If you get a traffic ticket, it will usually be classified as either a moving violation or a non-moving violation. While moving violations are usually more serious, just how serious depends on the type of violation.
If you get a ticket for a moving violation, it means the officer believes you broke a traffic law while driving.
Moving violations include relatively minor violations like driving through a stop sign or making an improper turn, to serious crimes like drunk driving or committing a hit and run.
Unlike moving violations, most non-moving violations have nothing to do with how you were driving. Instead they usually involve problems with your vehicle or paperwork.
However, a few non-moving violations can actually happen while you're driving. The two most common are:
Red-light or speeding camera tickets. Many states consider these non-moving violations, even though you are moving when the violations occur.
Seatbelt violations. Many of the 49 states with seat belt laws consider them non-moving violations. In some states it can be either a moving or non-moving violation, depending on the situation.
In any case, you won’t get points against your license for non-moving violations.
Getting a ticket once a decade or so won't affect you that much. But a series of convictions for breaking traffic laws could affect both your license and your insurance.
Effects on your driving record and license
Most states have a point system, meaning they add points to your driver’s license for any moving violations or at-fault accidents. How many points an offense carries depends on jurisdiction. But in general, the more serious the violation, the more points you get.
For example, you might get one or two points for driving a few miles per hour over the legal limit. But going significantly over the limit might give you four or five points.
If you get too many points within a specific period of time, the state will suspend your license. Points generally stay in your record for 2-5 years, depending on the state.
Effects on your insurance
That isn't the only way your insurance can be affected though. A large number of minor tickets may increase your insurance as much as one major violation.
The exact details will depend on your insurance company’s policies.
Most moving violations fall into one of five categories:
Speeding. In most cases this means going faster than the posted speed limit. It can also mean driving faster than is safe for the road conditions even if you are not driving above the legal limit. In general, the higher your speed, the more expensive your fine.
Failure to stop. This typically refers to either not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, or driving through a red light.
Failure to yield. This ticket is given for not following the rules about which driver has right of way. For example, if two drivers get to an intersection at the same time, the driver to the left must yield to the driver on the right.
Careless driving. This term can refer to a lot of different actions, from failing to use a turn signal to eating while driving. Not all states have a careless driving law. Those that don't typically combine it with reckless driving.
Reckless driving. You can get a ticket for reckless driving by doing something that a reasonable person would know has a high likelihood of hurting someone, like taking part in an illegal drag race. Reckless driving only requires the possibility of injury, it doesn't require you to actually hurt someone.
If you get a ticket for a moving violation, you'll need to decide if you want to pay it or contest it. You may also have the option of taking a drivers safety course to keep it off your record.
While the decision is up to you, it's generally a good idea to consider how serious the violation is and whether you already have other tickets on your driving record.
If you choose to pay, follow your state’s instructions for how to send payment. Make sure you pay on time.
If you choose to contest it, make sure you understand the law and what kind of evidence you need to get the ticket dismissed. A traffic ticket lawyer can help you with the process of contesting a ticket.