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The difference between a traffic violation and a traffic crime

| Dec 29, 2019 | DUI |

Those driving on public roads in Hawaii are subject to quite a few rules. From a ban on the manual use of mobile devices at the wheel to rules against racing or driving while under the influence, there are hundreds of statutes intended to guide the decisions of people in motor vehicles and keep the public as safe as possible.

Unfortunately, many people, including tourists, may feel comfortable flouting traffic laws. Although traffic laws specifically exist to protect the public from dangerous behaviors, such as speeding — a habit strongly correlated with injuries and deadly collisions — many people still intentionally choose to engage in dangerous driving habits every day in Hawaii.

Some of these drivers will feel shocked to learn that they could wind up charged with a traffic crime, not a mere civil infraction, for driving questionably on Hawaiian roads. Knowing the difference between a traffic crime and a traffic violation can help you make more informed decisions while driving and when dealing with an alleged driving mistake.

Traffic citations result from mistakes that have less risk attached

When some people think of the punishments involved with breaking traffic laws, they almost certainly think of civil infractions and citations, commonly called traffic tickets.

Minor speeding offenses, failing to use a safety belt, running a stop sign, failing to use turn signals, improper vehicle documentation, and improper or illegal parking are all civil infractions. The penalties can include a fine, community service and mandatory driver’s education. Because these infractions are not technically criminal offenses, those who receive a citation don’t have all of the same rights and protections as someone accused of a more serious crime that could send you to jail.

The courts will not provide an attorney if you choose to defend against the citation, and a jury trial may not be an option. Still, people can and do successfully fight civil traffic infractions in court to avoid the costs associated with the ticket and the secondary expenses, such as increased insurance rates.

Traffic crimes indicate poor judgment and put the public at risk

Some driving offenses are criminal acts under Hawaii’s statutes. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, racing on public roadways, driving without insurance, and reckless driving are all examples of traffic offenses that produce criminal charges. Situations that involve a crash that injures or kills someone can also result in criminal charges.

Generally speaking, if police believe a traffic crime just occurred, they will arrest the individual, instead of simply issuing a citation. The charges a driver faces may be misdemeanor or felony charges, and they will carry the potential for jail time, along with fines and the potential suspension of someone’s license.