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What Are Traffic Violations And Infractions In Washington?

Traffic offenses are legally referred to as traffic violations and infractions in Washington. Traffic violations can be classified as felonies or misdemeanors. Traffic infractions are the less-severe offenses and constitute the majority of traffic tickets issued in the state. All traffic violations and infractions are under the jurisdiction of the District and Municipal Courts. As given by the state’s traffic laws, violators may incur fines, community service, vehicle impoundment, driver license suspensions or revocations, insurance increases, and even imprisonment.

What Are Felony Traffic Violations In Washington?

When a traffic violation involves property destruction, the harm/threat of harm of an individual, or violates federal/out-of-state criminal traffic laws, it is a felony traffic violation. Under the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) CH. 9A.20, felonies are grouped into Class A, B, and C crimes. This chapter also outlines fine and imprisonment penalties per crime type, according to the year when the offense was committed: before July 1, 1984, and after. For instance, Class A felonies such as vehicular homicide (RCW 46.61.502);; Class B felonies such as vehicular assault (RCW 46.61.522);; and Class C felonies such as eluding a police officer (RCW 46.61.024) committed after July 1, 1984, are punishable as follows:

  • Class A felony: Life imprisonment or a fine of $50,000, or both
  • Class B felony: A jail term of 10 years or a fine of $20,000, or both
  • Class C felony: Incarceration for a 5-year term or a fine of $10,000, or both

If the felony traffic offense was committed before July 1, 1984, the law ascribes the following penalties to the defendant:

  • Class A felony: Imprisonment not below 20 years or a fine not over $50,000, or both
  • Class B felony: A jail term not over ten years or a fine not above $20,000, or both
  • Class C felony: Incarceration for a 5-year term or less, or fine not over $10,000, or both

Examples Of Felony Traffic Violations In Washington?

Examples of felony traffic violations in Washington include:

  • Driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs (DUI)
  • Being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence of intoxication liquor or drugs
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Vehicular assault
  • Attempting to elude a police vehicle
  • Felony hit and run incidents involving injury or death
  • Unlawful possession or use of a driver’s license (in cases of identity theft, theft, or forgery, or if used for financial gain)

What Are Traffic Misdemeanors In Washington?

In the Washington court system, traffic offenses are grouped into misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases. These offenses are the lesser traffic crimes, not as serious as felony traffic crimes but not as minor as traffic infractions. All misdemeanors, whether gross or not, are usually punishable by fine or a term of imprisonment not above a year. Offenders convicted of misdemeanors in Washington are penalized with not more than 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. For gross misdemeanors, the highest penalty includes incarceration for not more than a year and a $5,000 fine. Penalties for traffic misdemeanors vary if it is an individual’s first, second, third, or subsequent offense. For example, in the offense of driving while license invalidated, an offender is punished with imprisonment for not less than ten days for a first offense, not less than 90 days for a second offense, and not less than 180 days for a third or subsequent offense. All penalties for misdemeanors are outlined in the Revised Code of Washington, 46.63.0204, and are used by judges to decide punishments for guilty parties.

Examples Of Traffic Misdemeanors In Washington?

Examples of traffic misdemeanors in Washington include:

  • Reckless driving
  • Racing of vehicles on highways
  • Falsifying residency when registering a motor vehicle
  • Intentionally providing false information when applying for special parking privileges for disabled persons
  • Failure to comply with vehicle trip permits
  • Hit and run (accidents) (RCW 46.52.020 4(c))
  • Driving while license invalidated (suspended or revoked)
  • Driving without a valid license
  • Allowing an authorized person to drive
  • Fraudulent altering of a driver’s license
  • Circumventing ignition interlock
  • Hitting or colliding with an unattended car without notifying the owner
  • Refusal to cooperate with a law enforcement officer or give information
  • Failure to stop when signaled or requested
  • Negligent driving in the first degree
  • Reckless endangerment of roadway workers
  • Failure to secure a load
  • Leaving children in an unattended vehicle
  • Theft of motor vehicle fuel
  • Unlawful cancellation or solicitation of cancellation of a traffic citation
  • Other offenses described under RCW 46.63.020

What Constitutes A Traffic Infraction In Washington?

