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Traffic Offenses

Traffic control is an issue of immense proportions. The first traffic laws and regulations began to appear in the 1920s and they now constitute a large part of most state statutes. More than ninety percent of the people in this country over the age of sixteen are licensed to drive, and there is more than one car registered for each one of them. This translates into trillions of miles driven each year with millions of traffic infractions. The criminal justice system would quickly be overwhelmed if each infraction required full criminal trials. Therefore, traffic violations have been divided into three categories: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions or violations.

Traffic infractions or violations are strict-liability crimes. This means that no particular criminal intent is required to convict a person of the offense. The only proof needed is that the person committed the prohibited act. Strict-liability traffic offenses typically include such offenses as failure to use turn signals, failure to yield, turning into the wrong lane, driving a car with burned-out headlights, failure to use tow bars when towing another vehicle, parking on a yellow curb, parking in a handicap spot without the required sticker, overdue parking meters, and exceeding the speed limit. Many jurisdictions provide for administrative processing of some or all traffic violations, thereby removing them from criminal court altogether. In those cases, an offender is not subject to incarceration or large fines and is not entitled to a lawyer or a jury trial. (The fine for speeding tickets, however, can be quite large, based on the number of miles an hour over the speed limit.) Conviction of these traffic violations can affect a person's driving privileges and insurance rates.

The primary purpose of traffic-violation regulations is to deter unsafe driving and to educate and reform bad drivers. Studies have shown that traffic offenders generally keep amassing traffic violations, and that most people obey the laws, even when there is no perceived safety reason for doing so, such as waiting for a green light at 2:00 a.m. Compliance with the laws increases when drivers believe they will be caught and decreases when they perceive they can get away with a specific infraction.

Almost every traffic violation becomes a misdemeanor or felony if it involves injury to a person or destruction of property. A person who changes lanes without signaling and hits another car can be charged with the misdemeanor crime of reckless driving. Additionally, if the lane-changer was attempting to inflict serious bodily injury and the other driver is killed, the driver could be charged with vehicular homicide. Some traffic violations are defined as misdemeanors or felonies, such as driving while the driver's license is revoked or leaving the scene of an accident. A person accused of these more serious traffic violations is entitled to all criminal procedures, including the right to a court-appointed attorney and a jury trial.

Preparing to Meet With a Criminal Defense Attorney

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Preparing to Meet With a Criminal Defense Attorney

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