Are Traffic Tickets Criminal or Civil? Understanding Moving Violation Laws

by LegalFix
Posted: April 3, 2024
Traffic tickets

At some point in our driving lives, most of us will face the unpleasant surprise of being handed a traffic ticket. Whether it's for speeding, running a red light, or another minor traffic infraction, it's natural to wonder about the nature of this ticket. Is it a criminal charge? A civil one? Understanding the distinction can significantly impact your driving record, insurance rates, and wallet. Here's what you need to know. 

Traffic Tickets: Criminal or Civil?

Traffic violations can broadly be categorized into two types: infractions and misdemeanors. The nature of your violation determines whether it's a civil or criminal charge. 


These are minor violations like speeding, not stopping at a stop sign, or not wearing a seat belt. In most jurisdictions, infractions are civil charges. This means they typically don't result in jail time and are not considered a criminal conviction. Instead, they generally come with a fine, and you're not entitled to a jury trial or a public defender.


These are more severe violations like reckless driving, DUI/DWIs, or driving without a valid license. Misdemeanors are criminal charges. This means they can result in jail time, probation, and other penalties. If charged with a misdemeanor, you also have the right to a jury trial and, in some cases, a public defender if you can't afford your own attorney

However, it's essential to note that the distinction between civil and criminal traffic offenses can vary depending on your state's traffic laws. This variability emphasizes the importance of understanding your local regulations and seeking appropriate legal counsel when faced with a traffic ticket.

It’s also worth noting that traffic tickets are not exclusive to cars or motorcycles. For example, you can get a ticket while riding a bicycle or boating under the influence

The Importance of Legal Representation

Regardless of the type of traffic ticket, having access to affordable and knowledgeable legal guidance can be invaluable:

  • Understanding the Law: An attorney familiar with your state's traffic laws can advise you on the specifics of your ticket, potential penalties, and any available defenses. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ 

  • Contesting the Ticket: If there are grounds to contest the ticket, a lawyer can represent you in court, potentially having the ticket dismissed or the penalties reduced. 

  • Minimizing Impact: Even for minor infractions, accumulating traffic tickets can lead to points on your driver's license, which can increase insurance premiums or even result in a suspended license. An attorney can help you navigate processes to minimize these impacts. 

  • Cost Savings: While hiring an attorney might seem like an additional expense, the potential savings from reduced or dismissed fines, not to mention avoided hikes in insurance rates, can outweigh the legal fees. 

Know the Laws with LegalFix

While not all traffic tickets are criminal charges, understanding the nuances of your specific situation can make a world of difference. The value of having affordable access to an attorney in your state cannot be overstated. Whether it's to save money, preserve your driving record, or ensure your rights are upheld at a traffic stop, legal guidance is an essential tool in navigating the complexities of traffic tickets. Remember, it's not just about one ticket; it's about safeguarding your future on the road.

Whether you want to understand whether traffic violations are civil or criminal offenses or just want a better understanding of how our legal system works, LegalFix is your go-to source for free legal information. You can find helpful articles and state-specific explanations of nearly 1,600 legal topics and browse the state and federal statutes to better understand the laws that affect you. Just visit to find all this content—and check back often for more valuable legal products and services coming soon.