A Traffic Infraction is a violation of one of the rules of the road under the laws of the State or a Municipality of Washington. Infractions are not criminal violations, and have different rules than do criminal law. Penalties for traffic infraction violations do not include imprisonment, but do include monetary penalties and the reporting of the violation to the Department of Licensing (DOL) for placement on your driving record. There are other ramifications for holders of Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) and those under 18 with an Intermediate Drivers License.

There are also two categories of Traffic Infractions. Moving Infractions are primarily the safety violations, such as Speeding, Failure to Stop at a Stop Sign or Red Light; Failure to Signal, Lane Usage violations, Following to Closely, Failure to Obey Traffic Control Devices, Speed Too Fast For Conditions, among others. These violations are reportable by DOL to an Insurance Company records request, and to some employers, and are used as a factor in determining a drivers insurance rates.

Non-Moving Infractions are primarily equipment violations, such as a non-working head or tail-lights, Cracked Windshields, loud muffler, window tint being to dark, and at this time they include Cell Phone and Texting tickets, and No Seatbelt violations. These violations are generally also reportable by DOL to Insurance Companies or Employers, but also generally have far less or no impact on insurance rates

No Proof of Insurance, No License On Person, or No Registration or Expired Tabs are not specifically safety violations, but are reportable. They may also have very high fines if found committed.

Penalties for most Washington Traffic Infractions are monetary, and the amount is written on your ticket.  However, too many violations can result in a suspension or revocation of your license to drive.  Moving and some non-moving violations are reported to your insurance company for three years, and may result in an increase in your insurance rates.  This cost can be far greater than that of the base fine: a $20 per month increase, over the three years a committed violation will appear on your record reportable to insurance, will total out to over $700.  However, we cannot predict what increase, if any, may occur under your specific circumstances.

For Commercial Drivers License and Intermediate License holders all the above infractions may adversely effect your license or employment.

If you have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) both types of Traffic Infractions will be reported to both Insurance Company and Employer records requests.  And unlike a standard driver’s license three-year reporting period, committed violations on a CDL may be reported for up to ten years.

If you are under the age of 18 and have an Intermediate Driver’s License, Non-moving Traffic Infractions are also counted by the Department of Licensing, which will revoke your Intermediate License if two Traffic Infractions are found committed before you reach the age of 18.

Are Traffic Infraction violations Criminal?

No.  In Washington Traffic Infractions are Civil Matters, which means that the only penalties for a committed finding are monetary.  However, enough multiple committed Traffic violations can result in the DOL suspending or even revoking your license to drive.  Also if you do not take care of any associated fines or fees growing out of the infraction, DOL will eventually suspend your Driver’s License in Washington.  If you are subsequently found to be driving on a suspended or revoked license, even unknowingly, you may be charged criminally, for Driving With a Suspended License 3rd Degree.

Q: Is it worth it to contest my ticket?

Ultimately this choice is yours. But here are some things to think about in making your decision. First, just because a ticket was issued does not mean that the court will automatically find that you committed the infraction. The officer may have a good-faith belief that a violation occurred, but the factual basis for that belief will still have to be presented to the judge. If the judge feels that it is more likely than not (more than 50%) that the facts show a violation occurred, then the judge will uphold the ticket. But if the judge feels that the likelihood is less than 50% that the facts show that a violation actually occurred, then the infraction will be found as Not Committed. Contested tickets are found Not Committed on a regular basis. Uncontested tickets are always found Committed.

Even if the facts support a committed finding there are still other possible outcomes that may reduce what financial impact may occur to a driver. A violation that goes to your insurance record may have a significant financial impact. A mere $20 increase in insurance rates over the three years it would be reportable totals out over $700. This figure is intended as an example and not an average impact. Your circumstance may result in a lesser or greater costs. So even if the violation may be found committed based on the facts, and the original fine may be due, keeping it from your record can have these other long-term benefits. Another issue to consider is that nothing happens in isolation: what will be the impact if a second violation reaches your record, for example? What if there are multiple drivers in your household?