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Comprehensive Guide To Traffic Ticket Defense

Navigating the busy roads of Virginia can be a frustrating experience. Between traffic, poor road conditions, and other distractions, many drivers unintentionally violate Virginia’s traffic laws. If you have received a traffic ticket or were charged with a criminal traffic violation, it is critical that you know your rights. At Driving Defense Law, we advocate for the rights of Virginia drivers. A major part of this work is providing informative resources to help you navigate your traffic ticket and understand your traffic ticket defense options. 

As the law firm of choice for Virginia drivers, we pride ourselves on our integrity and our diligence. We work tirelessly to defend the rights of individuals accused of traffic violations and dedicate our practice to minimizing the long-term consequences of traffic tickets and criminal traffic violations. If you have been issued a traffic ticket or have been charged with a criminal offense, we are here to help. To learn more about how we can serve you, consider contacting our Norfolk office at (757) 929-0335 today. 

What Are Virginia’s Traffic Laws?

Traffic offenses are some of the most common violations in the state of Virginia. Every year, hundreds of thousands of driving citations are issued by law enforcement. These citations range from speeding tickets to reckless driving charges to parking citations, for instance. Chapter 8 of the Code of Virginia establishes how the regulation of traffic is handled in the state. As such, all of Virginia’s traffic laws can be found there. 

What Is the Difference Between an Infraction and a Criminal Violation? 

Traffic laws are broken up into two categories: infractions and criminal violations. An infraction is a lesser offense and is not the same as criminal charges. Typically, the penalty for an infraction is no more than a fine and demerit points on your license. The majority of traffic tickets are categorized as infractions, including most speeding violations and running a red light, for example. 

A criminal violation, on the other hand, is a more severe offense. Criminal violations may be classified as misdemeanor or felony charges under the law, and the penalties for such offenses may include jail time. More serious violations are reserved for this category of traffic laws, including reckless driving and driving under the influence. It should be noted that if you are charged with a criminal violation, you have the same rights and privileges as a criminal defendant. 

What Are Some Examples of Common Traffic Tickets?

Every day, we receive questions from current and prospective clients regarding the most common traffic infractions in Virginia and the defenses available for each offense. If you receive a traffic ticket for one of these common offenses, consider speaking with an experienced traffic ticket defense attorney for legal guidance. 


Like most states, speeding takes the top position among the most common traffic tickets in Virginia. Every day, drivers are issued traffic tickets for traveling at speeds above the posted limit. The Code of Virginia § 46.2-870 sets forth speeding laws generally, stating that the maximum speed limit is 55 miles per hour on interstate highways and other limited access highways unless otherwise posted. This limit decreases to 45 miles per hour for trucks, tractor trailers, and vehicles designed to transport property.

In some parts of the state, the speed limit increases to 70 miles per hour as indicated by posted signage. Moreover, it is important to be aware of the posted speed limit in residential and commercial areas, as vehicles are typically expected to drive much slower in such areas. Any driver caught driving at speeds above the posted limit may be issued a traffic ticket, punishable by fines of: 

  • $6 per every mile per hour over the speed limit.
  • $7 per every mile per hour over the speed limit at a school crossing or a construction zone.
  • $8 per every mile per hour over the speed limit in a residential district.

The penalties for speeding in Virginia do not stop at fines. Drivers found guilty of speeding will also be issued demerit points on their license. Speeding between 1 to 9 miles per hour over the speed limit will result in 3 demerit points, while speeding between 10 to 19 miles per hour over the limit will land you 4 demerit points on your driving record. These penalties are in addition to the long-term consequences of speeding, which we will discuss later on in this guide. For more detailed information, consider reviewing our comprehensive speeding ticket defense guide.

Following Too Closely

Virginia law prohibits drivers from following another vehicle, trailer, or semi-truck more closely than is reasonable and prudent. Drivers found guilty of following too closely may be faced with fines of up to $250 and demerit points on their license. 

