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What Are Traffic Violations And Infractions In California?

Traffic violations and infractions in California are legal offenses that are traffic-related. Under the California court system, traffic violations and infractions are carried out at the trial court, the Superior Court.

Traffic violations are criminal offenses in the eyes of the law, and those found guilty of a traffic violation could receive a citation and conviction for misdemeanor or felony. Traffic infractions, according to California traffic law, are generally less serious and do not require any jail time. Both types of offenses require fines and fees, and both can involve a trial.

What Are Felony Traffic Violations In California?

Felony traffic violations are the most severe traffic-related offenses that an individual can be charged with. Often, a traffic violation will become a felony if it involves injury to a person or destruction of property, or threatens injury or destruction of property. A typical traffic felony violation is when a person is charged with a DUI, that is, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

California operates a three-strikes sentencing law that mandates a 25-year to a life prison sentence for persons that are convicted of three serious felonies. California, unlike many states, does not class its felonies in any particular order, but base the punishments for every violation on the specific crime that occurred.

The penalty for being convicted of a traffic felony in California can vary. Punishment can include time spent in prison or jail, fines of up to $10,000, or only probation. If the penalty is incarceration in prison, a judge will decide if the party will receive one of three terms:

  • A low term
  • A middle term
  • A high term

California felony statutes do not outline specific terms, but a judge will use California Penal Code § 1170 to decide on felony sentencing. The options under this code (unless the defendant has had previous felony charges) are:

  • 16 months
  • Two years
  • Three years

Examples Of Felony Traffic Violations In California?

The following are examples of felony traffic violations in California:

  • Vehicular homicide
  • Repeat offenses, such as driving without a license more than once
  • Particular hit and run traffic offenses
  • Repeated misdemeanor traffic crimes
  • DUI-related charges, including repeat, multiple, and even first-time offenses

It is the duty of a judge or jury to decide the degree of the felony and the penalty for it.

What Are Traffic Misdemeanors In California?

Traffic misdemeanors in California are less severe than felony traffic violations but are still penalized. However, these offenses are decidedly not as serious as a traffic infraction. Where there are no drugs or alcohol involved, traffic misdemeanors are charged to an offender in the form of a ticket. The offender with the ticket may not be taken into custody, where a court appearance date is indicated on the ticket.

As with felonies, there are no misdemeanor classes, but the penalties for these offenses are penalized are left to the judge’s decisions. Possible penalties include up to $5,000 in fines, up to one year of incarceration, or the removal of a person’s driver’s license.

Examples Of Traffic Misdemeanors In California?

The following are examples of misdemeanor traffic violations in California (note that some may also be chargeable as a felony depending on severity):

  • Certain speeding tickets over 100 mph
  • Hit and run (or hit and run that causes bodily injury, property damage, or death)
  • Fleeing from an officer, and causing an injury while fleeing
  • Driving without a valid license
  • Not presenting a license when requested by a police officer
  • Driving with a license that has been suspended or revoked
  • Causing bodily injury to another with a vehicle after a license has been suspended or revoked
  • Driving the wrong way on a divided highway
  • Reckless driving
  • Racing with another vehicle on a public highway
  • Throwing any substance at another vehicle
  • For persons under 21; possession of alcohol in a vehicle
  • On a third violation; possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle
  • Driving under the influence (DUI)

What Constitutes a Traffic Infraction in California?

A California traffic infraction is the least severe type of traffic violation, and these offenses do not typically require jail time. The consequences for a traffic infraction in the state include payment of fines and incurring additional points on the state DMV point system.

While one infraction ticket may not warrant any jail time in California, it will add 1 point to a record and come with fines specific to the traffic violation. If the points add up, however, it could warrant extra fines or even jail time.

