Traffic Violations in Washington
Laws and regulations govern road use and safety anywhere in the world. However, traffic accidents of all kinds and proportions result when people disregard these laws and regulations. Therefore, road users such as motorists, motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians who violate any of these laws and regulations commit a traffic violation or a traffic offense.
In Washington generally, traffic violations are categorized into criminal and civil. People consider traffic violations to be civil when they are low-level offenses, and the law regards them as infractions.
However, as the severity of violations increases, they become criminal violations. The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) provides for traffic violations considered infractions and criminal. Examples of traffic violations classified as infractions include:
- Operating a vehicle without proper lighting.
- Seat belt violation.
Examples of criminal traffic violations, on the other hand, are: Driving Under the Influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI), reckless driving, hit-and-run, and driving with a suspended license are examples of criminal traffic violations.
Typically, traffic violations attract liabilities in Washington. For instance, traffic infractions attract punishments such as community services, fine payment, demerit points, and driver education programs. In contrast, criminal traffic violations are punishable by imprisonment.
Types of Traffic Violation in Washington
Traffic violations in Washington are classified into civil and criminal cases based on severity. Also, these violations are further grouped into moving and non-moving violations, based on whether the vehicle was stationary or moving when the offense happened.
A driver commits a moving violation when the vehicle is in motion, while a non-moving violation involves a stationary vehicle. The Washington Administrative Code (WAC) gives a comprehensive list of moving traffic violations in the State.
Examples of moving traffic violations include: driving under the influence, vehicular assault, reckless driving, hit and run, driving when driving privilege is suspended or revoked, following too closely, and speeding more than the limit.
In contrast, non-moving violations include paperwork violations relating to a driver’s license, insurance or vehicle registration, equipment violations, and parking violations. Under Washington state laws, a moving violation attracts a long-term consequence than a non-moving violation.
Washington Traffic Violation Code
The 2020 Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Chapter 46 outlines the rules and regulations governing road usage and safety in Washington State. The code itemizes the various civil and criminal traffic violations and the moving and non-moving violations in the State. Likewise, the code spells out the different penalties and other financial liabilities for anyone caught committing traffic offenses in Washington.
Washington Felony Traffic Violations
People often label the most severe crime in the criminal law system a felony. A felony is defined as any crime punishable by more than a year of imprisonment or death. Anytime an individual commits a traffic offense that results in permanent bodily disfigurement, property damage, death of another person, or the driver flees the scene of an accident, law enforcement can charge the driver with a felony. Some examples of felony traffic violations in Washington include:
- Felony Reckless Driving
- Felony Hit and Run
- Felony Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Driving Under the Influence becomes a felony when an individual commits the offense for the fourth time in 10 years.
- Driving when License is Suspended or Revoked (DWLS)
Alternatively, a person can also be guilty of driving when the license is suspended if they are a habitual traffic offender. An individual is labeled a habitual traffic offender if convicted of 3 or more vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, physical control, driving with license suspended, or eluding an officer within the past 5 years.
Generally, felony traffic violations attract steeper fines and grave prison sentences than other traffic violations categories.
Washington Traffic Misdemeanors
Traffic misdemeanors in Washington are considered less serious crimes. Therefore, they are punishable by a jail term of less than one year or a fine. Some examples of misdemeanor traffic violations include:
- Misdemeanor Hit and Run
- Misdemeanor Driving Without a License
- Misdemeanor Evading a Police Officer
- Illegal Use of Handicap Parking Placard
Washington Traffic Infractions
In Washington State, the most common traffic violations are traffic infractions. Traffic infractions are tickets received from the State or local law enforcement agencies for simple traffic offenses. Any individual ticketed for infractions may incur penalties like community services, fines, demerit points on a driver's record, and traffic school. Examples of traffic infractions in Washington State include:
- No liability insurance
- Seat belt violation
- Parking Overtime
- Driving on a bicycle path and roadways
- Texting when Driving
- Illegal U-turn
- Illegal Tinted Windows
- Faulty Vehicle Equipment
Surprisingly, some traffic violations that are typically categorized as infractions could scale up to criminal offenses due to specific aggravating factors. For instance, speeding can eventually become a misdemeanor if the driver exceeds the posted speed limit by an excessive amount.