Texting While Driving

Under Section 46.2-818.2 of the Virginia Code, it is unlawful for a person to hold a mobile phone or other handheld electronic device while driving. There are, however, certain exceptions to this law. The operators of emergency vehicles are permitted to use a device for work purposes. Likewise, individuals are allowed to use their mobile phones to report an emergency. 

What Are Some Examples of Common Criminal Traffic Violations? 

Criminal violations are much more serious than traffic infractions, carrying with them more severe penalties and long-term consequences. We handle criminal charges for our clients often, representing drivers in traffic court and protecting their rights at every step of the process. Ultimately, our goal is to reduce your criminal charge or have the charges dismissed altogether. Before we discuss how we leverage traffic ticket defense strategies to advocate for our client, let us briefly review some of the most common criminal traffic violations in Virginia. 

Reckless Driving

Broadly, reckless driving refers to behavior that unnecessarily jeopardizes the safety and/or property of other people. Nearly all states have laws on the books that govern reckless driving charges and penalties, including Virginia. There are over a dozen ways a person can be charged with reckless driving. Some of the most common charges for reckless driving include: 

  • Driving 20 miles per hour or more over the posted speed limit OR driving over 85 miles per hour, regardless of the posted speed limit.
  • Driving too fast for traffic or road conditions
  • Failure to yield right-of-way
  • Road racing
  • Passing two vehicles abreast, passing a stopped school bus, and passing at a railroad crossing
  • Failing to give a proper signal
  • Driving a vehicle that is not in control or has faulty brakes.

At Driving Defense Law, we have extensive experience handling reckless driving charges for our clients. We regularly advocate for those charged with reckless driving, working diligently to negotiate their criminal violation down to a traffic infraction. In many cases, we can have the ticket dismissed entirely. 

Hit and Run 

Section 46.2-894 of the Code of Virginia establishes a driver’s duty to stop in the event of an accident. A person can be charged with a hit and run if they fail to stop to report the accident to police or exchange their information with the other driver(s). A hit and run can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony offense depending on the level of property damage and whether anyone was injured or killed as a result of the accident. 

Driving Under the Influence

Virginia law treats all driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while intoxicated (DWI) offenses as criminal acts. Under Virginia law, if a person is caught driving a motor vehicle with drugs or alcohol in their system, they may be charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense depending on whether this is their first, second, or third conviction. Unacceptable blood concentration levels are set forth in Virginia Code § 18.2-266

  • 0.8 percent alcohol
  • 0.2mg of cocaine
  • 0.1 milligrams of methamphetamine
  • 0.01 milligrams of phencyclidine (PCP)
  • 0.1 milligrams of 3,4 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy or MDMA)

Being convicted of a DUI or DWI is a serious matter, and it is important to seek legal assistance as soon as possible to help minimize the consequences of these charges. 

What Is the Virginia Traffic Court Process?

If you have been issued a traffic ticket in Virginia, your case will almost always start in the General District Court. The exception to this is juvenile cases, which go to the Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court. Since the majority of traffic cases are heard at the District Court, there is no jury. Instead, your case will be heard by a judge, who must see that the Commonwealth has proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the state has the burden of proving that you violated the traffic laws and should be convicted of the offense. If they are unable to do so, your ticket may be dismissed. 

The court process is relatively simple. You will arrive and check in with the clerk’s office, if necessary. Then, you will wait for your case to be called. In some local courts, priority will be given to your case if you are represented by an attorney. In other situations, your case will be called randomly. Once you enter the courtroom, you can expect to see many other people, as the court will hear many cases in one day. Your hearing will involve you, your attorney, the judge, and the officer. Prosecutors are not involved in traffic ticket cases, as there is no possibility of jail time. If you have been charged with a criminal traffic violation like reckless driving or a hit and run, a prosecutor may be present. 

