Traffic Violations in Pennsylvania
Traffic laws are established in each state to ensure the safety of road users and the free flow of traffic. Failure of motorists, cyclists, or pedestrians to follow established traffic laws may result in accidents, road blockages, or injuries may arise. The State of Pennsylvania considers such failure an offense or violation, irrespective of whether it leads to any of the aforementioned consequences or not. Records of these offenses are typically included in the violators Pennsylvania traffic records.
There are different categories of traffic violations, some civil and others criminal. A civil traffic violation is the least serious offense in the state. These types of traffic violations typically do not involve any fatalities or injuries and are often penalized by tickets or fines. In some cases, civil traffic violations result in other types of civil penalties, including points assessed against the offender’s license, community service, or driving school. Minor or civil traffic violations do not result in imprisonment.
On the other hand, major or serious traffic violations are criminal and often result in heavier fines than civil criminal offenses since they involve fatalities such as injuries, death, or the risk of injury or death to another person. Additionally, criminal traffic offenses may lead to imprisonment, license suspension, and the installation of ignition interlock devices amongst other penalties.
When a road user violates traffic laws, law enforcement officers may arrest such a person or issue a traffic ticket at the scene of the offense. If the traffic offender is not present at the scene, such as when the offender parks illegally, or if the offense is recorded by a traffic camera, the traffic offender may receive the traffic ticket by mail. A traffic ticket or citation notifies the offender of the offense with which they are accused, the applicable fine, or another course of action.
In many cases, traffic offenders may need to visit traffic or municipal court, typically specified on the ticket, to resolve or contest a traffic violation.
Types of Traffic Violations in Pennsylvania
Traffic violations in Pennsylvania are broadly categorized into criminal and civil violations. However, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense, such as the state of the vehicle at the time of the offense or the age of the passenger, traffic violations can also be categorized into moving and non-moving violations.
Moving traffic violations take place when a vehicle is in motion or when the offender is in a moving vehicle. These types of traffic violations are considered serious as they pose a greater risk of injuries or other types of fatalities. Moving traffic violations typically appear on the offender’s driving record. Examples of moving traffic violations in Pennsylvania include:
- Illegal u-turns
- Failure to comply with crossing gate
- Failure to yield at an intersection
- Reckless driving
- Failure to signal a lane change
- Failure to obey person directing traffic
Some non-moving traffic violations occur when a vehicle is not moving or when the offender is in a stationary vehicle. However, some non-moving traffic violations occur when a vehicle is in motion. Non-traffic traffic violations are generally less serious than moving traffic violations and are often penalized with tickets or fines. Examples of non-moving traffic violations in Pennsylvania include:
- Outdated vehicle inspection
- Driving with an expired license
- Parking in a spot designated for persons with disabilities without authorization
- Parking in a closed area
- Parking in a place that obstructs a road, entrance, exit, accessway, or drinking fountain.
- Overtime parking
Pennsylvania Traffic Violation Code
The Pennsylvania Vehicle Code provides guidelines for road users in the state. These laws cover vehicle operation, registration and licensing, enforcement of traffic laws, penalties that apply to violations of traffic laws in the state. The code also includes miscellaneous provisions such as highway maintenance, alternative fuels, and motor carrier road tax.
Pennsylvania Felony Traffic Violations
In Pennsylvania, traffic violations are the most serious offenses. They involve bodily injury or harm to third parties and sometimes involve the death of a third party. Accordingly, felony traffic violations carry the harshest penalties, including heavy fines, license suspension for extended periods, and imprisonment for ten (10) to 20 years. Felony traffic violations include:
- Homicide by vehicle
- Aggravated assault by vehicle
- Homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence
- Crossing state lines while fleeing a police officer
- Aggravated assault by vehicle while driving under the influence
- Leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury
- Fourth and subsequent DUI offenses
Pennsylvania Traffic Misdemeanors
Traffic misdemeanors are criminal traffic violations in Pennsylvania. Offenses in this category are more serious than summary offenses or traffic infractions but less serious than felony misdemeanors. This is evident in the types of penalties that apply; traffic misdemeanors are punishable by higher fines than infractions, license suspensions, and imprisonment for up to five (5) years. The following are examples of traffic misdemeanors in Pennsylvania:
- Fleeing or attempting to flee a police officer
- Leaving the scene of an accident involving personal injury or death
- Leaving the scene of an accident involving damage to vehicle or property
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance
- Refusing a breath or chemical testing
- Driving while privilege is revoked or suspended
- DUI with a minor as an occupant
Pennsylvania Traffic Infractions
In Pennsylvania, a traffic infraction is known as a summary offense. It is the most minor or least serious type of traffic violation and is usually penalized by fines, community service, and other non-criminal penalties. There is typically no jail term or imprisonment for summary offenses or traffic infractions in Pennsylvania. However, if there are aggravating factors or if the perpetrator is a repeat offender, a summary offense may result in more severe consequences.
