Questions on Traffic Laws & Violations has received numerous questions regarding traffic laws and violations, particularly those that could affect auto insurance premiums. You will find the answers to your most common questions below. Please note that these answers are for general informational purposes only. It is recommended that you check the specific laws in your state and locale as traffic laws are revised and updated frequently.

What Qualifies as Careless or Improper Operation?

A large number of activities fall under the umbrella of "careless or improper operation" of a vehicle. For example, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol would fall into this category. Likewise, if you willfully misuse or abuse a car, you may be found guilty of careless or improper operation. Finally, operating an automobile in an intentionally careless or negligent manner, including failing to pay attention or to adjust the vehicle's speed to account for visibility, inclement weather, and road conditions also qualifies. The commission of any of these violations may leave you financially responsible for any damages that result.

What is The Distinction Between Careless and Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving occurs when a driver displays a blatant and intentional disregard for other drivers, property, and the rules of the road. The driving must create a significant and unwarranted risk of harm to people or property to qualify as reckless. Careless driving also poses a risk of harm to others or property, but the driver does so unintentionally. A careless driving or improper operation citation is a non-criminal offense, meaning it is a civil violation.

When Do You Have the Right of Way?

The "right of way" in traffic refers to the right to proceed first. When motorists do not heed right-of-way traffic laws, they may receive a citation for failing to yield. Right-of-way rules are largely based on common sense, such as always yielding to emergency vehicles, but they can also help resolve unclear traffic situations, such as two motorists arriving at a four-way stop simultaneously. If a motorist failed to yield the right of way to a pedestrian, the consequences could be calamitous. For this reason, pedestrians always have the right of way on the road.Here is a list of scenarios in which you have the right of way:

  • In the intersection. automobiles approaching the intersection must give the right of way to cars already in the intersection.
  • First arrival at two or more STOP signs. The motorists who reaches the STOP sign first at a two-way or four-way stop has the right of way. In the event that two or more drivers arrive at the STOP sign at the same time, the car on the left has to yield the right of way to the car on the right.
  • When in a traffic circle. Automobiles entering a rotary, or traffic circle, must give the right of way to traffic already in the circle.
  • When the other automobile is entering from a private road, driveway, or alley. Vehicles entering a roadway through one of these means must yield to autos and pedestrians on the roadway.

Can a Car Thief Be Charged with Petty Theft Instead of Grand Theft?

In most states, the answer is no. Each state distinguishes grand theft from petty theft with different standards. For example, in California, grand theft is the charge associated with the theft of an item valued at more than $400. Petty theft applies to the theft of items worth less than $400 and is classified as a misdemeanor. However, some localities requires a grand theft charge when certain property is stolen regardless of its value. For instance, in California this exception applies to firearms, the theft of more than $100 of agricultural goods, and motor vehicles of any value.

Will My Rates go up After My First Ticket?

Remember that insurance costs incorporate more than a speeding ticket or two. Your age, the type of car you own, the location of your home, your daily commute, your marital status and even your credit rating can play a role in how much your insurance costs each year.

As you think about how a speeding ticket could affect your rates, be sure to consider each of these factors carefully. Some might be particularly relevant to your situation.

  • Your state's laws: Does your locality use a "point" system that basically tracks your automobile/driving safety record? Nearly every state uses some system like this, which means that your ticket is likely to be reflected on your driving record. But some areas also offer programs and incentives that keep the point from appearing on your record. You could take a driver's education or road-safety course and bypass the point altogether. Make sure you ask about this.
  • What were the circumstances of the ticket? So, were you driving 5 mph over the speeding limit on a highway, or were you pulled over for a DUI? There's a big difference, and that difference can affect your rates. The extent and severity of your infraction can result in extra points, make you ineligible for specialized programs, and your insurance company will most definitely find out about it.
  • Is this becoming a habit? Have you had other moving violations recently? Any other issues? Were you in an accident? If your insurance company starts finding out that you're having an interesting tie on the road, they're likely to pay more attention to you. And you'll pay more for insurance.
  • Your overall driving history: Is this really your first ticket, or your first ticket with this insurance company? Remember that a provider is going to look at everything, absolutely everything, to determine your auto insurance premiums. So don't think that something that happened a year or two ago can't come back to haunt you. All of these influences can make low cost car insurance quotes harder to find.

How Long Do You Have to Pull Over When a Police Officer Is Tailing You With His Lights On?

