Traffic laws and regulations vary by state and are created to keep drivers and passengers safe while traveling by car. Failure to follow traffic laws and regulations can result in moving violations, traffic tickets, and driver’s license suspension. Here’s your guide to the most common traffic violations to help you stay on the right side of the law.

What Is a Traffic Violation?

A traffic violation is an act that violates a state’s or county’s traffic laws while operating a motor vehicle on roads or highways. These violations can range from minor infractions, such as speeding or running a red light, to more serious crimes, such as drunk or reckless driving. Traffic violations are generally issued by local police officers and processed by local courts.

Most Common Traffic Violations

We learned the rules and laws of driving in Driver’s Education (Driver’s Ed) before we got in a car to test what we learned. However, sometimes traffic laws slip our minds or something happens and we don’t follow the rules whether it’s intentional or by accident. In any event, here’s a look at common traffic violations.

Speeding Over the Posted Speed Limit

The posted speed limit is the maximum speed you can legally travel on a given road. This speed limit will vary depending on the location and type of road you are traveling. If you are caught exceeding the posted speed limit, it’s likely you will receive a traffic ticket for speeding.

Running a Red Light or a Stop Sign

Running a red light or a stop sign is a traffic violation that can carry serious consequences. Suppose you run a red light or stop sign, and an accident is the result of this action. In this case, you can be held legally responsible for the accident, which means you and your auto insurance provider may be responsible for paying for the damages. You could also lose your auto insurance coverage. You may receive a traffic citation or be criminally prosecuted based on different variables of the accident.

Generally speaking, motorists who are convicted of running a red light or a stop sign violation could be ordered to pay a fine ranging between $200 and $250. You could also have 3 demerit points added to your driving record. Accumulating an excessive amount of points can lead to driver’s license suspension. Depending on your specific situation, running a red light or stop sign can lead to you being convicted of reckless driving. If the accident results in one or more fatalities, you could also be charged with vehicular homicide.

As the driver of a vehicle, you must stop before the limit line (pedestrian crosswalk) or the intersection itself. You can receive a red-light ticket for rolling through a red light or pulling too far forward before coming to a complete stop. However, check with your state to determine if there are exceptions to the normal traffic signal rules.

Following Too Closely to Other Vehicles

Following too closely to other vehicles is called tailgating. Tailgating becomes an issue when one vehicle is following a vehicle too closely to the point that a collision can NOT be avoided even if the driver is attentive to the actions of the vehicle ahead.

A good rule of thumb is to stay at least one car length for every 10 miles per hour you’re traveling. If the weather conditions are unfavorable, such as hail, rain, or snow, you should stay at least 2 car lengths behind the car in front of you to avoid a collision. Tailgating can be a violation that results in fines and demerit points on your driver’s license.

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

In the US, we drive on the right side of the road. Driving on the wrong side of the road is a serious traffic violation. The penalties you could face for this offense depend on the state you live in and the severity of the violation. If someone was hurt because you were driving on the wrong side of the road, you could be ordered to pay a maximum fine of $10,000 and spend up to 3 years in jail.

Failure to Signal or Yield

We’ll take things one step at a time here. Failure to yield is a specific traffic violation where a driver does not give way to traffic that has the right of way. Failing to use your signal can result in a ticket and/or a fine of $150 or more. In regions where point systems are used to track traffic violations, points may be added to your driver’s license. The penalties for failure to signal or yield depend on whether it is your first offense.

Operating a Vehicle Without Proper Lighting

Operating a vehicle without proper lighting is a safety hazard that can lead to an accident and is a traffic violation. Proper lighting can include headlights and taillights. Driving without proper lighting makes you invisible to other drivers, which increases your risk of being involved in an accident. Operating a vehicle without the proper lighting can result in a moving offense and points can be placed on your driver’s license.

Seat Belt Violations

Seat belt violations are traffic violations that occur when a driver or passenger neglects to wear their seat belt or wears the seatbelt improperly. The following are considered seat belt traffic violations:

  • The driver does not wear a seat belt or wears the seat belt improperly
  • A passenger in the vehicle does not wear a seat belt or is wearing the seat belt improperly
  • The driver does not ensure his passenger under 16 years of age wears a seat belt
  • Passengers in a vehicle do not occupy a position with a seat belt

In some states, a seat belt ticket can lead to a moving violation or demerit points on your driving record. Other possible consequences of not wearing a seat belt can include serious injuries or fatal results in the event of an accident.

In most states, seat belt violations are deemed secondary offenses, which means a police officer is not permitted to stop and ticket you for the sole purpose of not wearing a seat belt. However, if you are pulled over for a different traffic violation, such as speeding, and you are found in violation of the seat belt law, you could be issued a ticket.

Penalties that are associated with seat belt violations vary by state, but in general, they are at the lower end of traffic violations, meaning the penalties aren’t as severe as some of the penalties for other traffic violations.

According to the US Department of Transportation, using a seat belt correctly can reduce serious crash-related injuries and fatalities by approximately half.

Drunk Driving (DUI)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drunk driving, or driving under the influence (DUI) ends in 37 fatalities per day. Drunk driving occurs when someone operates a vehicle with an excess of alcohol in their blood. Alcohol can slow your reflexes and reaction time, which means avoiding an accident will be much more difficult than it would be if you were sober.

Drunk driving penalties and consequences vary by state. However, here is an example of the penalties and consequences that can occur based on the number of offenses a driver has had.

 1st-Time Offender2nd Offense3rd Offense
Jail Time48 hours to 6 months5 days to 12 months90 days to 1 year
Fees and Fines$1,000Up to $1,750Up to $2,500
License Suspension90 days6 months1 year  

When it comes to drunk driving, you’ll hear about a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC), which determines how well you are able to function with different levels of alcohol in your blood. Here’s a table we created for reference.

BLOOD ALCOHOL CONTENT/ CONCENTRATION (BAC) IN G/DLGeneral EffectsEffects On Operating a Motor Vehicle
.02Increased body temperature, relaxed, some judgment impairment. A change in mood can also occur.Decline in visual functions and divided attention. It will be difficult for a person to focus on two tasks simultaneously.
.05Individuals may express exaggerated behavior and may experience a loss of small-muscle control, such as focusing the eyes, impaired judgment, decreased alertness, and a release of inhibitionReduced coordination, decreased ability to track moving objects, difficulty steering, delayed response to emergency driving situations
.08Muscle coordination, such as speech, balance, vision, reaction time, and hearing becomes poor, making it harder to detect danger. Judgment, self-control, reasoning, and memory are also impairedIndividuals can experience a lack of concentration, short-term memory loss, speed control, and reduced information processing capability, such as signal detection, visual search, and impaired perception
.10At this level, individuals may experience clear deterioration of reaction time and control, slurred speech, poor coordination, and slowed thinkingMaintaining lane position and braking appropriately become increasingly difficult.
.15At this BAC level, individuals can experience far less muscle control than normal and vomiting may occur (unless this level is reached slowly or a person has developed an alcohol  tolerance.) Major loss of balance can also occur. A driver can experience substantial impairment with controlling the vehicle, paying attention to driving tasks, and unusual visual and auditory information processing

Unsafe Lane Changing

Unsafe lane changing occurs when a driver switches lanes without using a turn signal or checking traffic for the lane a driver wants to merge into. This type of lane change is considered a serious traffic violation that could lead to accidents and injuries. Drivers can receive points on their license, be required to pay a fine, or both.

Traffic violations range in severity, and so do their penalties and consequences. However, all of these common traffic violations can be avoided. Pay attention to the road, stay alert, and stay safe!