A majority of traffic tickets are simply infractions—that is, minor violations of traffic laws or certain mechanical problems that don’t necessarily pose an immediate danger to others. Examples of infractions include:
An infraction is a non-criminal traffic violation. The officer writes you a ticket, and you send in a payment; or if you think the officer was mistaken, you can request a hearing in traffic court. An infraction is a minor civil offense and does not leave you with a criminal record, although you may get points on your license.
Some traffic violations, however, are much more dangerous and put lives at stake, damage someone else’s property, cause an injury or fatality, or create a danger of injury or death to others. These are charged as criminal offenses, which can be either misdemeanors or felonies, depending on their seriousness. If you are convicted of a criminal traffic offense, you could spend some time in jail, pay larger fines than those levied for infractions, and face other penalties, including traffic school, loss of your license, community service, and probation.
The less serious criminal traffic violations are misdemeanors. These include:
Felonies are very serious crimes for which you can spend time in a state prison, among other serious penalties. Any crime that comes with a potential term of imprisonment of one year or more is, by definition, a felony. In addition, you may lose some of your civil rights as a convicted felon, including your right to vote, your right to hold public office, and your right to own a firearm. A convicted felon may have very limited employment opportunities and may have trouble obtaining housing or financial aid for higher education.
Examples of traffic violations charged as felonies include:
Avoiding a criminal conviction should always be a top priority, not only because of the very stiff penalties and potential loss of freedom, but also because a felony conviction will follow you for the rest of your life, harming your reputation and limiting your options and rights for many years to come. An experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to have charges dropped or reduced, or may be able to achieve an acquittal at trial in some cases.