Many traffic offenses that are classified as non-dangerous or are considered simple driving violations are called “infractions”. However, in some cases, certain traffic violations can become misdemeanor criminal charges because of the seriousness of the violation. In most states, a traffic violation can be considered a misdemeanor if:

  • The traffic violation caused direct injury to a person;
  • The traffic violation caused damage to property (such as another car); or
  • The traffic violation creates a real threat of serious injury to a person or threat to destruction of property

Misdemeanor traffic offenses also differ from minor traffic infractions because they carry harsher criminal penalties. For instance, depending on local or state laws, some misdemeanor traffic offenses can carry fines of up to $10,000 and may involve jail time.

How are Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses Classified?

Traffic offenses are typically classified as minor offenses in most states. Simple traffic violations usually lead to a traffic ticket, which must be paid off, and are considered infractions. However, if traffic offense is considered to be more serious, then the offense can lead to misdemeanor or even felony charges. These are considered criminal offenses (which go on a person’s criminal record), and usually involve a trial, possible legal fees, and other prolonged legal consequences.

What Types of Actions are Considered Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses?

The laws, statutes, and rules governing traffic crimes and offenses will vary widely from state to state. Traffic misdemeanors usually involve some sort of risk to human life, safety, or property. Most jurisdictions consider the following to be criminal traffic misdemeanors:

Additionally, some conduct may be considered a traffic misdemeanor even though it does not involve the operation of a moving vehicle. These types of violations are usually categorized under “disorderly conduct” and can include such offenses as obstructing traffic with one’s vehicle, or playing one’s car radio too loudly.  

However, in some cases it may be up to the discretion of the court to decide if it will be considered a traffic misdemeanor instead of a simple violation or infraction. In many cases, however, the state law will specifically state what incidents will immediately result in a misdemeanor, so it is important to check with your local laws.

What are Some Common Penalties for Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses?

Misdemeanor traffic offenses generally lead to the criminal consequences of a fine and/or jail time. Depending on the exact violation involved, this can be anywhere from $100 to several hundreds of dollars; for these types of crimes, jail time is usually limited to a period of one year maximum in a country jail facility (not a state prison facility). 

Some states may take additional steps when penalizing a misdemeanor traffic offense. These can include the loss or suspension of driving privileges, and the towing or confiscation of the defendant’s motor vehicle connected with the crime. The court may also impose additional criminal penalties and consequences, such as enrollment in a substance abuse treatment program if alcohol was involved in the violation.

Additionally, certain traffic violations that begin as traffic misdemeanors may be escalated to the level of a felony charge. This can be the case if the violation involved repeat traffic offenses, or if it resulted in death, great bodily injury or serious property damage. Felony charges typically involve higher criminal fines to pay, and possible sentencing in a state prison facility for periods involving longer than one year.  

Are there Any Criminal Defenses for Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses?

Depending on the facts involved in each incident, as well as state and local traffic laws, there may be criminal defenses available for a person who is facing a misdemeanor traffic charge. One common criminal defense in such cases is that of necessity. A defendant might be able to raise this defense if their conduct was necessary in some way given the circumstances. 

For instance, if a person was found initially charged with misdemeanor speeding charges, then it might be a defense if they were speeding because they was an injury involved and they were under an emergency situation (such as driving themselves to the hospital). 

Another common defense is that of coercion. This defense may be raised if the defendant was threatened with bodily harm to commit the violation. An example of this is where the defendant was forced to drive their car over the speed limit, under the threat of harm from another person if they didn’t perform the action.  

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with a Misdemeanor Traffic Charge?

Traffic misdemeanors should not be taken lightly; they will be reflected negatively in your criminal record. Hiring a criminal lawyer in your area might be necessary if the traffic violation requires a court appearance or trial. An experienced criminal lawyer can help explain your state’s traffic violations laws more clearly, and they can help you present your case before a court of law.