FAST-TRACK YOUR TRAFFIC TICKET DEFENSE
After freedom of expression, the one thing Americans value most is mobility.
We believe in social mobility, fluid movement between economic classes and among interest groups. We demand the mobility of information, sharing ideas, data, and often complete nonsense across platforms and places, powered by the WiFi and data that we want to access anywhere. Young people especially are keen on career mobility – the freedom to pick up and start again in new cities, master new skill sets, and take on new jobs. And, of course, we love to drive.
Traffic tickets, then, can be frustrating, embarrassing, and even infuriating. We tend to think of traffic violations as victimless crimes, so getting slapped with a fine for something like speeding can stir up any American's inner revolutionary. Even worse, perhaps, traffic tickets interrupt us when we're on the go. It doesn't matter if you're pulled over while on the way to something important or interesting, and it doesn't matter where you were headed when you spotted that orange parking ticket tucked under a windshield wiper – the point is, you've been interrupted, and your freedom to move when, where, and as fast as you please is shaken and challenged.
Unfortunately, your encounter with the police isn't the end of your troubles. A traffic ticket doesn't just mean a fine: it also means an obligation to take time out of your work day or family affairs to come to court; it means points on your license, which could lead to an increased insurance premium; and depending on the charge and your driving history, it could mean the revocation of your license and the loss of your right to drive for a year or more.
You can't take any traffic ticket lightly. To save yourself time and money, and to protect your freedom of movement, learn about the different traffic crimes and violations and the penalties attached, and about how an experienced attorney can help to defend your rights and navigate the legal obstacles ahead.
TRAFFIC TICKETS AND CHARGES: AN OVERVIEW
After parking tickets, the most common traffic tickets are for speeding, reckless driving, distracted driving, and driving on a suspended license. Some might be more serious than others, but all can tax your time and finances and impact your freedom to drive
A defense that starts with, “Well, the other car …” isn't going to get you out of a speeding ticket.
According to an Allstate Insurance survey from 2011, Americans have a serious speeding problem.
- 89 percent of respondents admit to driving over posted speed limits
- 40 percent admit to driving at least 20 miles over a posted speed limit.
Most speeding tickets result in a court appearance, a fine of $45 to $600, three to 11 points on the driver's license, and increased insurance premiums. Jail time is possible but highly unlikely except in cases of repeat offenses. The size of the fine and the number of points will depend on how many miles above the speed limit the driver was going, and on prior convictions.
On top of the fine, the municipality in which the driver was arrested may add on a moving violation surcharge. If a driver received six or more points within an 18-month period, there will be a Driver Responsibility Assessment fee of $100 per year for three years, though this can go up by $25 per year for each additional point past six.
Judges will follow basic guidelines on assigning points based on the driver's speed relative to the posted limit.
Miles Per Hour Over the Speed Limit
1 to 10
11 to 20
21 to 30
31 to 40
Number of Points
An attorney can attempt to reduce the number of points added to your license, or even have them waived. Remember that if you receive 11 points within 18 months, your license will be suspended.
Reckless driving, unlike speeding, is not a violation: it is a crime, specifically a misdemeanor. Penalties include a fine of up to $300, a court surcharge of $70 or more, a significant insurance rate increase, up to 30 days in jail, and five points added to your driver's license. For a second reckless driving conviction, the fine can rise to over $500 with potential jail time of 90 days. A third reckless driving conviction will result in a fine in excess of $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail. (Note that the reckless driving charge could be on top of a speeding ticket and/or distracted driving ticket, with all the associated consequences stacked together.)
For most people, the significant difference between a charge of speeding and a charge of reckless driving is that the latter, as a criminal charge, could impact future employment. If you're facing a reckless driving charge, you should consult a traffic ticket attorney, who might be your only chance at reducing the charge and keeping your record clean, allowing you to answer “No” if and when a future potential employer asks you about prior criminal convictions.
Reckless driving occurs when a driver “unreasonably interferes” with the proper use of a public highway or when a driver “unreasonably endangers” others using a public highway. For example, running one stop sign is unlikely to constitute reckless driving, but running two stop signs in a row may rise to the level of reckless driving. Missing the first stop sign might be a simple mistake, but running a second one so soon after the first indicates a careless and reckless driver. Talking on your cell phone isn't usually considered reckless driving (although it's illegal in New York under a separate law, discussed below), but being on your cell phone while speeding excessively could be interpreted as reckless driving.
The nebulous language, however, gives police officers great latitude in making arrests, and grants prosecutors and judges significant discretion in charging and sentencing. This can work to the benefit or the detriment of the driver. An experienced attorney could argue that the arresting officer made a mistake, and that the accused was not acting in a reckless manner. This could be easier than controverting the hard evidence of a radar gun in a speeding case. If you face a charge of reckless driving, it's imperative that you hire an attorney, who might be able to have your charge reduced to a speeding ticket or even a non-moving violation, reducing the financial cost of the charge and protecting your record from a criminal stain.
