U.S. Public Traffic Records
In the United States, traffic records are official documents that contain information about the driving history of U.S. citizens and residents. They typically feature information regarding a motorist's road use, driving violations, license status, convictions, traffic points (where applicable), and other related information. Traffic records are typically maintained by each state's department of motor vehicles and the state courts. Under the authority of the United States Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic Administration also maintains records of traffic-related information, including citations, adjudication, and road surveillance databases. Depending on the jurisdiction, traffic records may also be known as motor vehicle records or driving records. They are primarily generated and maintained to monitor and penalize erring road users.
Are Traffic Records Public in the U.S.?
Under the U.S. public records law, traffic records are public and accessible to interested persons. However, state laws vary with respect to exemptions, privacy laws, the disclosure process, and the eligibility requirements for viewing restricted records.
Each violation or ticket a motorist receives is added to their license and may remain on their public driving record for at least three years from the conviction. Records of these violations are usually available to insurance companies and legal representatives (if a court case is underway).
In U.S. states, traffic violations are public information, but the personal information of the motorist is restricted. Hence, to obtain driving records in these states, requestors must obtain consent from the record owner.
Summarily, every jurisdiction varies on its rules for disclosing traffic records. Some states only allow the general public limited access to traffic or accident reports. Other states do not give any special allowance for public records even though they are available at vehicle licensing facilities. Some examples of traffic-related documents that may be allowed for inspection by citizens include accident reports, photographs/videos from automated enforcement, and driver transaction logs.
What do U.S. Traffic Records Contain?
U.S. traffic records are a compilation of traffic-related information. They typically feature:
- Driving license photos/images
- Driving license owner information such as name and address
- Traffic ticket payment history and outstanding tickets
- Traffic violations (e.g., speeding, red-light camera)
- Traffic violation photos/images
- Number of points of each violation
- The motorist's traffic accident history
- Commercial trucking safety inspections, e.g., CSA scores for drivers and carriers; compliance histories for carriers, etc
- Driving/traffic violation related court records, e.g., accident reports and traffic details which lead to a court case
Does a Citation Go on Your Record in the U.S.?
Not necessarily. In the United States, a traffic citation will not be featured on a motorist's record unless there is a conviction.
A conviction can be obtained if an individual pleads guilty, is found guilty by a judge or jury, or receives court supervision. In court supervision, the court orders the motorist to comply with specific conditions like serving community service hours or receiving education against drinking before the case is dismissed. If convicted of a moving violation, points are put on the offenders driving record, and an entry is made with the Department of Motor Vehicle. The points and penalties issued to offending motorists vary depending on the severity of the offense and the designation of the local DMV.
Types of Traffic Citations in the U.S.
There are many different types of traffic citations in the United States, each with its own variations. Traffic citations can be issued for speeding, not wearing a seat belt, failure to stop when appropriate, making an illegal U-turn, and any number of other offenses that could result in fines and points on the motorist's license.
The following is a list of the most common types of traffic citations. However, some of these designations vary with the state:
Speeding Ticket: This citation is issued when the motorist drives faster than the speed limit or drives too fast for road conditions. Speeding ticket fines vary by state. The points will also depend on the jurisdiction where the offense occurred but typically go higher depending on how far over the speed limit the motorist was traveling.
Reckless Driving: This traffic citation is usually given when a driver goes 10 mph over the posted speed limit, drives in an unsafe manner, or disregards traffic signs/lights.
Failure to Stop at a Red Light: This ticket is issued when a motorist intentionally runs through a red light. In this case, the offender can also be charged with reckless driving if it occurs on a highway with two lanes. If caught without proof of insurance or registration (for instance, expired tags), the motorist can also be issued another traffic ticket for those infractions. Failure to stop at a red light typically comes with hefty fines and points against the offender's license.
Driving with Expired Tags: This citation is given when the motorist fails to get their car registered or has an expired insurance card.
Texting While Driving: This is not considered a primary offense in some states. If it is not a primary offense, the person will have to be pulled over for something else before being issued the text-while-driving ticket. Hence, in most cases, the driver is charged with two offenses at once, e.g., speeding and texting while driving.
Failure to Wear Seat Belt: This citation is typically enforced in states with primary seatbelt laws. Usually, if a driver is pulled over for another traffic violation but is caught without a seatbelt, they will be issued a ticket.
Uninsured Motorist: Some states allow uninsured motorists to drive but require that they purchase insurance to cover other drivers if they are involved in an accident.
