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Florida Traffic Violations
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Traffic Violations in Florida

Anyone who breaks a traffic law in Florida commits a traffic violation or offense. The result is that the individual will either receive a Uniform Traffic Citation or be charged with a crime. Typically, records of these offenses are included in Florida traffic records.

When a traffic violation leads to a citation or ticket, it is usually because the offense is a non-moving or moving infraction. For example, running a red light, texting and driving, improper parking, expired plates, and careless driving. Such offenses are considered minor in the state. As a result, cited parties will incur penalties that do not involve a jail or prison sentence, such as fines, community service, driving record points, driver improvement courses, and license restrictions.

On the other hand, if the violation had an aggravating element like death or bodily injury, the road user can be accused of a misdemeanor or felony. The penalties for criminal traffic violations are much harsher than minor offenses, ranging from hefty fines to extended prison sentences plus the appearance of the offense on one's criminal record.

However, the repercussions of traffic violations are not limited to what an individual can sustain from the courts or the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). These offenses often impact a person's life, even going as far as to hurt their job, educational opportunities, and finances. Also, an individual may have to pay more for insurance or acquire additional coverage. For example, one legal requirement for persons convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI) in Florida is that they must obtain Bodily Injury Liability (BIL) insurance and increased Property Damage Liability (PDL) coverage.

On the whole, Florida sees millions of traffic violations annually. The Uniform Traffic Citation Statistics, a publication by the FLHSMV, showed 2,055,566 of such violations perpetrated in the state in 2020.

Types of Traffic Violations in Florida

In Florida, traffic violations fall into three categories:

  • Non-moving
  • Moving, and
  • Criminal (see explanation above)

Moving violations are non-criminal traffic offenses that occur when a motor vehicle is in motion or operated. Examples include improper lane changes, failure to yield right-of-way to pedestrians, driving without lights, failure to dim lights, child restraint violations, toll violations, and following too close to a school bus.

Meanwhile, non-moving violations, often called non-moving infractions, refer to offenses that involve a stationary or parked vehicle, defective vehicle equipment (mechanical violations), or bicycle/pedestrian violations. Illegal parking, seatbelt violations, no proof of insurance, and broken tail lights are examples of these offenses.

Like moving violations, non-moving violations are also civil offenses. The implication is that an individual will not spend time in jail or prison for such violations. However, offenders will still incur fines and other penalties from the state courts (i.e., the circuit or county courts) or the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Florida Traffic Violation Code

The set of statutes that outline Florida's traffic violations and penalties are codified in Title XXIII: Motor Vehicles of the Florida Statutes.

Florida Felony Traffic Violations

Felony traffic violations are the most severe kinds of traffic violations in Florida. These offenses typically involve a fatality, serious injury, or habitual traffic offender and result in a prison sentence that exceeds a year. Besides the potential prison sentence, felony offenders may face hefty fines, immediate license revocation, vehicle impoundment, probation, ignition interlock, house arrest, and other penalties.

Examples of traffic felonies in Florida include:

  • Vehicular manslaughter
  • Leaving a child unsupervised in a vehicle (if it caused great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement to a child)
  • Hit and run (with death, serious bodily injury, or injury)
  • Driving under the influence (w/serious bodily injury or 3rd offense within 10 years)
  • Reckless driving (w/serious bodily injury)
  • Fleeing from a law enforcement officer
  • Speeding 50 mph or more over the posted limit
  • Driving with a suspended license (3rd offense)
  • Multiple traffic violations

Florida Traffic Misdemeanors

Traffic misdemeanors are criminal offenses committed by road users. Like felony traffic offenses, such misdemeanors carry heavy penalties, such as incarceration, high fines, and license suspensions. However, any jail sentence imposed by the courts for a misdemeanor violation is never over a year. Many criminal traffic offenses handled within Florida's criminal justice system are often misdemeanors. For example:

  • Hit and run (w/property damage)
  • Reckless driving (w/property damage)
  • Drag racing
  • Driving under the influence (1st and 2nd offense)
  • Expired or no valid driver's license or registration
  • Speeding 30 mph or more above the posted limit
  • Refusal to submit to testing
  • Intentionally driving with a suspended license
  • Intentionally refusing or failing to comply with the lawful order or direction of any of the following people:
    • A law enforcement officer
    • A traffic crash investigation officer
    • A traffic infraction enforcement officer
    • A member of the fire department at the scene of a rescue operation, fire, or other emergency

Florida Traffic Infractions

Traffic infractions refer to non-criminal moving or non-moving violations perpetrated by pedestrians, cyclists, or motorists on Florida's roads or highways. One peculiarity about these violations, when compared to others, is that an offender will usually not suffer a jail or prison sentence because of them. However, other penalties like fines, community service, traffic school, probation, and license suspensions may be applied. Examples of these offenses include:

  • Failure to obey traffic control devices
  • Red light violations
  • Speeding
  • Following too closely or tailgating
  • Improper parking, passing, turning, backing, and lane changes
  • Texting and driving
  • Child restraint and seat belt violations
  • Unsafe or defective vehicle equipment
  • Careless driving

More people are cited for infractions than any other traffic offense in Florida. From the Uniform Traffic Citation reports published by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the number of citations issued for traffic infractions reaches hundreds of thousands, even millions, each year. In 2020 alone, the police departments reportedly issued 1,331,135 citations for moving infractions and 454,817 for non-moving infractions. Speeding was the most commonly cited traffic offense.