Examples of summary traffic offenses in Pennsylvania include:
- Operating a vehicle following a license suspension
- Driving without a valid driver’s license
- Unauthorized use of car registration
- Other license violations, including
- Exhibiting a suspended or revoked driver’s license
- Failure to surrender a recalled, canceled or revoked license
- Possession or exhibition of an altered license
- Presentation of another person’s license as one’s own
- Texting while driving a commercial vehicle
- Failure to obey traffic control devices
- Driving on the wrong side of the road
- Reckless driving
- Drag racing
- Giving false information in reports
Pennsylvania Traffic Violation Codes and Fines
Traffic violations are classified as summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felonies in Pennsylvania. According to 75 Pa.C.S.A. 6502(a), summary traffic violations are penalized with fines of $25 except where the law states otherwise. However, some repeated or subsequent offenses carry higher fines. For example, persons convicted of second or subsequent violations of the following offenses are subject to fines of between $200 and $1,000:
- Operating a vehicle while driving privilege is revoked or suspended
- Racing on highways
- Driving without lights to avoid arrest or identification
- Driving without a license
In the same vein, a sixth or subsequent conviction of driving on Pennsylvania highways while a person’s driving privilege is canceled, revoked, or suspended results in fines of at least $1,000. An important thing to note is that according to the state’s criminal laws (18 Pa.C.S.A. 1101), summary offenses can result in fines up to $300.
Misdemeanor and felony traffic offenses are more serious and result in higher fines than summary traffic offenses. According to 18 Pa.C.S.A. 1101, each category of offenses has different sub-categories, depending on the severity of the offense.
- Third-degree misdemeanors result in fines up to $2,500
- Second-degree misdemeanors result in fines up to $5,000
- First-degree misdemeanors result in fines up to $10,000
Felony traffic offenses are the most serious types of traffic violations. State laws specify fines for felony offenses as follows:
- Third-degree felonies result in fines up to $15,000
- Second-degree felonies result in fines up to $25,000
- First-degree felonies result in fines up to $50,000
How to Pay a Traffic Violation Ticket in Pennsylvania
Payment processes for traffic violation tickets vary from one county or municipality to another. Ticket recipients must contact the local court listed on their ticket or consult the ticket itself to determine available options for payment.
Generally, Pennsylvania drivers or road users who receive traffic tickets may pay online or in-person at the local traffic court. Interested parties may pay online using the PAePay. The website allows the public to pay fines and other costs to the commonwealth’s courts. Users may pay with Mastercard, Visa, or other specified credit or debit cards. The site assesses a non-refundable $2.75 fee for every transaction made. To make payment successfully, users will need the citation number or docket number for the court case. Local parking authorities, cities, and municipalities also offer online payment methods.
As provided by 75 Pa.C.S.A. 6504(a), the court allows installment plans for parties who cannot afford to pay fines and court costs at once. To pay a traffic violation ticket in person, ticket recipients may pay at the Clerk of Court’s office in the court where the ticket was issued. Parties may also mail payments to the court and mark the payment with the appropriate name and ticket number.
Ticket recipients must note that paying a traffic violation is considered an admission of guilt, which may result in penalties such as license suspension, fines, and points on the offender’s driving record.
Traffic Violation Lookup in Pennsylvania
Parties interested in finding out whether or not they have a traffic violation on their record may visit the traffic court in the county where law enforcement agents issued a violation citation or ticket. Alternatively, requesting parties may visit the county court website and conduct a ticket search where such services are available. An example of such a service is Philadelphia city’s Traffic Division Hearing List. Interested parties may search traffic violation cases using:
- Case party name
- Driver’s license number
- Hearing date
- Citation number
Interested parties may also lookup traffic violation cases using the Unified Judicial System (UJS) case search. The portal provides information about traffic cases in the state for free.