First, the judge will typically ask whether you plead guilty or not guilty to the offense. If you answer not guilty, the police officer will then give their testimony regarding the facts of the violation. After their testimony, your attorney can cross-examine the police officer. The floor will then switch to you, where your attorney can present your traffic ticket defense. For more detail, check out our Comprehensive Approach to Speeding Ticket Defense, a full guide to speeding tickets and the many strategies we can use to reduce or dismiss them in court. 

Why Should You NOT Prepay Your Traffic Ticket?

For traffic infractions, you have the option of prepaying your ticket and avoiding a court hearing. Simply paying your speeding ticket, for example, can have serious legal implications, and this course of action is not recommended. When you simply prepay your ticket, you are admitting that you are guilty and giving up your right to defend your rights and have your ticket dismissed. 

In many cases, the courts will dismiss a speeding ticket if your attorney can negotiate a deal in which you attend driver’s safety school or complete community service. In other situations, your attorney may be able to show that your guilt cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. When you prepay your ticket, you are forgoing this opportunity and accepting legal consequences which can stay on your record for years. 

Are You Required to Appear in Court for a Criminal Traffic Violation?

Yes, you are legally required to appear in court for a criminal traffic violation. If you have been charged with reckless driving, for example, you do not have the option to prepay your ticket and avoid a court hearing. In fact, failing to appear in court can result in further criminal charges or even a warrant for your arrest. 

Can You Represent Yourself in Court and Negotiate Your Penalties Without the Help of an Attorney?

While you can represent yourself in court and try to negotiate your penalties without the help of an attorney, it is important to understand that you are still held to the same standards of evidence that an attorney is held to. In other words, if you attempt to ask a question that an attorney would not be allowed to ask, the court will not admit that information as valid evidence. This becomes an even larger issue in criminal cases, where your freedom depends on your ability to prove your innocence.

The role of a traffic ticket defense attorney is to advocate for your rights and negotiate your charges in court. Your attorney has a close understanding of Virginia traffic laws, and has worked with the local Virginia courts before, meaning they have pre-established relationships with the judges overseeing your case. They understand the potential legal defenses available to you, as well as the lesser offenses that can be sought in your case. For these reasons, seeking assistance from an experienced attorney is the most effective course of action for having your charges reduced or dismissed. 

Do Traffic Tickets From Other States Impact Your Virginia Driving Record?

One of the most common traffic ticket myths that we hear from current and prospective clients is that you can ignore traffic tickets from other states. While it is obvious that receiving a traffic ticket in your home state will impact your driving record, many people believe that demerit points from other states have no effect on your license. This is not the case, however. Virginia and 44 other states belong to the Driver License Compact, which establishes a system of sharing information across state borders. 

This means that when you receive a ticket in another state, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will undoubtedly hear about it. For this reason, it is unwise to ignore a traffic ticket that you receive in your home state or elsewhere, as doing so can further exacerbate the legal consequences of the violation. 

What Are the Consequences of Receiving a Traffic Ticket in Virginia? 

Regardless of how minor your offense, if you received a traffic ticket you are facing consequences that can greatly impact your life. The legal penalties for traffic tickets in Virginia include:

  • Fines of up to $250
  • Demerit points on your license

These penalties do not account for the hidden costs of traffic tickets in Virginia, however. One of the most serious implications of receiving a traffic ticket is increased insurance rates. In a Forbes advisor analysis, it was confirmed that the national car insurance rate increase for drivers who receive a speeding ticket is 24%, but this increase can reach up to 45% in some situations. With the statewide average for car insurance costs averaging roughly $1,000, this increase can cost hundreds of dollars per year. Moreover, demerit points remain on your driving record for five years, meaning the cumulative effect of this increase in rates is substantial. 

Furthermore, receiving too many traffic tickets over a period of time can result in losing your driving privileges. The Virginia DMV will continually assess your driving record, and accruing too many points on your license can lead to license suspension or revocation. If you are facing license suspension or revocation, it is essential to seek help from an experienced traffic ticket defense attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you do not lose your license as a result of your traffic infraction. 

