From rolling through a traffic control device to picking up the phone for a quick text message, trouble sometimes can find you on the road. In Delaware, as in most states, many traffic violations are minor issues that can be resolved without appearing in court, though more serious matters can carry the possibility of jail time.
Various Types of Violations
Most of Delaware's traffic offenses are classified as "infractions"—relatively minor violations with smaller fines. Other violations, such as drunken driving, can be misdemeanors, while very serious matters, such as vehicular manslaughter, are felonies with possible prison terms.
New residents should familiarize themselves with the state's driving laws. Laws covering child safety seats and cellular phones vary across the country. The state's driver's manual provides much crucial information.
Delaware considers most drivers under the influence when the blood-alcohol content is higher than .08 percent, though for commercial drivers the limit is .04. For those under the drinking age of 21, the limit is .02 percent. Any driver's license can be suspended for refusing to undergo a chemical or blood test.
Driving under the influence carries a strict penalty, with an automatic three-month license revocation for the first offense. A rehabilitation program will be required before the license is reinstated, and the driver could be forced to retake tests as well.
Penalties for traffic violations vary quite a bit by both the nature of the offense and the location where it occurred—the amount should be printed on the ticket, though.
Every violation also carries a certain amount of points, and drivers who accumulate a specific number within a certain time frame risk losing their licenses. Points assessed depend on the seriousness—driving 1 to 9 mph over the limit is two points, while speeding 20 mph or more over the limit is five points and can result in suspension. Twelve points triggers required attendance in a driving course, while 14 points means a four-month license suspension.
Drivers can, however, receive three-point credits by taking defensive driving courses, and points are credited at only half their initial value after a year elapses.
Resolving Matters in Traffic Court
If your offense is payable without appearing in court, the officer will indicate on the citation that it is a "voluntary assessment ticket" that you can handle by mail, phone or online.
You also can appear in court, a course drivers sometimes choose because they believe the officer is wrong factually or legally or out of concern about insurance costs or points. Delaware also offers "probation before judgment," a program that permits drivers to avoid points on their license upon successful completion of certain conditions.
Actions Regarding Licenses
Excessive points accumulated on a license can mean a suspension or revocation. Some crimes, such as speeding more than 50 mph above the posted limit, trigger automatic suspensions, while driving under the influence means automatic revocation. Habitual offenders convicted of three serious offenses within five years face five-year revocations with no possibility of driving under a work license (a license that allows driving only to and from work).
There is a $25 fee to reinstate a suspended license and a $143 fee to reinstate a revoked one. If your license is revoked, you might have to retake written, road and vision examinations before driving privileges are restored.
Seeking Legal Help
Though sometimes it is simpler to just pay the fine for minor traffic violations, in other instances, the case is more complicated or there are bigger stakes such as employment or possible revocation. Consult a Delaware attorney for advice under those circumstances.