Traffic violations are breaches of state or federal statutes regulating ownership and use of a motor vehicle. They may be civil or criminal matters, and penalties can range from fines to jail time, depending on the severity of the violation.
Types of Civil Violations and Their Penalties
Under Florida statute, civil (noncriminal) violations include the following:
- Expired registration
- Driver's license expired less than six months
- Simple speeding
- Driving on the sidewalk
- Following too closely
- Failing to heed traffic control signals
You can usually just pay a fine for these. You may also get points against your license, which can result in higher insurance costs or license suspension.
For some violations, you may attend driving school instead. This can lower the number of points you get. If you neither pay nor attend traffic school, the state will suspend your driver's license.
Certain violations, such as those involving serious injuries, come with a mandatory court appearance. You may not elect traffic school for these cases.
Criminal Traffic Violations and Penalties
Florida statutes designate a number of traffic violations as criminal. These include:
- Driving with a suspended license
- Driving under the influence (DUI/DWI)
- Leaving the scene of an accident with injuries or property damage
You cannot just pay a fine or go to traffic school for these cases. Instead, you will have a criminal court trial and face possible jail time. You can be arrested if you do not show up for your court date.
Certain criminal violations result in automatic license suspension. The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) handles this penalty, not the courts.
Fighting a Traffic Ticket
For many civil tickets, you have the option of fighting it in court. This option can be helpful if you cannot afford the points against your license and do not have the option of traffic school. If you have a strong case, the charges could even be dropped before your court date.
But you cannot change your mind; by choosing this option, you waive your right to just pay the fine. If you do not show up in court, you could have your license suspended. And if you lose, you will still face any penalties associated with the ticket plus court fees.
Attending Traffic Court
If you do go to court, the procedure is a simplified version of regular courtroom procedures. You may choose to represent yourself or hire an attorney. You (or your attorney) and the officer who gave you the ticket each get the chance to tell your side. Witnesses, if any, will testify. The judge then will review the evidence and make a decision.
If you are found not guilty, you may have to sign some paperwork and/or pay court fees, but other than that, it is over. Otherwise, you will have to pay whatever penalties the judge tells you.
Getting Your License Back
You may request your license back after the suspension period (often one year) has passed and you can show proof to the DMV that you have completed any other requirements, such as paying fines or attending driver improvement traffic school.
If your license is suspended for multiple years, you may be able to request a hardship license after one year. In general, this license only allows you to drive to and from work.
A Florida Attorney Can Help
Traffic statutes can be confusing, and they change often. If you have any questions about your case, it is a good idea to talk with an attorney. Legal representation is especially important if your violation falls under the criminal statutes.