Traffic violations can range from trivial to severe. Minor offenses are “fix it” tickets and citations for violations that are non-moving. On the more severe end of the spectrum are consequential matters like “hit and run” accidents, especially if someone is killed or injured.
The majority of minor traffic offenses are deemed infractions. They are not considered criminal violations of the law. These types of typically violations involve relatively minor punishments. Usually fines, and/or a point on your driving record. More grave traffic violations may be charged as criminal. Convictions can include penalties like significant fines, restitution, drug/alcohol treatment, revocation of the driver’s license, and incarceration.
There are two types of criminal offenses: misdemeanors and felonies. Misdemeanors are the less severe of the two. Any violation that has a maximum of one year or less in the county jail is deemed a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor traffic offenses following California law include both “status” violations, including having illegal vehicle modifications, and moving violations. Here are a few more serious traffic misdemeanors:
- Failure to stop and submit to law enforcement inspection of equipment, an unsafe condition, or other safety violations;
- Fleeing from an officer which includes causing an injury while fleeing;
- Driving without a valid license including driving with a suspended or revoked license including driving with a suspended or revoked license;
- Refusing to provide a license when requested by police;
- Causing bodily injury with a vehicle after a license has been suspended or revoked;
- Hit and run causing property damage, injury, or death (can also be charged as a felony);
- Driving the wrong way on a divided highway (can also be charged as a felony);
- Reckless driving, including reckless driving leading to bodily injury;
- Engaging in a race with another vehicle on a public highway, including racing which leads to bodily injury;
- Throwing any substance at another vehicle or vehicle occupant on a public highway;
- Possession of alcohol in a vehicle by anyone under 21;
- Possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle (if third or subsequent violation);
- For individuals required to use ignition interlock devices: failure to install such a device within 30 days, or driving a vehicle without the device installed;
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (can also be charged as a felony).
It is possible for misdemeanor traffic violations to carry weighty consequences. Violations can carry fines of up to $10,000 and potential jail time anywhere from a few days to a year. The court may also tack on other penalties, like enrollment in a substance abuse treatment program or another program, victim restitution, suspension of the driver’s license, and probation.
Felony traffic offenses are the most severe type of traffic offenses and can carry the most severe consequences, including years in state prison.
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