License and registration? You may have heard that phrase more than once in your life, and chances are you simply reached into the glove box and produced the necessary documents for a highway patrol or police officer standing next to your car. But what happens if you can't give proof of license or registration at the scene of the citation? Do you have to attend traffic school or pay a big fine? What other common traffic offenses add up to a pretty penny in fines but don't put points on your license? And is it possible to get a serious offense knocked down to a less-serious -- and less-expensive -- ticket? We take a look.
Moving vs. Non-moving Violations
Police and highway patrol departments across the U.S. break traffic tickets down into "moving" and "non-moving" violations. Moving violations include speeding, reckless driving, driving without a license or registration, tailgating and other offenses deemed serious enough to warrant points on your license and a hefty fine. Non-moving violations include relatively minor infractions such as failing to produce valid registration when asked or driving with a broken taillight. These offenses are considered correctable, meaning that once proof of the fix is made, like producing insurance documents at a later date or showing a tail-light has been repaired, an initial fine may be reduced and points are rarely accrued on a driver's license.
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|Failure to show proof of insurance|
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|Missing taillight cover|
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Non-moving violations explained
Tony Garrett, a public information officer with the California Highway Patrol's Southern Division, explains that in citations such as having windows tinted too dark or driving without a license plate, there is no need for additional penalties like driving-record points or traffic school. A prospective fine also may be substantially reduced if evidence that the fault is corrected is produced. Usually this can be verified by a visit to your local police station or faxing a document to the station.
"Then, there is no need to attend traffic school, as that would have the citation taken care of," he said.
Meanwhile, unsafe lane changes, speeding or reckless driving are termed movable violations, which is "any type of violation that constitutes unsafe movement of the vehicle itself," Garrett says. Drivers issued any type of citation are usually advised to pay fines by their due dates or risk further penalties, provided they do not choose to challenge the ticket in court.
While moving violation fines can top $850 for driving above 100 mph in California -- or even add up to more than $2500 for reckless driving in Michigan -- fines for non-moving offenses rarely add up to more than $30, although in some cases court fees can tack on another $40 or more. Red-light camera fines often can add up to a significant amount for any driver convicted but, depending on where a driver lives, they may not result in points added to a license or the need for traffic school. Points on a driver's license usually result in a payday for an insurance company, which often will work with the DMV to track a driver's record and price its premiums accordingly. Thus, a court or officer's decision to prosecute, or issue a citation for, a moving or non-moving offense is of crucial importance to your average driver.
A little wiggle room in Florida
Depending on your previous record or court proceedings, a motorist cited for a moving violation in Florida often can get a moving-vehicle citation bumped down to a non-moving citation, says David Haenel, a traffic attorney of fightyourticket.com. Citing examples of non-moving violations such as not wearing a seatbelt or failing to install a child-restraining seat, Haenel says it's a "common practice" for traffic tickets to get downgraded from a moving to a non-moving offense.
"A $110 ticket becomes $10 if a lawyer can convince a prosecutor to amend the ticket from a careless driving or speeding ticket to a non-moving ticket," he said.
This could also happen at the scene of the citation. "It's basically a financial thing. The rationale behind it is that these tickets are going up so much in price. The officers can run the driver's information and if the driver has a good record, they're saying maybe they don't have to go to court. They could knock the speed down or they could issue a warning or they could issue you no ticket at all."
Flexibility in California?
Speeding fines are usually a moving offense, but even here some ambiguity exists. An editor at highwayrobbery.net, who requested anonymity, says: "Here in California I don't think we have any speeding tickets that don't add a point to your license. Yet. But very often, as a win-win deal with a defendant represented by counsel, the court will change the charge to something like "coasting," which carries a fine, but no points. That way the court and the city get their money, the lawyer has saved his client a point, no one loses face. Win-win."
He also points out that a driver caught by a speeding camera in Arizona used to have points added to their license, but most speeding tickets issued by the state now do not result in points accumulating on a convicted driver's license.
Enough to search?
Officer Garrett of the CHP says there is "no way" that a moving violations will get bumped down to a non-moving offenses in California, and that policy across the U.S. tends to vary. "Different states will do things differently," he says. But does a suspected non-moving offense allow a police or highway patrol officer the right to search a car or driver?
"We have to have protocols to have that vehicle searched, that is there is some other reason that would raise suspicion, say, drugs in the car. It would have to be reasonable cause for suspicion. If the vehicle is stopped for non-movable violation and the officer approaches the car and finds a gun, then that's reason to search. Just [lack of] registration or something like that would not give a reason to search the vehicle."
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