Florida Traffic Violation Codes and Fines

People who break traffic laws in Florida can expect to be ticketed by the police or subject to a mandatory court appearance where criminal charges may be filed. Either way, offenders will have to pay money to the government for their violations. In some cases, however, an individual may be let off with a warning or ordered to resolve the violation by showing proof that an issue (e.g., defective equipment, lack of proper paperwork) has been fixed and paying a dismissal fee.

Fines for Florida Traffic Infractions

Florida's statutes and city ordinances specify the civil fines or penalties assessed for traffic infractions. The amount payable typically depends on the circumstances of an offense and the offender's traffic violation/criminal history.

For instance, when a traffic offense is an infraction, the fine will be less than that imposed for criminal traffic violations. Per Section 318.18 of the Florida Statutes, the fine amount, excluding court costs and other additional fees, can be as low as $15 for pedestrian and bicycle-related infractions, $30 for non-moving traffic infractions, and $60 for moving violations without mandatory appearance. However, if a person is slated to appear for a traffic infraction, the civil penalty imposed may be as high as $1,000.

Fines for Florida Traffic Misdemeanors

If an individual’s traffic offense is a misdemeanor, there are two possible fine outcomes, which depend on the misdemeanor class the person commits. Misdemeanors are subdivided into two classes in Florida: first-degree and second-degree misdemeanors. Below are the civil penalties associated with each class:

  • First-degree misdemeanors: A fine of up to $1,000.
  • Second-degree misdemeanors: A fine of up to $500.

Fines for Florida Felony Traffic Violations

Felony traffic violations constitute the most severely punished traffic offenses in Florida. As a result, the fines due on offenders are significant, easily amounting to thousands of dollars despite the class of the felony. For example, when a traffic offense is classified as a third-degree felony, an offender can anticipate a fine of up to $5,000, such as in the case of a third DUI within 10 years or third-offense felony speeding (speeding 50 mph or more over the posted limit).

Note that traffic violations fines vary by county and that what the law provides (as indicated above) is only a standard that the courts use to evaluate fine penalties. A county's specific traffic fine amounts can usually be researched on the court clerk's website.

How to Pay a Traffic Violation Ticket in Florida

Anyone who receives a Uniform Traffic Citation in Florida has the option of paying it to resolve their violation and avoid additional fees. Generally, offenders have 30 days to pay their citations to the court, and payment can be made in person, by mail, by phone, online, or through other avenues provided by the clerk of the court listed on the citation.

Detailed information on payment procedures and options can be obtained from the clerk's website (typically the "traffic ticket" or "pay a ticket" page) or by calling the clerk's office. The Florida court clerks' addresses, websites, and contact numbers are available on the judiciary's locations web page or the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' locations website.

All in all, it is best to pay for any Florida traffic ticket promptly. Ignoring it only leads to the imposition of delinquent fees and license suspensions. People who cannot afford their fines are advised to contact the court before the 30-day deadline runs out. In many cases, the court will approve a payment plan or extension for the offender. Some clerks (e.g., Orange County) also provide an online portal where ticketed people can request payment extensions.

Furthermore, certain offenders who opt to pay the fine will also be required to show proof of compliance to the court clerk (usually a driver's license or registration certificate). Such offenders include:

  • People cited for expired licenses or tags less than 6 months.
  • People cited for failing to provide valid licenses or registration.

Traffic Violation Lookup in Florida

Drivers cited in Florida for traffic offenses can look up their tickets and violations online. When the query concerns a ticket, relevant information (e.g., the ticket amount, traffic school certificate) can be found using the applicable court clerk's traffic payment system. However, the case search system featured on the clerk's website can be searched if the query is related to a traffic court proceeding. Usually, interested parties require a citation number, case number, last name, or driver's license number to search the databases.

How to Plead not Guilty to a Traffic Violation in Florida

Upon receiving a citation for a traffic violation in Florida, individuals generally have four options:

  1. Pay the fine
  2. Take a driver's improvement course
  3. Contest the citation, or
  4. Plead nolo contendere ("no contest").

This section will treat the third option.

All cited road users in Florida have the right to contest their citation (plead not guilty) and request a hearing if they believe it was issued in error. For any citation that does not require a court appearance, the request must be made within 30 days of receiving a citation, or the offender risks late fees and driver's license suspension.