Washington Traffic Violation Codes and Fines
Traffic violations usually come with a fine penalty in Washington. In most cases, it attracts additional fees. The kind of traffic violation determines the specific fine or penalty payable. Out of the three categories of traffic violations in Washington, those categorized as infractions attract lesser fines and fees than those in the two other categories. The Revised Code of Washington lays out monetary penalties and fines for different traffic infractions and other exemptions. Based on the code,
- No penalty for an infraction may exceed 250 dollars per offense unless otherwise authorized.
- The court may revisit or waive any monetary penalty, cost, fee, or other monetary obligation associated with a traffic infraction unless the State law prohibits specific monetary obligations from being remitted or waived.
On the one hand, the fine penalty for traffic misdemeanors in Washington is a thousand dollars, while the fine penalty for felony traffic violations is between one thousand and ten thousand dollars on the other hand.
How to Pay for a Traffic Violation Ticket in Washington
There are three types of tickets for traffic violations in Washington. They include parking tickets, infraction tickets, and misdemeanor tickets. Individuals use different methods to pay for these tickets across the State.
Parking ticket: Parking tickets are tickets received for traffic violations committed when one's vehicle is stationary. This act implies that individuals get issued parking tickets for a non-moving violation. Examples of parking tickets in Washington include:
- Double parking
- Parking in a handicapped spot
- Parking in front of a fire hydrant
- Parking in a no-parking zone
- Blocking traffic
Every jurisdiction in Washington is authorized to issue and collect parking tickets. Therefore, motorists should pay for parking tickets at the right time and at the appropriate location to avoid additional fees and penalties.
Infraction tickets: The court handles this kind of ticket in Washington. Therefore, individuals pay infraction tickets to the court. The ticket given to the motorist will highlight the court to receive the payment. Likewise, the ticket will contain the deadline to pay.
The court that will receive the payment will have to process an infraction ticket on their website after submission by the citing officer. This processing usually takes the court a few days to be completed. After processing, the ticket will become available on the online payment system of the respective court.
The motorist can then decide to pay at the courthouse, whether in person, mail, or online. Typically, the location, payment instructions, and options like a credit card, cash, and others will be listed on the traffic court's website.
However, if a motorist cannot pay in full, they can request a monthly payment plan. This monthly payment plan will require a 10 dollar one-time fee payment to set up.
Misdemeanor tickets: Misdemeanor traffic violations are serious offenses and could have grave consequences on the motorist. This ticket requires that a driver shows up in court, and the violation may sometimes warrant immediate arrest or not.
If the violation does not require an immediate arrest, the Sheriff may simply ask the motorist to sign the ticket. The signature signifies a promise to appear in court on the date written on the ticket.
However, suppose a motorist refuses to appear in court on the said date. In that case, the motorist risks the consequences of their action. The Revised Code of Washington has more information on misdemeanor traffic violations and penalties.
Traffic Violation Lookup in Washington
One of the ways any motorist can know of any traffic violation or unpaid tickets in Washington is to contact the Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) Customer Service via phone on (360) 902-3900. The DOL customer service operates every Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Also, the motorist may choose to visit the local office of the Department of Licensing in person. Individuals can access the location of the offices at the Drivers Licensing Office Locations web page of the Washington State Department of Licensing.
Furthermore, all superior courts in Washington keep online search tools on their websites to enable individuals to look up traffic violation cases and tickets in the State. Therefore, interested persons can search online for a traffic offense using the various search tools on the courts' websites with a citation number, a docket number, the last name, date of birth, or the driver's license number.
How to Plead not Guilty to a Traffic Violation in Washington
Whenever a Sheriff cites a road user for a traffic offense in Washington, the individual can decide to pay the fine and move on or contest the charge and request a trial if innocent. This process of contesting the charge via a trial is known as pleading "not guilty".