If you hold a Commercial Driver’s License or work as a rideshare driver, the stakes are even higher. Receiving a traffic ticket can result in a disqualification of your CDL and negatively impact employment prospects moving forward. Likewise, rideshare platforms like Uber and Lyft perform driving record checks annually, which can put a rideshare driver’s employment at risk if they receive a traffic ticket. 

What Are the Consequences of Being Charged with a Criminal Traffic Violation?

Compared to a mere traffic ticket, the penalties are more severe if you are charged with a criminal traffic violation. Being charged with a misdemeanor or felony in Virginia can have long-lasting consequences that remain with you for life. If you are charged with reckless driving, a hit and run, or a DUI, for instance, you may face maximum penalties of: 

  • One year in jail 
  • $2,500 in fines
  • Probation
  • License suspension or revocation
  • Six demerit points on your license

In addition to these penalties, a criminal conviction will also lead to the creation of a criminal record that will stay with you for life. Having a criminal record can impact several areas of your life, including your ability to secure employment, take out a loan or mortgage, rent an apartment, or gain admission to college or licensed professions. Criminal records are made public in Virginia, meaning any person can request to view your record at any time. 

It is also important to understand that repeat convictions can have even harsher penalties. A third DUI offense, for instance, the charges are elevated to the felony level, punishable by jail time, revocation of driving privileges, and even forfeiture of your vehicle, in some cases. Finally, note that the consequences of a criminal traffic offense are more severe if a person was injured or killed as a result of your actions, or if you were caught driving without a valid driver’s license. In both cases, the driver can be found guilty of a class 6 felony offense. 

How to Know if You Should Fight Your Ticket?

In nearly all situations, it is worth your time to schedule a consultation and speak with an experienced attorney. Even if your legal team is not able to have your ticket or charges dismissed, they will likely be able to leverage mitigating factors to have your charges reduced. In other cases, there may be a legitimate defense available to protect your rights. 

Fighting your ticket is an important decision. Understanding the weight of this choice, we offer free case evaluations to all potential clients. Here, we will help you understand whether it is in your interest to fight your ticket and, if so, how we can help in the process. By drawing upon mitigating factors or crafting an effective traffic ticket defense, we are confident in our ability to have your ticket or charges reduced or dismissed. 

Why Is It Important to Craft an Effective Traffic Ticket Defense to Challenge Your Charges?

After receiving a traffic ticket or being charged with a traffic violation, there are several options available to you. As mentioned, simply paying the ticket and accepting the consequences of a guilty plea is typically not a wise choice. Likewise, pleading guilty to a criminal traffic violation is almost never advisable. Both situations will negatively impact your life and your freedom for years to come. For many Virginia drivers, making the choice to fight a traffic ticket or challenge criminal charges is the most effective way to avoid the long-term consequences of a traffic-related conviction. 

Fighting a traffic ticket or criminal charges is much more complex than appearing in court and putting forth an argument to the judge, however, fighting a traffic ticket requires a deep understanding of Virginia traffic laws and regulations, extensive knowledge of prior legal precedents, and access to resources and evidence. It requires careful preparation and strategic thinking. This is precisely why so many Virginia drivers seek assistance from experienced attorneys for guidance through the process. 

How to Find the Right Attorney to Fight Your Traffic Ticket or Criminal Charges

Finding an attorney is not the difficult part of this process – finding the right attorney, however, is a much more complicated endeavor. An attorney will be able to represent you in court, while the right attorney will advocate for your rights at every step of the way. Moreover, an attorney will be able to apply one-size-fits-all defense strategies to challenge your ticket, while the right attorney will develop a personalized plan that accounts for the unique facts of your case and your specific needs. Every law firm is different, offering a distinct approach and experience to their clients. 

At Driving Defense Law, we utilize a client-centered approach and prioritize the needs, goals, and expectations of every individual who chooses to work with us. We believe that the most effective legal defense is one that is tailored to our client’s situation. Above all, we pride ourselves on offering the highest quality legal representation and advocacy to every single person. Through our approach, we have accumulated an unparalleled record of success in having tickets and charges reduced and dismissed. 

