Answers to all your most frequently asked questions about how New Jersey's most used 0 point ticket.
What is Unsafe Driving under 39:4-97.2?
Here's what the statute actually says: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, it shall be unlawful for any person to drive or operate a motor vehicle in an unsafe manner likely to endanger person or property." This covers a large range of conduct, such as speeding or changing lanes without signaling, or failure to keep right, or anything else that might create a risk of accident. But unlike the offenses I just mentioned, a conviction for unsafe driving doesn't result in points being added to your license.
How does the Unsafe Driving statute work?
Officers don't usually write tickets for unsafe driving. Instead, they'll likely write you that speeding, or failure to keep right, or unsafe lane change ticket. But, when you go to court, the prosecutor may offer you a plea bargain to unsafe driving, so it is important to understand how it works. You can be convicted of unsafe driving as many times as you get tickets, but it won't always result in 0 points unless you are careful. Unsafe driving only results in 0 points the first two times you are convicted of it. After that, there must be a FIVE YEAR GAP in convictions, otherwise NJ MVC will add FOUR points to your license. After the expiration of the five years, you can use it again for 0 points, but then you have to wait another five years for it to be 0 points again.
How much does an Unsafe Driving conviction cost?
A lot. First of all, the fine gets progressively higher each time you are convicted of Unsafe Driving. For a first offense, the fine is between $50 and $150. For a second offense, the fine is between $100 and $250. For a third or subsequent offense, the fine is between $200 and $500. As if that's not bad enough, the State has tacked on a one-time $250 surcharge for each conviction. That means that when you add on court costs, a first conviction can cost you up to $439, a second up to $539, and a third up to $739. That's definitely not chump change.
How do I find out how many Unsafe Driving convictions I have?
Most prosecutors will have a copy of your driver's abstract when you go to court, but they might not, and the judge might just rely on your recollection of how many times you have been convicted when sentencing you, so it behooves you to know how many times you have used the Unsafe Driving downgrade in court BEFORE you go. If you can't remember, you need to contact NJ MVC and get a copy of your driver's abstract. You can go in person and request one, or you can order one online, but note that this is a lengthier process, though it might seem antithetical that it would be. You can get either a full driver's abstract or a 5 year abstract. A 5 year abstract is sufficient for you to be able to tell whether you will be getting any points if you use the downgrade, but not necessarily sufficient to tell you how many times you have been convicted overall, unless you have had your license for under 5 years.
I have a Provisional Driver's License. Can I get an Unsafe Driving downgrade?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is that there is no statute that prevents a provisional driver from getting a downgrade to a 0 point ticket, but there is a directive from the Attorney General to municipal prosecutors not to give provisional drivers any 0 point tickets. In my career, I've only seen one prosecutor and one judge ignore that directive (though to my knowledge there is no directive to judges saying the same thing) and allow a provisional driver to plead guilty to Unsafe Driving.
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