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The primary purpose of traffic-violation laws is to deter unsafe driving and to reform bad drivers. Studies have shown that traffic offenders generally keep amassing traffic violations, and that most people obey the laws, even when there is no perceived safety reason for doing so. Obeying the laws increases when drivers believe they will be caught and decreases when they think they can get away with an infraction.
The majority of traffic tickets are issued for "strict-liability" offenses. This means that no particular criminal intent is required to convict a person of the offense. The only proof needed is that the person did the prohibited act. Strict-liability traffic offenses typically include such offenses as:
A moving violation occurs whenever a traffic law is violated by a vehicle in motion. Some examples of moving violations are speeding, running a stop sign or red light, and driving while intoxicated. A non-moving violation is usually related to parking or faulty equipment. Examples include parking in a no-parking zone, parking in front of a fire hydrant, and parking in front of an expired meter.
Many jurisdictions provide for administrative processing of most traffic tickets as minor offenses or "infractions", thereby removing them from criminal court altogether. In those cases, an offender is not subject to incarceration or large fines and is not entitled to a lawyer or a jury trial. Even though most traffic tickets are handled expeditiously, a "conviction" for a traffic violation can have a negative effect on a person's driving privileges and insurance rates.
Certain traffic violations are considered more serious than infractions, and can rise to the level of a misdemeanor crime (or felony), especially if the offense involves injury to a person or destruction of property (such as leaving the scene of an accident). People accused of these more-serious traffic violations are entitled to all constitutional protections provided to criminal defendants, including the right to a court-appointed attorney and a jury trial.