Seat Belt Violation: Most states require that all passengers in the car are wearing seat belts or using an approved child safety restraint system when riding in a vehicle. The citation for this violation varies by state, but fines can range from $25 to $200 depending on whether it is enforced as a primary or secondary offense.
Failure to Clean Off the Snow/Ice From Vehicle: If a police officer stops a motorist for some other type of violation, but their windows are covered with snow, ice, or frost, the officer can issue a citation.
Traffic Citation Lookup
Interested persons may look up traffic citations in the United States with relative ease. Most jurisdictions maintain citation databases where interested persons can search for their citation records. Most databases provide a small excerpt of information from every record in the entire state, county, or metropolitan area each requestor selects. Depending on what information is available for the search, motorists may also find the citation using the local DMV database. However, if the citation of interest requires more research, requestors ay submit a public records requst to the appropriate agency to obtain the complete records manually.
To search an online database or record repository, the requesting party will be required to enter their personal information into the required fields and follow subsequent instructions. Alternatively, requestors may visit their local DMV or traffic department office and request a citation check. The requesting party must pay the applicable fee and provide any information required to facilitate the record search to access the record.
How to Lookup my Traffic Records
Traffic records are an excellent way to start a background check; They typically include information such as:
- The defendant's driving record (a summary of infractions that appear on the person's driver's license)
- All accidents where the defendant was at fault (many factors determine fault; speeding and running red lights would be examples of negligence/at-fault accidents)
- All moving violations committed by the defendant (speeding, failure to stop, etc.)
- Any suspensions or revocations of the defendant's driver's license
- Any accident where another person was injured (if known) /killed (if no known injuries) due to the defendant's actions.
- All convictions for the defendant (this includes pleas of no contest or not guilty)
- All accidents where the defendant was at fault, even if no one else was injured/killed.
The best way to find traffic records is to visit the local county clerk's office. Requestors may obtain records of any accidents in which the defendant was involved, as well as moving violations and suspensions/revocations of licenses. If the records of interest are older, it may not be easy to get them by filing a request, as some courts do not keep older files on hand.
Most court clerks often have all available traffic infraction information readily available at the request of the public. However, not all courts participate in any data-sharing system among courts or maintain information regarding accidents.
Requestors may also query the county police since they maintain traffic citations for some time (usually around five years). However, this will only reveal the infractions/convictions that occured in that particular county.
Similarly, accident records can be obtained from local police departments. However, the requestor will require a court order/subpoena for this kind of information in some cases. If there are no significant damage or injuries involved in the accident, the requesting party may fax or email them your order and wait for their reply (usually takes about 2-3 weeks)
Various jurisdictions maintain traffic records in the USA. These include counties, municipalities (cities), and sometimes state agencies. Hence, a requestor will need to know which specific agency maintains the traffic record data to request them most of the time.
For instance, in Texas, Orange County Traffic Records are held by the local police departments, and requests may be directed to the department. On the other hand, Harris County Traffic Records can be requested online through the county website.
US Traffic Violations
A US traffic violation is any illegal activity committed by a driver while operating a vehicle. Traffic violations can range from minor infractions, such as speeding or failing to signal when turning, to major offenses like DUI or hit and run. Depending on the severity of the crime, traffic violations can result in anything from a warning to jail time.
Some of the most common traffic violations in the United States include:
Speeding: Speeding is one of the most common traffic violations in the United States. The legal speed limit is 55 miles per hour (mph) in most states, although it can be higher or lower in certain areas. Drivers who exceed the speed limit by more than 15 mph can be subject to a speeding ticket.
Reckless driving: Reckless driving is defined as driving in a manner that endangers the lives of others. This can include speeding, swerving in and out of traffic, or running red lights. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense in most states and can result in a fine and jail time.
DUI: Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal in all 50 states. DUI offenses can range from first-time offenders with a blood alcohol content (BAC) below the legal limit to repeat offenders with a BAC above the legal limit. Depending on the severity of the offense, DUI penalties can include anything from license suspension to jail time.
Hit and Run: A hit and run occurs when a driver hits another vehicle or pedestrian and leaves the accident scene without stopping to render aid or exchange information. Hit and run is a felony offense in most states and can result in jail time.
Many other traffic violations exist in the United States, but these are some of the most common. Motorists cited for a traffic violation may be required to appear in court. Depending on the severity of the offense, they could be facing a fine, points on their license or even jail time.