Anytime an individual intends to plead "not guilty" to a traffic infraction, the person may choose to contact the court in advance. Hence, they schedule an arraignment or choose to appear in court on the date listed on the ticket to plead "not guilty”. The arraignment can occur on a scheduled date based on the parties' agreement. However, a trial of this kind requires no jury.
Notably, any individual who chooses to plead "not guilty" to any traffic violation in Washington has 15 days to inform the court of their decision to request a contested hearing. Individuals will have to pay the court for costs incurred in the contested hearing process even if the court's verdict is in their favor. However, suppose the motorist is found guilty. In that case, they will have to pay penalties, court costs, and the initial ticket for the traffic violation.
What Happens if You Plead No Contest to a Traffic Violation in Washington
A ticketed motorist in Washington can decide to plead no contest to a traffic violation. Technically, pleading no contest is like pleading guilty to the said offense. Unlike a guilty plea, although an individual is not contesting the charges of violation, they are also not admitting the guilt of the offense.
The implication is that the individual has agreed not to fight the traffic offense charges. At the same time, the individual will not accept a sentence for the violation. As a result, the court cannot use the conviction for this violation to establish liability on the individual in a civil suit or other civil actions.
The no-contest plea does not guarantee that the individual will not be sanctioned or receive a demerit point. The court can sentence the individual to penalties such as jail time, community service, fines, and probation as the judge deems fit.
How Long Do Traffic Violations Stay on Your Record?
The plea a ticketed motorist enters concerning a traffic violation is essential because whenever a motorist pleads guilty or no contest to a traffic offense, the information goes on the traffic record of such individual. This entry on one's record can have a negative impact on the individual's auto insurance. The insurance company will consider such an individual as high-risk, and hence, the person's monthly premium will increase.
In addition, the Review Code of Washington on Motor Vehicle specifies the penalties, fines, and other related information on traffic violations. For instance, how long a violation stays on record is dependent on the types of violations. Speeding tickets like most traffic infractions will remain on an individual's record for five years. For most misdemeanor traffic violations, the information will stay on one's record for seven and ten years. Alcohol-related violations (DUI) will remain on an individual's driving record for life (or 99 years).
Can Traffic Violations Be Expunged or Sealed in Washington?
It is possible to expunge or seal certain traffic violations from one's record in Washington. An individual will be released from all disabilities and penalties from the expunged conviction once this is done. However, Washington courts cannot expunge driving under the influence (DUI) and physical control of a vehicle under the influence convictions from an individual's traffic record.
Once entered, the information remains for life on an individual's record. On the other hand, the court can expunge hit and run, driving on a suspended license, reckless driving, and negligent driving (first degree).
Meanwhile, expungement or vacation is a function of the discretionary judgment of the judge, and it is not automatic. Therefore, the individual has to file for expungement and follow through with the process. Hence, to qualify for expungement or a record vacation, one must do the following:
- One must have no new criminal conviction in any court.
- One must have no pending criminal charges when filing for the expungement.
- At least 3 years must have elapsed since compliance with all sentence conditions.
- Suppose the conviction to be vacated would count as a "prior offense" in subsequent driving under the influence conviction. In that case, 10 years must have elapsed since the arrest for the prior offense.
What Happens if You Miss a Court Date for a Traffic Violation in Washington?
In Washington, it is a severe offense for any person to miss a courtroom proceeding where they are bid to appear. Anytime this happens, the individual risks being charged for Failure to Appear (FTA). A Failure to Appear charge can lead to a suspension of one's driving license.
Another consequence is that the judge can issue a warrant for the Sheriff’s office to arrest the individual. Law enforcement agencies may then go to the office or residence of the individual to enforce the warrant. The individual will most likely stay in custody until they settle the case and pay the penalty.
Also, the judge may find the individual guilty in the person’s absence. It is, therefore, not in the interest of the ticketed individual to miss court dates. Where a defendant cannot make it, the person will need to make careful efforts quickly to reach out to the court, sort out the papers, and request another hearing date.
Individuals follow this process when they miss a court date for genuine reasons, such as family emergencies, delays due to traffic holdups, or simply when they forget. However, individuals should note that the failure to appear charge will remain on a person's traffic record even if the court dismisses the violation.