Traffic infractions refer to minor traffic and non-traffic offenses that, unlike misdemeanors, do not involve incarceration. These offenses occur more frequently than misdemeanors or felonies. According to the 2019 annual report “Caseloads of the Courts of Washington,” there were 706,773 traffic and 22,847 nontraffic filings for traffic infractions in Washington. An individual may be charged with a traffic infraction due to a failure to perform an act required by law. Typically, most infractions are resolved by payment of a fine.

In other US states, an offender may be subject to additional penalties such as the state’s DMV assigning points to the driver’s records, upon which an accumulation of these points will result in a license suspension or revocation. However, Washington does not have a point system. Still, drivers can have their licenses invalidated for certain offenses, including eluding police officers, DUIs, failure to appear in court or pay tickets, felony traffic violations, having multiple traffic tickets within a period of time, violations of driver license restrictions, and others.

Examples

The following offenses are examples of traffic infractions in Washington:

  • Driving without a license (RCW 46.20.015)
  • Speeding
  • Disobeying school patrol
  • Following too closely
  • Seatbelt violations
  • Failure to have liability insurance
  • Negligent driving in the second degree
  • Wrong-way on freeway
  • Illegal parking
  • Violation of posted road restriction
  • Altering or using altered license plates
  • Impeding traffic
  • Running a red light
  • Failure to signal
  • Failure to stop on the approach of emergency vehicle
  • Prohibited and improper turn

How Does A Traffic Ticket Work In Washington?

Traffic tickets are law enforcement notices issued because of road or motor vehicle violations. Usually, traffic tickets have:

  • Information on the offense and offender
  • The due date for payment of a fine or request for a hearing (15 days after ticket issuance)
  • A court date (Depending on the offense. In traffic infractions, the offender is not required to appear in court)
  • Instructions for rectifying a ticket.

An individual who is issued a traffic ticket in Washington may respond to it in 3 ways:

  • Pay the fine (seen as an admittance of guilt): Violators may pick this option by selecting the first box on the ticket, signing their names, and providing current mailing addresses. It is possible to pay tickets by mail, online, in person, or by phone to the court.
  • Request a mitigation hearing: Here, the offender pleads guilty but requests a hearing to explain the circumstances that led to the ticket. This can be done by checking the appropriate box on the ticket and mailing or hand-delivering it to the courthouse before the ticket’s due date. In some courts, it can also be sent by email or via online mitigation tools. Successful hearings may result in fine reductions or community service for the offenses. The courts also provide mitigation forms where individuals may send in written explanations (including documentary evidence), if a court appearance is inconvenient. That is after the court has set a hearing date. It is not possible to appeal a judgment from a mitigation hearing.
  • Request a contested hearing: Parties who want to contest a ticket may choose this method. In these cases, the offender does not admit guilt but rather requests to contest the charges in court. This is done by checking the correct box on the ticket and sending it to the appropriate court by mail or in person. During the hearing, the offender may call witnesses, including the issuing law enforcement officer. Parties found guilty may file an appeal in the District Court within 30 days of the conviction.
  • Deferred finding: An offender may request a deferred finding by mail or at a hearing. With this option, the court may dismiss a traffic charge and not report the offenses to the DOL if the offender meets the following conditions:
  • Avoids any traffic infractions for 12 months
  • Pays a nonrefundable administrative fee within 30 days of judgment. This fee may range from $139 to $150
  • The offender may also be required to take a driving safety course, get insurance, or complete a vehicle registration.

