number of convictions within a set period, you can face losing your license, hefty fines, and jail time.

If this is likely to happen to you, take legal advice. Get on board with driver improvement programs to get as far away from this as possible.

How States Handle Traffic Violations

For example, in the State of New York, a first DUI (known as a DWI – driving while intoxicated) may be a misdemeanor or a felony. This depends on aggravating factors. For your first offense, you could face a mandatory fine of $1,000-$2,500 and a maximum of 1 year in jail.

If you face a second aggravated DWI, you could face a mandatory fine of $1,000-$5,000 and up to 4 years in jail. A third could get you 7 years in jail, and a mandatory fine of up to $10,000.

Other states handle a first DUI differently. They may impose a fine, and send you to mandatory alcohol addiction classes. However, other states have a zero-tolerance approach to driving while under the influence.

Each state will have its own way of classifying and handling traffic violations. The one thing they all have in common? Obey traffic laws, drive carefully, and you’ll never have anything to worry about.

How Traffic Violations Are Handled

The majority of minor traffic infractions result in a ticket from a police officer on the spot. But if you are charged with one of the major traffic violations we have discussed, the process is different.

Depending on this situation, the officer may arrest you. After charging you at the station, you will then appear in court to face the charges against you.

If you ever get into a car accident, whatever has happened do not leave the scene. This in itself can become a serious traffic crime.

Appearing in Court

Whenever you receive a traffic ticket, you will be summoned to appear in court. Usually, you will have to pay a fine.

In more serious misdemeanor and felony cases, you may be facing a heavy fine, suspended license, probation, and possibly jail time. You will also now have a criminal record, which can affect your future job prospects.

You will need to hire a lawyer with proven experience in this type of case. An experienced lawyer can argue your case and help to get possible fines reduced, or jail terms reduced to probation.

Without proper legal support, you are more likely to face severe consequences.

Traffic Violations? Find the Right Lawyer

Facing court for traffic violations is a scary business. If you ever find yourself in that situation, you need a crack legal team on your side to fight your case.

At RHINO Lawyers, your case is our passion. We specialize in auto accident law. We will fight to get the best possible outcome for your individual situation.

Contact us today for a free case review.


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.