DRIVING ON A SUSPENDED LICENSE
Driving with a suspended or revoked license is the most serious traffic crime (after DWI and vehicular manslaughter). Technically, this is called “Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle,” and it is a criminal misdemeanor in New York. Penalties include a mandatory fine of $200 to $500, a mandatory court surcharge, possible imprisonment of up to 30 days, and/or probation.
There are a few different strategies for dealing with a charge of Aggravated Unlicensed Operation. One of the best would be to obtain a valid license; if you do this, your attorney should be able to get your criminal charge reduced to a traffic charge, preserving your record. If this is not possible, there are other options; consult with an attorney would can plan a defense to fit the specific facts and circumstances of your case.
The same Allstate survey cited above found that speeding isn't the only bad driving behavior endemic in America. American drivers are also perennially distracted. New York drivers are no exception – though they face some of the nation's harshest penalties for using mobile devices while driving.
- 45 percent of respondents said they have driven while excessively tired (to the point of almost falling asleep).
- 15 percent said they have driven while intoxicated (this number includes 23 percent of men and six percent of women).
- 34 percent said they have sent a text message or email while driving. Broken down by age groups, this included:
- 63 percent of drivers aged 18-29.
- 58 percent of drivers 30-44.
- 25 percent of drivers 45-54.
- Six percent of drivers 55-64.
- Two percent of drivers over 65.
- Talking on a handheld mobile telephone.
- Composing, sending, reading, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving, or retrieving electronic data such as e-mail, text messages, or webpages.
- Viewing, taking, or transmitting images.
- Playing games.
Exceptions to these laws include:
- When the driver uses a hands-free mobile telephone, which allows the user to communicate without the use of either hand.
- Using a handheld electronic device that is affixed to a vehicle surface.
- Using a GPS device that is attached to the vehicle.
- When the purpose of the phone call is to communicate an emergency to a police or fire department, a hospital or physician's office, or an ambulance corps.
- When the driver is operating an authorized emergency vehicle in the performance of official duties.
If convicted of distracted driving, penalties include five points on the driver's license, a fine of $50 to $200, a surcharge of $93, and the possibility of jail time and the suspension of the driver's license (though these last two are not common).
LEAVING THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT
Leaving the scene of an accident with property damage is an infraction. This doesn't necessarily mean “fleeing” the scene of a catastrophic accident. You could be charged with leaving the scene of an accident if you bump another vehicle in a parking lot and drive away, unaware that you have caused any damage. This is punishable by up to 15 days in jail, and a $250 fine. An attorney may be able to have the charges reduced to a lower violation, saving you from the fine and jail time.
UNDERSTANDING LICENSE SUSPENSION AND REVOCATION
Suspension and revocation of a license are not the same thing. A suspended license refers to the state taking away your driving privilege for a definite or indefinite period. If that period is definite, when it elapses the license will automatically be reinstated.
In the case of a revocation, your driving privilege is not automatically restored when the revocation period ends. Instead, you have to get approval from the DMV to get another driver's license, then reapply for that new driver's license. This means taking the written and driving test all over again, as well as paying a license reapplication fee. There can also be additional requirements, depending on your driving history and the reason your license was originally revoked.
Most of the time, getting a speeding ticket won't result in a license revocation. A suspension is possible, especially if you have several speeding tickets within a certain period of time. The New York DMV can suspend your license if:
- You accumulate 11 or more points within an 18 month period.
- You have three convictions (including speeding) within an 18 month period.
- You do not pay a fine or answer a traffic ticket.
The state holds commercial drivers to an even higher standard. For example, if you are convicted of two “serious” traffic offenses within a three-year period, you might have your commercial license suspended for 60 days. (Under New York law, speeding 15 or more miles over the speed limits qualifies as a serious traffic offense.)
WHAT A TRAFFIC TICKET ATTORNEY CAN DO FOR YOU
You may think traffic offenses aren't serious enough to merit hiring an attorney; conversely, you might think there's little you can do to avoid an impending conviction. Both opinions are misled. There are many benefits that could make retaining a traffic attorney “worth it,” saving you time and money and protecting your reputation. A traffic attorney could:
- Argue or bargain for your charges to be reduced, saving you money on fines and insurance hikes.
- Have charges dismissed by questioning an officer's reasons for pulling you over.
- Reschedule a court appearance if you missed your first appearance.
- For simpler charges, waive your appearance in court, eliminating the need to take time off from work or away from family and friends.
Ultimately, your choice to retain a traffic ticket attorney could save you money, save you time, save you from the embarrassment and hassle of a court appearance, keep points off your license, keep your insurance premiums down, and keep your record free of criminal charges. Really, you can't afford to go into this alone.
PROTECT WHAT MATTERS MOST
Don't let traffic charges disrupt your life and impair your freedom of movement. Put traffic ticket defense attorney Drew Fritsch behind the wheel. For over 20 years, Drew Fritsch has used his experience to defend Western New Yorkers facing criminal charges and traffic tickets of every variety. Contact the offices of Drew Fritsch today to set up a free consultation, and take the first step toward getting your life back on track.
In the meantime, continue to browse our legal resources: check out the blog and video vault for more information about criminal defense and traffic tickets. If you're interested in learning more about DWI charges and defenses in New York State, start with our Pocket Guide to New York DWI Law.