However, the court will not defer a finding if the offender has a commercial driver’s license, was found to be operating a commercial motor vehicle at the time of the offense, or was charged for negligent driving in the second degree with a vulnerable user victim. Also, some infractions, such as speeding in a construction zone or school zone, or infractions with fatalities, are ineligible for a deferred finding. Offenders may defer one moving and one non-moving infraction once every seven years.

It is important to note that Washington courts have separate payment procedures and forms; therefore, parties are advised to look up the relevant court’s traffic ticket instructions. Typically, this information is available on the court’s official websites. In the state, failure to pay a ticket, appear for a hearing or pay for a penalty results in an additional $52 fine. Also, the Department of Licensing (DOL) may suspend the driver’s license.

Are Driving Records Public In Washington?

No, driving records are confidential in Washington. A driving record is a document that contains a driver’s past convictions, citations, violations, and accidents, including all administrative actions taken against the driver. It is also referred to as the Abstract of Driving Record (ADR). The Department of Licensing preserves these records and provides it to approved parties on request. Under RCW 46.52.130, these parties include the subject of the record; representing attorneys; law, judicial, and other government agencies; employers; insurance carriers; transit authorities; volunteer agencies; school districts; alcohol/drug assessment or treatment agencies; and state colleges, universities, or local government units. An individual who violates the confidentiality law for driving records may be charged with a gross misdemeanor for negligent violations and Class C felony for deliberate violations.

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 the person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent of 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 Washington?

In Washington, only the subjects of record and permitted parties or agencies may order a driving record from the Department of Licensing. The agency provides four types of records to requesters:

  • The full record: contains a driver’s complete driving history including every conviction, violation, accident/collision, license invalidation, deferred prosecution, and failure to appear (FTA)
  • Insurance record: is a 3-year history of past convictions, violations, accidents, and FTAs
  • Employment record: contains the same information as in a full record
  • Alcohol and drug treatment record: is a driver’s 5-year driving history.

Records access varies by the type of driving record ordered. For instance, the record owner may order a full, insurance, or employment record but is restricted from ordering an alcohol and drug treatment record. Further information on records access may be obtained from the DOL’s FAQ web page.

To order a personal record, a requester may mail a completed Driving Record Request Form to the DOL or, for a faster method, request online via LIcense eXpress. It costs $13 per record. For mail requests, this fee is payable by check or money order to the Department of Licensing. Parties ordering another person’s records may use the same method and fee as ordering personal records. However, requests made using LIcense eXpress require the applicant to create a business account. It takes 10 to 14 days to get results from mail requests and 24 hours for online requests.

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

Because traffic infractions are mostly non-criminal offenses, there are no sealing or expungement laws for these offenses in Washington. Neither are there ones for felony traffic violations such as DUIs, or physical control while under the influence. However, as given by RCW 9.96.060, certain traffic violations (misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors) may be vacated by the court at its discretion. An order to vacate can be likened to an order to expunge as it means to set aside a guilty verdict as if the conviction never occurred. A conviction, charge, or sentence is dismissed and removed from a party’s record after a vacation order. However, the record may still be available on the court’s electronic records.

Examples of misdemeanors which may be vacated include reckless driving, negligent driving (1st degree), and driving while license suspended. Although DUI charges may not be expunged or vacated, it is possible to plea down a DUI charge to a misdemeanor or lesser charge, if the prosecution permits the plea. This action grants the offender the option of expungement later on.

In the case of driving records maintained by the Department of Licensing, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, deferred prosecutions, and alcohol-related convictions remain on a record for life. Other traffic convictions and violations remain for five years from the date of conviction or adjudication. Failures to appear or FTAs remain until resolved or after a 10-year period from the date the court notifies the DOL of the FTA. Accidents involving non-commercial and commercial vehicles stay on a driving record for 5 and 10 years, respectively. Finally, suspensions, revocations, or disqualifications stay for five years from the reinstatement date, but commercial operators may remain for life for commercial operators. There are no processes provided to expunge or vacate driving records maintained by the Department of Licensing.

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