California Vehicle Code Section 42001 dictates the penalties for a driving infraction, though the actual sentencing is up to a judge’s decision. According to the code, basic penalties include:

  • First offense is punishable by a fine of up to $100
  • A second offense within one year of a prior conviction is punishable by a fine of up to $200
  • Third offense within one year is punishable by a fine of up to $250


A traffic infraction is essentially the breaking of any basic California traffic rules, including but not limited to:

  • Speeding
  • Running a red light
  • Littering on a highway
  • Use of cell phone while driving
  • Failure to wear a seatbelt
  • Unsafe lane change or turning
  • Failure to use a blinker
  • Expired license
  • Failure to maintain speed limits on bridges or otherwise indicated roads
  • Failure to obey traffic signals or signs
  • Illegal parking
  • Driving at a speed slower than the minimum speed limit

How Does A Traffic Ticket Work In California?

A traffic ticket in California is a notice from a law enforcement official stating that someone has broken a traffic law. There are three types of traffic tickets in California: parking tickets, infraction tickets, and misdemeanor tickets. All tickets will have a court date, or “Notice to Appear,” and other information. Where applicable, the offender may pay the fine for a ticket if the charge was not serious. Offenders who default on the fee and fails to appear in court may have their license revoked or suspended. Such defaulters may be arrested or fined even more too.

After receiving a traffic ticket, recipients have a few options. An offender may plead guilty and pay the entire fine; this is referred to as “bail.” Bail is an available option where a violation did not result in an arrest. Residents can even pay a fine electronically, over the phone, or by mail, depending on the county. Once the payment is made, the case is closed.

Some tickets include what is referred to as “Correctable Violations,” such as expired registration, equipment violations, driver’s license violations, or insurance violations. In this case, it is important to provide proof that those violations were corrected. Without this proof, the offender will have to make a court appearance and pay extra fines.

In California, there are photo citations, such as when someone runs a red light and had their photo taken. From the photo, officials can identify the offender’s information based on your license plate number and mail a citation. An indictment on photo citation will show up on the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records.

When ticketed in California, offenders may have the option of taking a traffic school course. This option is a way to avoid the accumulation of points on one’s driving record. Traffic school is a surefire way to get a traffic ticket dismissed for eligible offenses.

Another option after receiving a traffic citation is for the recipient to simply appear in court to plead guilty and pay the fines. Alternatively, the recipient may plead not guilty in court and ask for a trial by a judge or by mail, also called a “trial by written declaration.”

Are Driving Records Public In California?

California driving and traffic records are available for the public to access. Under the Federal Public Access Law, all states’ driving records are considered public records unless sealed by a judge or court order. The court clerk is typically in charge of holding and maintaining these records, and they can be accessed through contacting the courthouse where any cases were filed. Physical copies require a fee, but members of the public can browse the files free of charge.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How To Find Driving Records In California?

Generally, any member of the public can access driving records in California with relevant information. This information includes the full name of the party named on the required record and a valid identification of the requesting party. These records can be requested from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) both online or in-person. To request copies of these records online requires a registered account. The fee for each online request is $2, payable by debit or credit card, plus a 2.1% service charge. Once the fees are paid, and the request is processed, the requestor can print out the records.

Accessing California driving records in-person requires a visitation to the local DMV office within the county where the files are held. A person can complete a request with valid identification and appropriate fee after providing the required information. Fees for these records are payable by check, money order, or cash. Requestors who do not want physical copies are welcome to browse through the records and view them for free.

Can Traffic Violations And Infractions Be Expunged Or Sealed In California?

The expungement of records is a process where a party petitions a judge to get a conviction dismissed or erased. In California, a traffic misdemeanor can be expunged from a driving record, but a felony, in most cases, cannot. It should also be noted that after a misdemeanor is expunged from a driving record, the charges and arrest records (if any) will still be visible on your criminal record.

A common question in California is whether someone can get a DUI charge expunged from their record, and the answer is no. Unfortunately, there is no way to remove or seal a driving record that holds a DUI conviction. According to California Penal Code 1203.4, expungement can remove a charge off of a criminal record without affecting a DMV record as that requires a separate petition.

California allows many cases to be expunged from a driving record after a certain amount of time has passed. For example, a DUI stays on someone’s record for ten years, adding 2 points to the offender’s driving record. There is also a high chance to seal the traffic felony violations conviction of persons under 21. Most misdemeanor traffic violations can be sealed in California.

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