An individual can visit the courthouse to enter their plea and request a hearing or complete the procedure by mail or online (if offered) to the court. Most court clerks provide "Not guilty plea" forms on their websites for remote requests (see examples from the Orange County, Pinellas County, and Bay County court clerks). However, if the violation involved an accident that led to injury, the offender may be unable to enter a plea without coming to the court.

Once the court schedules a hearing date, the offender is expected to attend in person before a hearing official or judge. However, video conferencing may be available. If unable to appear, the party may file an Affidavit of Defense or Admission and Waiver of Appearance form with the clerk to stand in their place (see a sample from the Palm Beach court clerk) or request to reschedule the hearing date.

Offenders often have the option of canceling the requested hearing, but a fee is assessed for cancellation. Also, such requests must be made within specific deadlines, typically at least 24 hours before the hearing or 7 days prior for mail requests.

In pleading not guilty to a traffic offense in Florida, an individual forfeits the right to pay the initial civil penalty and may be subject to a fine not exceeding $500 plus additional costs if found guilty. However, for speeding offenses in school zones, construction zones, and those involving speeds of 50 mph over the posted limit, the fine may come up to $1,000 plus court costs. Furthermore, although the judge may impose a defensive driving course on the offender, the party will be ineligible to attend it to offset demerit points obtained upon a finding of guilt.

It should be noted that plea procedures often vary by court. As such, before entering a plea, it is necessary to obtain the appropriate procedures from the court clerk, the clerk's website, or a lawyer.

What Happens if You Plead No Contest to a Traffic Violation in Florida

As stated above, one of the four options available to a cited road user in Florida is pleading no contest (nolo contendere) to a traffic violation.

Traditionally, a plea of no contest can be entered by anyone. It is similar to a guilty plea, except that the defendant does not dispute the criminal charges or admit guilt. As a result, the party's liability in subsequent civil proceedings is eliminated.

However, Florida limits who can plead no contest to a traffic violation and the number of times the courts will accept such a plea. Accordingly, if the violation does not require a mandatory appearance, does not involve a crash, has not been assigned to a collection agency, and was not committed by the holder of a commercial driver's license, an individual is eligible to plead no contest. This is conditional on that the requester did not plead no contest in the last 12 months and the aggregate number of times that the party has used the plea is not more than 3 times in one lifetime (Fla. Stat. § 318.14(10)(a)). Examples of eligible traffic violations include:

  • Expired license (6 months or less)
  • Unintentionally driving with a suspected driver's license
  • Expired tags (6 months or less)
  • No proof of insurance
  • No valid registration
  • No valid driver's license

In Florida, a plea of no contest (also called a conditional plea of no contest) means that:

  • The court will withhold adjudication of guilt.
  • The court will not schedule a hearing for the violation.
  • The offender will not suffer any points on their driving record.
  • The offender must comply with the court's decision. For example, paying a fine or attending driving school.

Generally, eligible parties have 30 days from their violation date to file a conditional plea of no contest. Parties can find the plea procedures and forms on the applicable clerk's website.

How Long Do Traffic Violations Stay on Your Record?

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, demerit points resulting from traffic violations stay on a person's record for at least 5 years from the disposition (conviction) date. The department also uses the following retention periods for traffic convictions:

  • 75 years for alcohol-related violations.
  • 3-to-5 years for most moving and non-moving violations, with the more serious one being retained for greater periods: 10 years, 15 years, etc.
  • 10 years, 55 years, etc., for serious commercial driver license (CDL) violations. However, the periods may vary.

On the contrary, if a traffic violation appears on a person's criminal record, it remains there permanently unless sealed or expunged by the court.

Can Traffic Violations Be Expunged/Sealed in Florida?

The simple answer is yes. Traffic violations can be sealed or expunged in Florida under Fla. Stat. §§ 943.0585 and 943.059, and Chapter 11C-7 of the Florida Administrative Code (FAC). However, the violation itself must be classed as a felony or misdemeanor (e.g., DUI, reckless driving), and the subject of the record must not have been adjudicated guilty for the offense.

Furthermore, Florida's record relief laws for criminal offenders are quite rigid. Hence, someone who sealed or expunged a record before, despite the jurisdiction/state where it happened, is disqualified from obtaining a court-ordered expungement or sealing in Florida.

When seeking an expungement or sealing in Florida, it is best to consult an experienced attorney to know one's options. More information on sealing and expungement procedures can be found on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's website.

What Happens if You Miss a Court Date for a Traffic Violation in Florida?

When someone misses a court date for a traffic violation in Florida, the worst-case scenario is that the judge will approve a bench warrant for the individual's arrest or charge the party with a crime, but these are not the only consequences.

If a hearing was scheduled, the judge might hold it in the party's absence, and the individual will be subject to any decision reached during that hearing. Also, the court may assess fees for the offense and report it to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which leads to the suspension of one’s driver's license.