How to Research Traffic Laws

Find the Law That Supports Your Position

1. Determine What You Are Charged With

The first thing you need to do is find the exact words of the law you are charged with breaking. In some states, traffic laws are set out in a “Vehicle Code,” while in others they are gathered as part of a “Transportation Code,” “Motor Vehicle Laws,” or under some similar name. No two states have exactly the same traffic laws, but most are very similar.

Look for a number on your ticket that corresponds to the law (often called a “statute” or “vehicle code section”) you are charged with violating. Sometimes it will be hand printed by the officer in a box or blank; other times it’s preprinted on the ticket, with the officer simply checking the appropriate box. In either case, near the statute number you will often find a very short description of the law (for example, “VC [Vehicle Code Section] 22350—exceeding posted speed”). For speeding violations, in most states you’ll also find the speed the officer claims you were going, as well as the posted speed limit on the road where you were stopped. Next you must look up and read the law the officer claims you violated.

2. Find Your Law Online

The fastest way to find your state’s traffic laws is to search online. On your state’s website, you can either do a search for the code number of the law or you can scroll through the index of laws usually highlighted on the state’s home page. Another option is to google the name of your state and the name of the code or the title of the law. For example, googling “Vermont excessive speed” results in several entries for Vermont Code § 1097, which sets out the law regarding excessive speed.Be sure you are reading current law.

3. Review the Law

Once you find the law you are charged with, read it carefully to determine which facts the prosecution will have to prove to convict you. Many laws are complex. In fact, they are often so convoluted that it’s not uncommon to find, upon careful reading, that what you did was not, technically speaking, a violation of the exact words of the statute. Always ask yourself the question: What are the elements (or parts) of the offense I am charged with committing?

For example, in most states the law making U-turns illegal reads like this:

No person in a residence district shall make a Uâ

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