Finding the right attorney is difficult, but there are some factors that you can take into account when discussing your case with potential traffic lawyers. During your initial consultation with an attorney, it can be helpful to consider following questions to help understand whether their services are right for you or not: 

  • Does the attorney have experience representing similar cases to mine?
  • Has the attorney successfully reduced or dismissed charges similar to mine? 
  • How does the attorney communicate? How often can I expect to hear from them regarding my case? 
  • What is the proposed timeline for my case?
  • Does the attorney offer potential solutions to resolve my case as quickly and efficiently as possible?
  • Is the attorney well-connected in the local Virginia courts? Do they have established relationships with judges and the prosecution?
  • What legal defense strategies have they used in the past to reduce or dismiss charges? 
  • Do I feel comfortable and at ease when speaking with the attorney? Can I trust them to be honest and transparent during the process?

When speaking with an attorney, consider their values and the way they communicate with you. It is important that you feel comfortable sharing all the details of your case with this person and that you trust them to truly advocate for your rights. Ensure that you feel heard and understood by the attorney as this sensitivity to your needs is crucial to the outcome of your case. An attorney who understands your case and your expectations will be better able to craft an effective traffic ticket defense that accounts for your long-term needs and goals. 

What Are Some Effective Traffic Ticket Defense Strategies? 

While the most effective traffic ticket defense strategy is tailored based on the facts of your case, there are some common tactics that have been proven effective for reducing or dismissing charges. The following are some successful defense strategies that we have used in the past to have tickets and criminal charges reduced and dismissed for our clients. 

Asserting a Radar or Lidar Gun Defense

Police officers commonly use radar and lidar guns to detect drivers who are speeding. Under Virginia law, it is required that these devices are recalibrated every six months and the officer involved is obligated to provide certification confirming when the last calibration occurred. If the device has not been properly calibrated or if the officer is unable to produce the necessary paperwork, your ticket or charges may be challenged. 

Moreover, police officers are required to go through a certification or approval process before using radar or lidar guns in the field. If an officer was incorrectly trained, or was not trained at all, this can be a valid defense against your ticket or charges. Asserting this defense requires access to police records, which your attorney will be able to navigate with ease. 

Challenging the Officer’s Pacing Technique

Pacing is a common technique used among law enforcement to determine the speed of a driver. The idea is simple: an officer will begin to follow you and mirror your speed for a distance. If their speed exceeds the posted limit, they can infer that you were speeding and therefore issue a ticket. While this tactic is widely employed, it is not always accurate. Traffic or curvature of the road can produce an incorrect determination. A knowledgeable attorney will be able to prove that the officer’s pacing technique was faulty and therefore have your charges reduced or dismissed in court. 

Proving that the Speedometer Was Improperly Calibrated

It is not uncommon for a vehicle’s speedometer to be incorrectly calibrated, therefore displaying an incorrect speed as you are driving. This is particularly true with older cars or after inflating, deflating, or changing the tires on your vehicle. A mechanic can perform diagnostics on your vehicle to ascertain whether your speedometer is improperly calibrated.  

This defense is particularly valuable in reckless driving cases, where the difference between a criminal misdemeanor charge and a minor infraction is no more than a few miles per hour. If your attorney can effectively prove that your vehicle’s speedometer was not properly calibrated, they can assert that you were unaware of your speed and that you are not fully culpable for a violation of the law.

Failing to Ascertain Driver Identity

To be convicted of a traffic violation, the prosecution must first prove that you were without a doubt the driver of the vehicle. This may seem obvious, but there is a highly effective and viable traffic ticket defense strategy here. If it cannot be proven that you were the driver of the vehicle, it cannot be proven that you committed a crime. This is especially true in accidents involving multiple vehicles. With so many drivers and passengers involved, it can be almost impossible to ascertain who was driving and who is responsible for the traffic violation. 

