What is the Difference Between Civil and Criminal Traffic Violations?

Knowing the difference between a criminal and non-criminal traffic violation can help you decide when you might consider seeking legal help. 

Criminal traffic offenses are considered misdemeanors or, possibly, felony offenses. The following are considered criminal misdemeanor traffic violations: reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident, failure to yield to an emergency vehicle, DWLS (driving while your license is suspended), open intoxicants, OWI, OWI High BAC, OWI 2nd offense. The following are considered criminal felony traffic violations:  fleeing and eluding the police, unlawfully driving away a vehicle (UDAA), OWI 3rd Offense, OWI causing serious bodily injury or death.  

Non-criminal offenses are referred to as “civil infractions” including speeding, failing to stop or yield, improper turning, careless driving. There may be several reasons why you’d want to avoid a civil infraction, because of higher insurance premiums or other fines, for example. 

Criminal traffic violations go on both your driving and criminal records, and most cannot be expunged. Criminal traffic misdemeanors also vary in punishment. If you’re charged with a misdemeanor, you’ll likely pay a fine, lose your driver’s license, be put on probation, or in some cases, go to jail. You might be charged with a criminal traffic violation and be unaware because you weren’t arrested or taken to jail. Instead, the police officer may have just written you a citation, similar to a speeding ticket.

A felony traffic violation is an offense that’s punishable by a minimum of one year in prison. Most felony traffic offenses are punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison, with a fine of $500 to $5,000, or both. Typically, an individual is charged with a felony traffic violation after a third or subsequent DUI/OWI, or when a serious bodily injury or death results.  

Criminal traffic violations also have varying degrees of penalty points on your master driving record: 

    -DUI/OWI – 6 points 

    -Reckless Driving – 6 points 

    -Leaving the scene of an accident – 6 points 

    -Failure to Yield for Emergency Responder, 4 points 

    -Driving While License Suspended – 2 points       

Daniel T. Geherin, attorney and owner of the Geherin Law Group in Ann Arbor, is a criminal defense attorney and driver’s license specialist.  Dan, a former prosecutor and board-certified criminal trial attorney, is also the founder of MiLicenseLawyer.com and author of the Michigan Drunk Driving and Driver’s License Restoration Handbook. Dan has dedicated his career to defending criminal and traffic allegations, and he’s recognized as a criminal and license appeals expert in Ann Arbor and throughout Michigan. 

If you’re facing a criminal traffic offense in Michigan, please contact Dan and his team today. By discussing your particular charges and situation with Dan, you can find out more about your options to avoid a conviction or other serious penalties. The Geherin Law Group has the resources, experience and desire to fight zealously if you’re facing consequences as a result of a recent or prior criminal traffic violation. For more information, contact us online, or call 24/7 (734) 263-2780.  

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