U.S. License Plate Lookup
License plates are an essential component of U.S. traffic records and a means of identifying a vehicle and its owner. License plates are typically issued by the state government and can be used to look up a vehicle's registration information. They consist of two letters and four numbers, or two letters and five numbers. The letters identify the state that issued the license plate, while the numbers are specific to the vehicle.
To conduct a U.S. license plate lookup, interested persons can visit their state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website. Most DMV websites have a section where the requesting party can enter a license plate number and view the vehicle's registration information. The DMV website will typically also include a photo of the car and its owner. If the license plate number is not found, the DMV website may provide information on obtaining the vehicle's registration information.
Some states also allow members of the public to look up license plates using a third-party database. These databases are usually searchable by license plate number or the owner's name. Third-party databases typically charge a fee to search their records.
How to View Traffic Case Records for Free in the U.S
Interested members of the public may view traffic case records for free in the United States. To view traffic case records, the requesting party may visit the clerk of courts office in person and use the public-access computers typically available at local courthouses. To search for a record, requestors will be required to provide the information required to facilitate the record search. While requestors can view these records at no cost, requestors who require copies of the record will be required to cover the cost of duplication.
How Long do Traffic Offenses Remain on a Public Record in the United States?
The length of time that a traffic offense remains on a public record generally varies with the nature and severity of the offense and the jurisdiction where the offender was convicted.
For traffic violations considered misdemeanors, the following durations may apply;
- 10 Days - No Insurance
- 30 Days - Expired registration or inspection sticker
- 60 Days - Speeding 1-15 over the limit
- 180 Days - Driving While Licenses Suspended/ Revoked/Denied
- 1 Year - Improper Turn / Illegal Passing / Failing to Yield Right of Way
- 4 Years - Leaving Scene of Accident with property damage under 200$ or death resulting from an accident involving moving vehicle.
Traffic infractions that are not misdemeanors will likely remain on public records for upwards of 4 years. In some states, a plea of Nolo Contendere is considered a misdemeanor and will be on the offender's record for the same length as a standard misdemeanor.
Notwithstanding, interested and eligible persons can get their charges reduced and possibly, erased from public records. Offenders may qualify for expungement by taking a driver safety course and applying for early termination of probation (ETOP). ETOP allows offenders who have been on probation for more than 1 year to apply for early termination after they complete all requirements of their sentence. If granted, this prevents the offense from becoming part of their permanent driving record. Once the motorist is off probation, they can take another defensive driving course and renew their license. Offenders can also request that copies of police reports be sent to the appropriate insurance companies so that they are less likely to raise insurance rates without warning.
If a motorist is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (e.g., DWI), and it has been over 4 years since they have been discharged from probation, accelerated rehabilitation or ETOP, there is a chance that the record can be expunged. If the motorist was an adjudicated delinquent in juvenile court at 16 for DWI and it's been 9 years since their last conviction (or 12 years if the last one was when they were under 18), this will also apply to adult records.
Offenders may also consider getting a pardon from their state governor's office. However, pardons are often used in cases where not all sentencing terms have been met, i.e., traffic offenses with fines that had not been paid or been paid in installments.
How to Remove Traffic Records from Public Websites in the U.S
According to U.S. public information laws, public records are made available to interested and eligible members of the public, including aggregate sites and data storage websites. Given the public nature of these sites, record-holders may opt to have their records removed from them.
Traffic records are best removed from public disclosure by sealing or expunging them. However, while traffic records can be sealed, not every state allows the expungement of these records, and the eligibility requirement for expungement generally varies.
To expunge a traffic record, eligible persons may petition a superior court (or otherwise relevant court) to remove the records. If the petition is granted, the record holder may then inform the website that the charges have been removed since it may be several months before their records are revised and updated.
Alternatively, requestors may send a request to the website to have their data removed. Most public record sites offer opt-out services and will remove petitioner's records from their database for a fee. However, this process may prove expensive since multiple aggregate websites in the U.S. have varying opt-out fees.
Do Motoring Offenses Affect Criminal Records in the U.S.?
Being convicted of a motoring offense isn't likely to affect your criminal records unless the offense is considered a severe criminal offense. Notwithstanding, it will be added to the offender's driving record and could affect any claims made in the event of an accident. Motoring offenses also lead to fines and penalty points on a driving license.
However, if the nature of the offense is such that the offender is charged and convicted with a criminal offense - like manslaughter, it will be added to their criminal record. Criminal traffic offenses are more than likely to remain on the offender's record permanently unless state statutes permit the expungement of the offense.