How to Plead not Guilty to a Traffic Violation in Pennsylvania
When a traffic offender receives a ticket, the person must enter a plea within ten (10) days of receiving the ticket. According to local court rules, defendants may enter a not guilty plea in person at the traffic division of the local court. Alternatively, defendants may enter their pleas online.
After entering a plea, the court clerk schedules a preliminary hearing, which the defendant must attend. The defendant may hire an attorney to represent them at the court hearing. The court may require the defendant to pay a bond or fine before the hearing. If the court finds the defendant not guilty, the fine will be refunded to the defendant. The defendant may be required to pay additional fines and fees if the court finds the defendant guilty.
What Happens if You Plead No Contest a Traffic Violation in Pennsylvania
A nolo contendre, otherwise known as ‘no contest’ plea, means that the defendant admits the facts of the charges levied against them but does not outrightly admit guilt. When a defendant enters a no contest plea, the person accepts the court’s conviction or sentence, waives their right to a trial, and the right to put up a defense.
No contest pleas allow defendants to avoid civil liability since there is no outright admission of guilt. Also, a no contest plea cannot be used against the defendant in subsequent criminal or civil litigations.
Before the judge accepts a no contest plea in Pennsylvania, the judge explains the defendant’s rights to a trial and a defense. When the judge ascertains that the defendant understands their rights and voluntarily enters the no contest plea, the judge accepts the plea and sentences the defendant based on the police report and the charges the prosecutor brings.
How Long Do Traffic Violations Stay on Your Record?
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) maintains driving records for all licensed drivers in the state. When a driver violates state traffic laws, PennDOT adds points to the offender’s driving record.
The department removes three (3) points from an offender’s record for every 12th consecutive month that passes without any traffic violation that results in license suspension or points assessment. Once the offender’s total number of active points reduces to and remains at zero for 12 months in a row, PennDOT treats every new offense as a new point accumulated.
While it reduces the number of active points or points that count towards license suspension on the offender’s driving record, PennDOT’s point reduction does not remove or delete a person’s driving record or the number of points assessed. Generally, traffic violations stay on an offender’s record until such offenses are expunged. Offenders are typically only eligible for expungement after five (5) to ten (10) years.
Additionally, record expungement is only available in limited circumstances. Therefore, in some cases, traffic violations stay on an offender’s record for life.
Can Traffic Violations Be Expunged/Sealed in Pennsylvania?
Yes, traffic violations can be expunged in Pennsylvania. In general, Pennsylvania laws (18 Pa.C.S.A. 9122(b)(3)) allow the expungement of criminal history records under the following conditions:
- The subject of the record is at least 70 years old and has been free of arrest or prosecution for the last ten (10) years
- The subject of the record has been dead for three (3) years
- The subject of the record petitions the court to expunge a summary offense
- The requesting party has not been prosecuted or convicted of another offense at least five (5) years after the offense that the person seeks to expunge.
Typically summary offenses in Pennsylvania are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $300. Many traffic violations are summary offenses, including illegal parking, speeding, and running a red light. However, a DUI is not a summary offense in the state. Persons who meet the legal criteria may petition the court for expungement by filing a petition with the court clerk in the judicial district where the case was filed.
It is important to note that although it is possible to expunge summary traffic violations, driving records can only be expunged in limited circumstances. Where the offender is a minor at the time of the offense, state laws allow for the expungement of the offender’s driving records after the offender turns 21 and successfully serves the sentence. Additionally, offenders who participate in Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) programs are eligible for expungement. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT) expunges the driving records of such persons after ten (10) years without requiring an expungement order from the court.
What Happens if You Miss a Court Date for a Traffic Violation in Pennsylvania?
Persons who fail to appear at a scheduled court date for a traffic violation in Pennsylvania may have a bench warrant issued for their arrest. Such persons may be held in custody for up to 72 hours until another hearing is scheduled (Rule 1910.13.1). However, before the court issues a bench warrant, the court must establish that:
- The defendant received notice to appear in court
- Or the defendant received an order to appear in court
Once the defendant appears in court, the court may vacate the bench warrant. Another penalty for missing a court date for a traffic ticket may be a default judgment; the court may hold a hearing and deliver a guilty verdict in the defendant’s absence. If the defendant has a legitimate reason for missing a court date, the consequences may not apply. Acceptable, legitimate reasons include medical emergencies or accidents.