The law instructs motorists to pull their automobiles over as soon as it is "safe and reasonable" to do so. The operator should pull the automobiles over as far right as possible and stop promptly, but not so quickly that the tailing officer would have to slam on his brakes. Typically, state laws do not dictate a specific time limit on how long drivers have to pull over. Whether the time the motorist takes to pull over is reasonable is largely left to the discretion of the officer. However, if the motorists proceeds for a long distance or coasts for several blocks, the officer is likely to think the driver is attempting to flee and may become suspicious. Provided you pull over safely and promptly, though, that should not be a problem.

What Exactly Constitutes Improper Lane Changing?

A citation for an improper lane change can encompass any number of moving violations. Each state defines the improper lane change differently, but the definition is typically somewhat vague. Consequently, law enforcement officers ultimately have the final say on what is or is not a safe lane change.However, some typical violations that constitute improper lane changing include: failure to signal, changing more than one lane at a time, switching lanes separated by solid lines, speeding up to switch lanes, changing lanes in an intersection, changing lanes in a school zone, and cutting another motorist off while changing lanes.

Is It Illegal to Pass on the Right?

Passing laws vary across the country, but most states designate the left lane as the appropriate passing lane in the majority of traffic situations. Signs and laws on roadways instruct slower traffic to keep right so that other autos moving more quickly may safely pass them in the left-hand lane. Although the left lane is the correct passing lane on most roadways, passing on the right is not necessarily illegal in all traffic scenarios.

What Are the Penalties for Leaving the Scene of an Accident?

The consequences of leaving the scene of an accident, or committing a hit and run, will depend on the state in which the accident occurred and the severity. The penalties for leaving the scene of a collision are the harshest when someone is killed or injured in the collision and the operator fails to stop. Most areas consider this type of hit-and-run offense a felony. Conversely, if an operator causes only property damage and flees the scene, he/she may be guilty only of a misdemeanor offense.

What Qualifies as a Reasonable Effort to Identify The Property Owner When You Hit an Unattended Car?

When you strike an unattended vehicle and no one is injured, you have a legal obligation to stop immediately and make a reasonable effort to find the vehicle's owner to exchange information. If you find the owner, you must give the owner your name, address, license number, and insurance information in most states. If you cannot locate the owner, you are required by law to leave a note with specific information in a conspicuous place on the automobile you struck. In the note, you must provide at least your name and address, although you may want to provide your phone number as well. Remember to place the note in a place where the owner of the autombile will find it easily, such as on the windshield.

What Happens If You Get into a Collision and Don't Have Your Driver's License on You?

When you get pulled over and do not have your license on you, you will typically receive a ticket that you can fix if you produce your license within a certain time period. The consequences for having an accident without carrying your license are much the same. In an accident, however, you are more likely to receive a citation for failing to have your license on you. Some law enforcement officers may allow the motorists involved in the incident to produce their license numbers instead. The officer can then look up the driver's information to see if his/her license is valid. Of course, for this option to be possible, you must have your license number memorized, which few do.

What States Consider Cell Phone Use a Minor Moving Violation?

Most localities have placed restrictions on the use of cell phones while driving, with only a few exceptions. Additionally, many towns and cities have approved their own laws regulating the use of mobile phones while operating an automobile. recommendeds that you check the specific laws in your state and locale as new restrictions are being proposed and passed regularly.

When Does Speeding Become Racing?

The main difference between speeding and racing is pretty simple - the number of people involved. Obviously, every motorists can speed on their own, but it takes two or more speeding drivers to race. To a police officer, however, there are certain things he or she must consider. A person on a road by themselves flooring the accelerator is in no way racing. As a police officer, however, they do have discretion in interpreting a situation. Therefore, a person who appears to be in the act of attempting to race someone else could feasibly be seen as illegally racing in the eyes of the law.

What Are The Different Types of Speed Limits?

Speed limits typically fall under three different types: absolute, presumed, and basic. Absolute speed limits are posted on signs. You are in violation of an absolute limit if you are traveling at a rate that exceeds the posted number. Presumed limits take all the aspects of your environment into consideration. You are in violation of the law if an officer deems the rate you are traveling to be unsafe due to certain weather or road conditions. Basic standards exist in order to prevent motorists from driving unsafely. You are in violation of a basic speed limit if you are driving at unsafe speeds slower than the traffic.

Do U-Turns Resulting in an Accident Qualify as Improper Turns?

