The classic traffic violation is speeding, but there are many other types of tickets that are often issued. Some of these relate to yielding the right of way at intersections or following another vehicle too closely. Other tickets may arise from dangerous turning or passing maneuvers. Also, the spike in distracted driving accidents caused by cell phone use behind the wheel has resulted in many state laws designed to combat this behavior.
Speeding and Related Violations
Most states use an absolute speed limit, which means that a driver can receive a ticket for driving at any speed above the posted limit, no matter how slightly they exceed it. However, an officer may issue a speeding ticket when a driver is driving too fast for the conditions even when they are complying with the posted speed limit. This is known as a basic speed limit because it is based on an understanding of what is safe in the circumstances.
In other cases, a presumed speed limit may apply. This allows a driver to drive somewhat faster than the posted limit if conditions are good, such that it is safe to drive faster. A presumed speed limit rule does not allow a driver to drive much faster than the limit.
Presumed and Basic Speed Limits
If a driver is accused of violating a presumed speed limit, they have the burden of proving that they were driving safely. If the limit is a basic speed limit, the prosecution has the burden of proof.
An officer also can issue a ticket for driving too slowly when this impedes the flow of traffic. This usually happens when a driver is outside the right lane but not passing another slower-moving vehicle or making a left turn. The driver may argue that poor conditions made it necessary to drive more slowly or that they could not safely pull over.
A driver must yield the right of way to another driver who entered an intersection before them if there is no functioning traffic control device. If two drivers reach a four-way intersection at the same time, the driver on the right has the right of way. At a three-way intersection, the driver on the dead-end road must yield to vehicles on the crossing road, even if they arrived first. Drivers also must yield the right of way to pedestrians in marked crosswalks and sometimes in unmarked crosswalks. Right-of-way violations are likely to lead to accidents, which means that a driver may face liability in a related personal injury case as well.
A variation of a right-of-way violation is a red light violation. These have become more precise with the use of cameras to photograph the driver and the front license plate of a vehicle that enters an intersection after the light turns red. Unless the owner of the car was not the driver, or the photographs are unclear, these tickets may be hard to defeat. A driver may have a stronger defense to a red light ticket when no camera was involved, since they may be able to argue that the officer did not have a clear view of the scene or relied on a mistaken assumption.
Violations Related to Turns and Lane Changes
U-turn laws often contain several elements, each of which must be proven by the prosecution.
The rules regarding improper turns, especially U-turns, are very complex. The prosecution usually must prove several precise elements. If you received a ticket for making a U-turn in a business district, for example, you may be able to argue that the prosecution failed to show that the area was a business district. If you received a ticket for making a turn that was prohibited by a sign, you can investigate the scene to determine whether an obstruction might have prevented you from seeing the sign. Other types of turning violations may hinge on subjective judgment calls, such as whether the driver stayed close to the edge of the road or whether the turn was generally safe.
Similar to unsafe turns, unsafe lane changes can result in a ticket. These usually happen when a driver erratically swerves across lanes without signaling. Meanwhile, improper passing can involve a maneuver that an officer subjectively considers to be dangerous, or it can involve a more objective violation, such as passing on the right (unless an exception applies) or making a blind pass near a curve or hill.
Tailgating (Following Too Closely)
Following the car in front of you too closely can result in a ticket, even if no accident happened. Whether a driver is tailgating will depend on the road, weather, and traffic conditions at the time. The general rule is that the rear driver should leave one car length of separation for every 10 mph of speed. However, there may be situations in which the front driver is at fault for stopping abruptly or in which a driver cuts between the front driver and the rear driver, creating a dangerously narrow gap.
Cell Phone Violations
Many states have enacted laws against using handheld cell phones behind the wheel, and most states prohibit texting even if they allow handheld cell phone use. Other laws that generally prohibit distracted driving also may support a ticket based on cell phone use. An officer usually can stop a driver for texting or cell phone use even if they are not committing any other violation. While this type of ticket may not result in points added to a driver’s license, it may lead to heavy fines and assessments. This is an evolving area of traffic law that may continue to change in the future.