Traffic Fines, License Suspensions, and Traffic School

If you've gotten a speeding or other traffic ticket, you might face a fine, traffic school, higher insurance premiums, or even the suspension of your driver's license.

The consequences of a speeding or other traffic ticket can be serious—you can face a stiff fine, traffic school, significantly higher insurance premiums, and possibly even the suspension of your driver's license.

What Is a Moving Violation?

In most states, there are two classes of traffic violations: moving and nonmoving violations. Generally, as the name suggests, moving violations involve offenses where the vehicle is actually in motion. Nonmoving violations are typically offenses where the vehicle is stationary.

However, these definitions don't always hold true. For example, in some jurisdictions, texting while driving (which, of course, involves a vehicle in motion) and seatbelt offenses are nonmoving violations.

Examples of Moving Violations

Common moving violations include:

Although these three are probably the most common moving violations drivers are stopped for, the majority of traffic tickets involve moving violations.

Examples of Nonmoving Violations

Nonmoving violations include things like:

  • parking tickets, and
  • equipment violations (for example, having a headlight out).

However, as previously noted, in some jurisdictions, distracted driving and seatbelt offenses are also classified as nonmoving violations.

Main Difference Between Moving and Nonmoving Violations

The main difference between moving and nonmoving violations is how they affect a person's driving record. As discussed below, moving violations can lead to increased insurance rates. And, in many states, moving violations result in demerit points. Accumulating too many points in these jurisdictions can lead to license suspension.

Traffic Ticket Fines

A routine ticket for speeding, failure to yield, or failure to stop at a stop sign will normally cost you between $75 and $400 (all included).

Repeat Offenders

In some states, the fines for traffic tickets increase if you have prior violations that occurred within a certain period of time (normally, one to three years).

Speeding Tickets

The fine amounts for speeding tickets are typically structured around the amount by which the driver exceeded the speed limit. For example, the fine might be $35 where the driver was going one to five miles per hour in excess of the speed limit and $70 for violations where the driver was exceeding the speed limit by six to 15 miles per hour, and so on.

Fees and Other Costs

In many states, the fine amount is just one component of the overall cost of a traffic ticket. Fees and court costs can substantially increase the amount you have to pay. For example, in California, the total cost of a traffic ticket is usually around five times the amount of the fine.

Insurance Rates

Although drivers often focus on the immediate costs of traffic tickets (the fines and fees), increased insurance premiums can also be a factor when you get a ticket.

Do Traffic Tickets Increase Insurance Premiums?

Moving violations. Depending on your state law and your insurance company's policies, your auto insurance rates will normally not increase if you receive one ordinary moving violation over three to five years. But two or more moving violations—or a moving violation combined with an at-fault accident—during the same time period might result in an increase in your insurance bill.

Nonmoving violations. Nonmoving violations typically won't affect a driver's insurance premiums.

Ask Your Insurance Company

Insurance companies follow different rules when it comes to raising the rates of policyholders who get traffic tickets. The easiest way to find out how a traffic ticket will affect your rates is to call your insurance company and ask. Your insurance company should be able to tell you specifically:

  • whether a ticket will affect your insurance premiums
  • how much your premiums will be following a ticket, and
  • how long a traffic ticket will continue to affect your premiums.

It's also a good idea to ask your insurance company if you can avoid increased rates by participating in traffic school or a defensive driving course.

Driver's License Suspensions

Generally, you won't lose your license for one or two moving violation tickets. However, as you rack up more tickets, license suspension becomes more likely.

Point Suspensions

Most states have traffic violation point systems. When a driver is convicted of a traffic violation, the DMV assigns a certain number of points to the driver's record. Drivers who accumulate too many points within a certain period of time (usually, between one and three years) face license suspension.

Suspensions for Repeat Offenses

Even in states that don't use point systems, drivers who are repeatedly convicted of moving violations can face license suspension. The laws of many states include license suspension as a possible penalty when a driver is convicted of a third moving violation within a certain period of time (usually, between one and three years).

Serious Driving-Related Offenses

For more serious driving-related violations, license suspension is often possible or mandatory even for a first conviction. These more serious offenses include things like reckless driving, drunk driving, and vehicular homicide.

Hardship Licenses

If your license is suspended, you can sometimes get a "hardship" or "restricted" license that allows you to drive to and from places like work and school.

Traffic School Option

Most states have some type of traffic school. Drivers who are willing to complete traffic school can avoid some or all of the consequences of a moving violation ticket.

In some jurisdictions, drivers who complete traffic school still have to pay the ticket fines but are able to keep the ticket from adding points to their record or affecting insurance rates.

Generally, drivers are eligible for traffic school only once per year or so. Also, most states don't allow drivers to take traffic school for more serious traffic offenses like DUIs and vehicular manslaughter.

Jail Time for Traffic Tickets

Generally, only those convicted of the more serious traffic violations—such as drunk or reckless driving—face the possibility of going to jail. State laws typically don't allow a judge to impose a jail sentence for speeding or failure to stop at a signal. Even where laws do give judges the discretionary power to jail traffic offenders, they very rarely choose to exercise it.

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