As with left-hand turns, accidents resulting from U-turns are virtually always the fault of the driver who made the turn. Those making a U-turn are obligated to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic and make the turn only when it is safe and legal to do so. A U-turn can be a particularly difficult turn to make safely because the motorists has to worry about oncoming traffic as well as traffic turning right in his/her direction. If an accident results, the motorists making the U-turn will likely be held responsible even if the turn was legal because of these constraints.

Will Turning Left at a Green Light Always Result in the Party Turning to Be at Fault If a Crash Occurs?

At some point, every motorist hears the heuristic that the person making a left turn is always at fault if an accident occurs. Generally speaking, this principle is true because the vehicle turning left always has a responsibility to yield the right of way to oncoming traffic. Vehicles turning left may only enter the intersection when it is clear and safe to do so. However, not every left-turn-related collision is the fault of the driver turning left. Some exceptions typically include the following: the oncoming car was speeding, the oncoming automobile ran a red light, or an unexpected situation caused the car turning left to slow down or stop.

Is "Texting" While Driving Really an Issue?

As of this year, it has been estimated that 21% of automobile fatalities involving those between the ages of 16 and 19 involve cell phone usage, be it texting or talking. Experts believe that texting while you drive can cause the chances of getting into an accident up to 25 times higher than if you were to operate a car without using your phone. The evidence is there, and the risks are high.

The popularity of texting while driving has risen out of the public's assimilation of cell phones into daily life. Just about everyone has a cell phone, and talking or texting is something that many people do on their commute in order to multitask. However, it is an extremely dangerous combination of actions, and should never be done, no matter the situation. Diverting one's eyes between the road and the screen of a cell phone is surely a recipe for disaster.

What does the Blood Alcohol Limit Mean?

Formerly, the limits on blood alcohol concentration or blood alcohol content (BAC) varied by state. That is no longer the case, as all 50 states as well as Washington, D.C. have enacted laws that make it a crime for a driver to operate an automobile with a BAC of 0.08% or higher. The only factor that now varies is the severity of the punishments for driving under the influence. Some places give first-time offenders little more than a slap on the wrist, while other states impose very harsh sanctions even for new offenders.

When an operator is convicted of driving under the influence based on his/her BAC, a driver's license revocation or suspension usually follows. In fact, licenses are typically confiscated before the conviction in a procedure known as administrative license suspension, which occurs when a motorist fails or refuses to submit to a BAC test. Administrative license suspension laws exist in Washington, D.C. and 41 states.

Ignition interlock devices, which analyze the operator's breath before allowing the vehicle to start, are also a common consequence of exceeding the BAC limit. Currently, 13 states require the devices for all offenders, including first-time offenders; nine require them for operators with very high BACs (typically higher than 0.15%); and six require them for repeat offenders.

If a Relative Takes Your Car without Permission, Can You Be Held Accountable?

In the event a thief steals your car and has an accident, common sense would dictate that you would not be financially or legally responsible for any resulting damages, as you clearly had no control over the circumstances. However, if the same situation occurred with a family member rather than a stranger, the answer becomes less definitive. If a relative takes your car without permission and causes damages or injuries with the car, what is the extent of your liability for the accident? Read on to learn the extent of your responsibility.

Express or Implied Permission

Your liability in this situation primarily depends on whether the motorist had your permission to borrow your vehicle. What constitutes permission to drive a car, however, may surprise you. The definition will vary according to your car insurer and your local laws. For the most part, you do not have to give explicit permission to use your car for the insurer to consider it authorized use. Permission to operate the car may also be implied, based on who the borrower is, the availability of your keys, and the borrower's access to the vehicle in the past.

For example, if the relative who borrowed your car is a member of your household who has driven the car before and has access to the keys, your provider would likely consider it authorized use. In that case, the collision and liability portion of your car insurance policy would apply, and you would be legally and financially responsible for any damages that were your relative's fault.


If your family member does not meet any of the criteria for implied permission to use your car, then the unauthorized use of your automobile may be considered theft. In fact, if you want to minimize your legal liability, it's wise to report the car as stolen. That way, you will not be accountable for the injuries or damages your relative causes. Of course, other parties can always file civil lawsuits against you because your name is on the vehicle's title, but the suit will likely be thrown out because you do not have legal liability for a stolen vehicle.


The attorneys of the parties seeking damages from you may try to make a case proving you were somehow negligent in the unauthorized use of your car, thereby making you financially and legally responsible. For instance, you may not have given your relative permission to drive the car, but you may have left your keys in the ignition. Historically, though, attorneys have had a difficult time proving negligence on the car owner's behalf in cases of theft.

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