You know how they say, “Everything’s bigger in Texas?” Well, they say that because it’s true. Texas is a huge state. A huge state means that people drive…a lot. The most common legal issue that Americans deal with is a traffic ticket. Every single person has either had a traffic ticket or knows someone who has. They are an unfortunate part of driving throughout the Lone Star State.
One of the most common questions people ask my office is, “How does a traffic ticket affect me?” The point of this blog post is to attempt to generally answer that question.
2. Criminal record
The first thing to know is that traffic tickets are criminal matters. They are Class C misdemeanors. A conviction of a Class C misdemeanor is, technically, a criminal conviction. Now, before we get carried away, I will tell you that most jobs, professional licenses, and background checks typically overlook class C misdemeanors. So, it’s not usually that big a deal. There are certainly exceptions to this. There are Class C Misdemeanor theft and other violations that can and will impact your options in the future.
However, it is important to note that simply going into the court and paying the fine on the violation is a plea of guilty. This is something that most of the Court’s staff won’t tell you about, and something you won’t realize until it’s too late.
I know this is coming from an attorney, so take it at face value, but I always recommend that an individual have representation if they are going into a court. Put it this way, I don’t do the plumbing on my house nor do I do my own dentistry. You shouldn’t do your own legal work.
3. Driving Record
In Texas, the point system is called the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP). For each violation you receive, points will be added to your driving record. The accumulation of points could result in a suspension or other penalties, such as surcharges and fines.
When you are convicted of a traffic offense in Texas, you will be given:
- 2 points for any moving violation.
- 3 points for violations resulting in a collision.
All convictions are added to your driving record and will stay on your driving record for 3 years.
License suspensions can occur if you accumulate too many moving violations within a specified period of time.
In Texas, you license may be suspended if:
- You have 4 moving violations or more within 12 months.
- You have 7 moving violations or more within 24 months.
In addition, you may have your license suspended automatically for more serious violations, such as:
- Causing an accident while uninsured.
- Violations involving drugs or alcohol.
- Collisions involving a fatality that are related to reckless driving.
- Underage drinking.
Depending on the number of points placed on your driving record, you may be required to pay a surcharge. A surcharge is a fine that must be paid in addition to court fees or other penalties.
You may be required to pay a surcharge if:
- You have 6 points or more on your driving record.
You receive an automatic conviction for a serious offense, such as:
- Driving while intoxicated (DWI).
- Driving without:
- Auto insurance.
- A driver's license.
Surcharges are assessed annually while your driving record holds points above the legal limit. The amount of the charge can vary each year based on your driving record status.
For moving violations, surcharge rates are as follows:
- Up to 6 points: $100.
- Each additional 1 point: $25.
Automatic surcharges for more serious convictions include:
- DWI (1st conviction): $1,000.
- Driving without insurance: $250.
- Operating a vehicle without a license: $100.
Here is a list of common violations that could result in 2 points being added to your driving record:
- Lane changes that are considered unsafe.
- Failure to use turn signals.
- Illegally passing a vehicle on the right.
- Child safety restraint violations.
- Speeding over 10% above the designated limit.
- Traveling under the minimum speed limit.
- Operating a vehicle recklessly.
- Running a red light or stop sign.
- Open alcoholic containers.
- An unsafe following distance.
- Failure to yield the right of way to pedestrians.
- Fleeing the scene of an accident.
Every time you are convicted of a moving violation, the infraction goes on your driving record. If and when your insurance carrier pulls your driving record and they find out that you have received a conviction for a moving violation, the carrier deems you more of a risk and can raise your rates around 10-15%. When you hire an attorney and if you are able to resolve your case without a conviction, the violation does not appear on your driving record and your rates do not increase.
4. Civil Liability
The last piece of advice I can give you about the lowly traffic ticket is that sometimes, a traffic ticket can have much greater impact than the initial municipal or justice of the peace case. If you are involved in an accident and you are ticketed as a result of that accident, you might have to resolve the ticket before the legal consequences of the accident are finalized. A negligence cause of action in Texas has a time limit of 2 years to bring a lawsuit. The ticket will likely go to court much earlier than that. A plea of guilty on the ticket case in municipal or JP court might have more substantial repercussions in civil court if you were to be sued
The primary purpose of this article is to give you some basic information on how a traffic ticket can impact you in many more ways than just the initial cost of the fine. As always, these articles should never be considered a replacement for competent licensed counsel. I always recommend that you hire an attorney if you are going to be going to court. This advice applies whether you are in Municipal Court or Federal Court.