What you need to know about traffic laws
Tamara E. Holmes
If you don’t know the traffic laws in your state, it can cost you. A failure to obey traffic laws not only can jeopardize public safety and lead to a fine, but it ultimately can cause your car insurance rates to climb.
“All drivers need to know the laws in their states and … the states through which they drive because it’s an invitation to get a ticket if you don’t know the law,” says Matthew Weiss, a traffic attorney in New York and author of the Confessions of a Traffic Lawyer Blog.
Traffic laws also can vary from city to city within a state. For example, turning right at a red light after coming to a full stop is illegal in New York City unless a sign says otherwise, although it is legal to turn right on red in other parts of the state of New York.
If you break a traffic law because you’re visiting from another state and aren’t familiar with local laws, that’s not an excuse that typically stands up in court, Weiss says.
It’s also important to note that laws change. If you got your license 10 years ago and studied the laws to get your driver’s license, chances some traffic laws are on the books today that didn’t exist then. For example, the popularity of texting in recent years has prompted 39 states and the District of Columbia to pass bans on texting while driving, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Keeping up with traffic laws
While it’s important to keep up with traffic laws, you may have to show some initiative to do so. “It’s the driver’s responsibility to keep up with traffic law changes,” says David House, a spokesman for Oregon’s Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division.
In Oregon, the DMV provides updated driver manuals in its field offices and on its website. You also might find out about new traffic laws by reading news online, as articles often are written about significant changes to traffic laws. Finally, your state’s DMV may post news releases on its website to inform the public about new traffic laws.
The ultimate cost of breaking traffic laws varies depending on the law and where you broke it. Traffic laws related to moving vehicles typically carry higher penalties than traffic laws related to parked vehicles. For example, you’ll likely pay a higher fine for speeding than you would pay for parking in a no-parking zone.
You’re also more likely to have points added to your driving record for moving violations. For example, you can receive six points for reckless driving in Michigan, four points for drag racing and three points for going 11 to 15 miles per hour over the speed limit.
The more points you accumulate, the greater likelihood your insurance costs will go up. In some states, your license may be suspended after racking up a certain number of points in a certain period of time. For example, in the state of New Jersey, the accumulation of 12 points within two years will lead to a license suspension.
The best way to avoid points on your driving record and paying penalties and higher insurance premiums is by getting to know traffic laws where you’re driving – and making sure you follow them.