Traffic accidents and infractions are very common, but not all traffic-related incidents are the same—nor are they judged equally. While many incidents have relatively light penalties, the reality is that there are other incidents that can be judged as criminal traffic offenses.
Of course, these types of incidents differ from your average speeding ticket. What largely separates a criminal traffic offense from a traffic violation is that it typically results in imprisonment—speaking to the severity of the incident.
A criminal traffic offense can be ruled as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the jurisdiction. Here are the five most common criminal traffic offenses you should know about, as well as the consequences of such actions.
1. Driving under the influence (DUI)
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), also referred to as drunk driving, driving while intoxicated (DWI), and operating while intoxicated (OWI), is always considered a criminal traffic offense—regardless of whether or not a collision with another vehicle is involved.
Typically, a first DUI offense will include consequences such as fines, time on probation, and a suspended license. However, it is typically judged as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. As a result, very few first-time offenders receive significant jail time, if any at all.
With that said, a DUI charge that involves a serious collision with another vehicle or an injury to another person is more likely to have severe repercussions, including jail time.
If someone is receiving a second or third DUI conviction, the consequences are much more severe.
Although repeat offenses may still be judged as misdemeanors (although they are charged as felonies in some states), they will nearly always result in at least some level of jail time. It may be as short as 3 – 5 days but could be as long as a couple of years.
Additionally, the driver is likely to receive higher fines, and have his or her license revoked or suspended for a significant period. In some cases, the driver’s vehicle may even be confiscated.
2. Reckless driving
In most states, the definition of reckless driving is “willfully operating a vehicle in a manner that shows an indifference to the safety of persons or property” or an equivalent.
Needless to say, reckless driving—not to be confused with careless driving—is a more serious offense than your normal speeding violation. Depending on the state, any of the following acts may be classified as reckless driving:
· Exceeding the posted speed limit by more than 25 miles per hour
· Excessive lane changing
· Making an illegal pass
· Passing a stopped school bus
· Racing with another vehicle
· Attempting to elude a police officer
· Neglecting a stop sign or red light
The majority of first-time reckless driving charges are ruled as misdemeanors in most states. The repercussions of a first reckless driving charge might include a fine, a time of probation, and suspension of the driver’s license.
As is the case with DUI charges, however, repeat or more severe reckless driving charges can start to be judged as felonies—particularly when the incident causes injury or death to another person.
3. Driving under suspension or revocation
Drivers may have their licenses suspended or revoked for a number of different reasons, depending on the state:
· DUI arrests and convictions
· Reckless driving convictions
· Insurance law violations
· Getting too many demerit points on license
· Failing to make child support payments
When you are caught driving a vehicle when your license has been suspended or revoked, this is considered a criminal traffic offense. Although it is typically judged as a misdemeanor, repeat offenses can be charged as felonies.
When a “driving under suspension” charge is paired with another incident, it may also be judged as a felony.
The penalties for this type of offense vary from state to state. First offenses may include a fine and a probation period, while second and third offenses may include steeper fines and jail time.
What’s more, being charged for driving under suspension can also lead to your license being revoked—making it even more difficult for you to get back on the road again legally.
4. Hit-and-run accident
Hit-and-run incidents happen frequently, but unfortunately, they aren’t always caught. It’s worth noting that some of these incidents are relatively minor. They tend to occur in parking lots and tight spaces, and the extent of the damage typically won’t exceed a scratch or dent to another vehicle.
Many hit-and-run incidents are caught, however, and judged quite severely—suggesting that it’s never a good idea to flee the scene of an accident. In many states, it’s illegal for either party—whether it’s an at-fault driver or an innocent driver—to leave the scene of the accident.
Incidents that only involve property damage are typically judged as misdemeanors, while incidents that result in injury or death to another person are judged as felonies.
Both misdemeanor and felony hit-and-runs typically result in an immediate suspension or revocation of one’s license. Additionally, hit-and-run penalties may include a fine and even jail time.
While a misdemeanor hit-and-run may come with a fine between $1,000 and $5,000, a felony hit-and-run may involve a fine between $5,000 and $20,000.
5. Vehicular homicide
It’s been reported that 36,096 deaths were caused by motor vehicle crashes in 2019, and many of them were ruled as vehicular homicides.
Vehicular homicide, or vehicular manslaughter, is a criminal traffic offense that most states judge as a felony, especially when the death of another person is the result of a DUI or reckless driving.
In the event the other party is killed from a minor violation or simple negligence, however, certain states may judge the incident as a misdemeanor.
In either case, a vehicular homicide charge comes with lasting repercussions that go far beyond significant jail time, heavy fines, and license revocation—penalties you would expect one to receive from this kind of criminal traffic offense. Being the cause of a fatality can also produce lasting guilt and lead to mental health issues.