(Road Traffic Law, US/general) Ah, the open road. Is there anything quite like the feeling of freedom you get when you can go anywhere you want? People around the world like to point out how much we Americans love our cars, but we value not so much the cars themselves as the mobility they offer. It’s no mistake that some of the most well-known masterpieces of American literature are about journeys. From Huckleberry Finn’s passage down the Mississippi to the countless cross-country journeys detailed in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, freedom is at the center of the story. And in America, freedom means being able to get behind the wheel.
It is not, however, limitless. Driving is a freedom defined by quite a number of rules and requirements, some you probably haven’t thought about since that long-ago day when you first got your license. Consider these numbers: in the United States, millions of tickets are issued every year, and approximately 41 million of these are for speeding. In North Carolina, a traffic ticket is issued just about once a minute. That’s nearly 1500 tickets a day, many of them in Greensboro.
This means that, at some point in your life, you’re probably going to get a traffic ticket, most likely for speeding. And it could happen at any time. You could be driving down the road, running some mundane errand, and see lights flashing in the rearview mirror. At that moment of dread, as the police officer approaches your car, your mind races to think what you could have done wrong.
The Four Most Common Traffic Violations
You can be pulled over for any number of possible reasons. These are some of the most frequent reasons drivers get traffic tickets:
Distracted driving is the fastest growing category of traffic violations and continues to be the leading cause of automobile accidents in the United States. Most people think about texting as an example of distracted driving, but there are many other forms, including talking on the phone, talking to others in the car, changing your radio station or CD, using a GPS or other navigation system, brushing your hair and doing your make-up, as well as eating and drinking. That cup of coffee you’re so careful not to spill could be a killer.
Speeding violations are among the most common reasons for traffic tickets.Every state defines its own speeding regulations, but it’s safe to assume that any time you go over even a few miles above the posted speed limit, you are technically speeding and can get a ticket. This can be confusing, though, because there are two kinds of possible speeding violations. Fixed maximum violations occur when you go over or even under the speed limit for any reason, at any time. Prima Facie violations occur in some states that allow drivers to make individual judgments about whether it’s safe to speed or not, but fail to be prudent and maintain reasonable and safe speeds.
Mechanical issues and failure to use auto safety features also garner traffic tickets. For example, if you forget to use your signal lights when changing lanes, have a headlight out or don’t have your seatbelt on, you can earn a traffic ticket. And even if you get away with just a small fine, don’t brush this off: too many of them and you can lose your license.
Violating or ignoring road rules is something many of us probably do, often by accident. Running a red light orstop sign, failing to give right-of-way to cars to your right, failing to use your signals, crossing lane lines, making U-turns, driving on the shoulder or passing a stopped school bus are all violations that can have serious consequences, including injury or death to other drivers and pedestrians.
The important thing to remember is that this list is not exhaustive; there are local and state rules, as well as federal laws governing our nation’s roads. Whether you’re driving around town or on the highway, you can be pulled over if you exceed the maximum speed limit.
Myths about Traffic Violations
If you feel that you’ve been issued a traffic ticket unfairly, your best defense is to hire a traffic ticket attorney to help you contest the ticket—especially if this isn’t your first violation. But even before you think about going to this expense, make sure you really do have a chance of winning your case. A lot of people are confident there are surefire ways to get a ticket reduced or dismissed, but that’s simply not the case. These are the biggest myths about getting out of traffic tickets:
If the police officer doesn’t show up, the ticket is dismissed. Nope—the ticket itself is evidence of the violation, and the judge can legally proceed without the presence of the issuing officer.
You can get out of a ticket if the issuing police officer made a mistake on the ticket. This is simply not true. The “typo defense” doesn’t fly with most judges because the police officer’s signature is evidence of his or her presence on the scene, and the judge can always delay until he or she speaks to the officer.
The judge will dismiss the charge if you’re only a few miles over or under the speed limit. You wish! If you want to pass a slow-poke on the road, stay within the speed limit. If you go over the posted speed limit, you can receive a ticket.
Traffic violations don’t follow you from state to state. This is also false. Only a few states are not part of the Interstate Driver’s License Compact (DLC), which allows states to share your driving record with each other.
These are only a few of the mistaken ideas people have when they go to traffic court, which is why it’s always better to have an attorney on your side. It’s absolutely necessary to protect yourself and make sure you have all the information before you proceed to traffic court. Take advantage of your rights as a defendant to help you fight the charge. For example, in many state you are entitled to a copy of the police officer’s notes. This can help you with your strategy.
Whatever you do, don’t take a traffic ticket lightly. They can damage your driving record and may even cause you to lose your driving license for good – which, in America, means losing your freedom to roam.
About The Author:
Attorney Mike Schlosser represents victims of personal injury, those charged with a crime, as well as those facing traffic charges. A former Guilford County, North Carolina District Attorney, Schlosser has been in private practice at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett since 1983 and has been a member of the North Carolina State Bar since 1973.