Claiming that the Violation was a Mistake of Fact

With the right evidence, your attorney can claim that you made a “mistake of fact” that caused you to violate the traffic laws of Virginia. What exactly does “mistake of fact” mean? Let us consider some examples. Assume you have been issued a ticket for driving in two lanes on a rural road, but the lane markers were so worn down in the area that you were unable to distinguish where each individual lane ends and begins. Here, you have made a mistake of fact because you were unaware that you were occupying two lanes. 

Alternatively, perhaps you received a traffic ticket for running a stop sign, but heavy winds blew over the stop sign a day prior. Again, a mistake of fact was present because you incorrectly believed there was no stop sign on that road. There are a range of situations where this defense can be helpful, but winning this argument requires objective evidence and careful attention to detail.  

Arguing That the Traffic Violation Was Necessary to Avoid Harm

If you violated the traffic laws to avoid or prevent immediate harm to yourself or others, this may be a viable defense to have your charges reduced or dismissed. Momentarily speeding on the highway to avoid an impending collision is one such example of this. Likewise, swerving into another lane without a signal to prevent your vehicle from hitting a fallen pedestrian is another justifiable reason for violating a traffic law. In essence, if there was a medical emergency or immediate danger that required you to break a law, you may be able to argue this in court to have your ticket or charges reduced or dismissed. 

Leveraging Improper/Careless Driving Laws

This is a strategy we use often at Driving Defense Law. Virginia laws provide for careless/improper driving, which is a lesser offense available in reckless driving cases. According to the Virginia Code § 46.2-869, in cases where the degree of culpability is slight, a person may be found not guilty of reckless driving but instead guilty of improper driving. This means that as long as your attorney can provide sufficient evidence demonstrating that the violation was minimal, your charges can be reduced to a minor infraction. 

To be clear, when this defense is successful, you will be found not guilty of the criminal misdemeanor charges for reckless driving. Instead, you will be guilty of the infraction of improper driving. Improper driving is punishable by fines of up to $500, with no chance of jail time or license suspension/revocation. Even more importantly, you will not have a lifelong criminal record. 

Disputing Witness Testimony

The prosecution may rely on subjective witness testimony to argue their case. Many times, witnesses will offer different accounts of the same incident, making it difficult to prove that a person was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A skilled and experienced trial attorney will understand how to identify the inconsistencies and flaws in witness testimonies that can have the ticket or charges reduced or dismissed. 

Which Traffic Ticket Defense Strategies Do NOT Work in Court? 

Understanding what does not work is nearly as important as understanding what does. The courts will not give weight to generalized statements or claims. Simply saying that the police officer’s radar or lidar gun was inaccurate, for instance, will not hold water in court. Likewise, merely explaining the reason why you violated the law will prove ineffective in reducing or dismissing your charges. 

The courts will look for statements backed up by objective evidence. If you cannot support your contentions with facts and sufficient proof, the courts will not accept your claims as legitimate. This is why the role of an attorney is so essential in traffic violation cases. Your attorney will be able to collect necessary evidence such as dash cam footage, surveillance footage, photographs, testimonies, and police certification records to support your case. Ultimately, having a knowledgeable legal professional by your side increases the chances of success in your case immensely.

Contact an Experienced Traffic Ticket Defense Attorney at Driving Defense Law Today

While traffic tickets are a common occurrence, many people are unaware that they can challenge the ticket and avoid the long-term consequences that come with accruing points on their driving record. The stakes are even higher if you have been charged with a criminal traffic violation in Virginia, as a criminal conviction will stay with you for life. If you have received a traffic ticket or been charged with a criminal traffic violation, do not waive your right to challenge your charges. 

At Driving Defense Law, our team of experienced attorneys have the skill and expertise necessary to help you navigate Virginia traffic court. With the help of our legal representation and advocacy, drivers across the state have had their charges reduced or dismissed altogether. Traffic convictions are serious in Virginia, but we can help mitigate the consequences. To discuss your case with a traffic ticket defense attorney at Driving Defense Law, consider booking your free consultation or calling/texting us at (757) 929-0335 today.