In Florida there are two types of traffic cases: civil traffic infractions and criminal traffic charges.
Unless you have a commercial driver’s license, a civil traffic infraction might increase your insurance premiums, cost you a fine, and show up on your driving record, but shouldn’t do much else.
A criminal traffic charge, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. A criminal traffic conviction means a permanent criminal record that will show up on background checks and have long-lasting repercussions.
Everyone thinks of Driving Under the Influence when it comes to criminal traffic cases, but there are numerous other types of criminal traffic offenses including:
- Reckless Driving
- Driving While License Suspended or Revoked
- Refusal to Submit to Breath Test
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident
- No Valid Driver’s License
- Expired Driver’s License
- Racing on a Highway
- Attaching Tag not Assigned
- No Motorcycle Endorsement
- Habitual Traffic Offender
Below are some notes on these offenses:
Not to be confused with careless driving. Careless is merely a civil infraction. Reckless driving occurs when the driver exhibits a willful and wanton indifference to human safety or property.
Refusal to submit to a breath test
If you are pulled over under the suspicion that you are driving while impaired, law enforcement will almost certainly order you to take a breathalyzer test. The first time you refuse to submit, your driver’s license will be suspended for a year, but there are no criminal penalties. If you later get pulled over another time and ordered to submit to a breathalyzer, refusal becomes a misdemeanor offense.
Leaving the scene of an accident
Called a hit-and-run in layman’s terms, leaving the scene is a criminal offense in Florida. Typically, leaving the scene of an accident is a misdemeanor, but if someone was injured or killed, the crime is elevated as high as a first-degree felony.
Racing on a highway
The title is deceptively narrow for the breadth of activity covered by this statute. Florida Statutes § 316.191 lists four different types of actions:
- Actually driving in a race. This includes even just acceleration contests from a green light where neither car exceeded the speed limit.
- Coordinating, collecting bets, or participating at all in a race like that listed in #1.
- Just riding as a passenger in the car that is racing if you knew there was going to be a race.
- Lastly, intentionally getting regular traffic to slow or stop for a race.
The prohibition on racing applies to all roads whether a highway, roadway, or even a parking lot.
Habitual Traffic Offender
The Florida legislature created a special designation for anyone who repeatedly breaks the law. A person is designated a “habitual traffic offender” in two scenarios: 1) when they commit certain criminal traffic offenses three times over the last five years or 2) when they commit a cumulative fifteen traffic infractions or criminal offenses over the last five years. Designation as a habitual traffic offender is a serious issue and results in a five-year suspension of your driver’s license.
Criminal traffic offenses often carry relatively small but immediate penalties. They also carry long-lasting repercussions of a criminal record that could affect your job or housing prospects.