Traffic Violations in Arizona
Any action or inaction that compromises the safety of other road users is considered a traffic offense or traffic violation. Arizona classifies traffic violations into two – parking violations and moving violations, and parking violations are generally non-fatal and carry lesser punishment.
For an individual cited with a parking violation, a City parking officer will place an envelope containing a Notice of Violation (NOV) on the windshield of the offending vehicle. This Notice of Violation will contain information about the car, location of the offense, type of offense, the amount of the fine, instructions concerning payment, and a guide to entering a plea and having a hearing. Records of road offenses within state limits are typically included in Arizona traffic records depending on the nature of the offense.
Moving violations pose a more serious risk to lives and property, and hence, they carry weightier consequences. Moving traffic offenses are of two kinds– civil traffic violations and criminal traffic violations. Civil violations are considered infractions and include running a red light, unlawful change of lane, etc. Civil traffic offenses are not punishable with jail time. Still, the liable driver may be issued a fine, community service time, mandatory driver reeducation program, or any other sentence issued by a law court.
On the other hand, a motorist is liable for criminal traffic violations if they are driving irresponsibly or in such a way as to cause an element of bodily harm, damage to properties, death, or the threat of death. Criminal traffic violations carry severe penalties, including loss of driving privileges or jail terms.
Types of Traffic Violations in Arizona
Depending on the severity of damage caused, Arizona's types of traffic violations are civil offenses and criminal offenses. Furthermore, regarding the state of the vehicle, they are classified as moving violations and non-moving violations.
Civil traffic offenses are minor infractions, punishable by fines, driving points, etc. In Arizona, moving traffic violations include:
- Speeding above the maximum or below the minimum speed.
- Failure to comply with traffic control
- No, or invalid driver's license
- Driving without insurance
- Driving while intoxicated
- Hit and run
- Avoiding a police vehicle
- Failure to provide proof of registration
- Making illegal turns
- Moving against the direction of traffic
- Ignoring a red light
Non-moving traffic violations include:
- Leaving a vehicle unattended with the engine running.
- Having an expired license plate
- Parking in a no-parking area.
- Driving without a seatbelt.
- Use of defective, broken, or missing equipment, including broken speedometers, headlights, horns, broken tail lights, non-illuminated license plates, defective airbags and tires, faulty emergency flashers, defective brakes and accelerator pedals, faulty seat belts and turn signals, broken windshield, broken driver and front passenger side windows.
A person found guilty of moving violations will receive a more stringent punishment than one guilty of non-moving violations. The reason is that the risk of hazard associated with a moving violation is very high. Similarly, one who commits a felony traffic violation will face a more severe sentence than a person who commits a civil traffic violation.
The latter may only have to contend with paying fines, tickets, defensive driving school, etc. The former might, in addition, have negligent operator points added to their permanent records by the Arizona Department of Transport (ADOT), cancellation or hiking of their insurance premiums, suspension or withdrawal of their driving license, loss of jobs, and employment opportunities, and even jail term.
Arizona Traffic Violation Codes
The Arizona traffic violation codes are the statewide statutes (found under section 28 - Transportation) that guide possession, registration, and operation of vehicles on all roads and highways within the state and the penalties for disregarding these laws.
The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission (ACJC), Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), Motor Vehicle Division (MVD), Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys Advisory Council (APAAC), and Judicial Officers created a statewide standard violation code table. This table contains the current violation codes, changes to violation codes, historical violation codes, and Federal Motor Carrier violation codes. The table also includes a "Webpage Layout & Code Table Guide," which provides information on using the table.
The webpage also contains a Violation Request Form. Using this form, citizens may request the Arizona Office of the Courts (AOC) to add, amend, or remove a violation from the Current Violation Code table.
Arizona Felony Traffic Violations
Arizona laws recognize two categories of criminal traffic tickets. These are misdemeanor traffic violations and felony traffic violations. Felony traffic violations usually carry harsher prison sentences (often more than a year) and steeper fines than their misdemeanor counterparts.
What would typically be a traffic misdemeanor may be raised to a felony charge in cases with aggravating factors. Such factors include serious bodily injury or disfigurement, numerous prior convictions, death, willful negligence of safety of other road users, or an attempt to flee the scene of the accident by the perpetrator.
Misdemeanor or felony, a criminal traffic ticket will most likely require a court appearance. General examples of offenses that may lead to felony traffic tickets include:
- Driving with a suspended, revoked, or canceled license
- Felony Exceeding speed limit.
- Reckless driving
- Felony aggressive driving
- Felony highway racing or drag racing
- Felony Extreme and Aggravated Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
- Felony reckless endangerment
- Felony vehicular manslaughter
- Felony flight from or evasion of law enforcement
- Felony hit and run.
- Repetitive traffic offense.
A motorist charged with a traffic misdemeanor or felony has to appear in district court on their given date. Failure to show up in court may lead to arrest and loss of license.
Arizona Traffic Misdemeanor
In Arizona, misdemeanors are criminal offenses with legal consequences less severe than a felony but more significant than civil infractions. Any jail time incurred for such crimes will not exceed a year in the city or county jail.
Misdemeanors in Arizona are grouped into three classes that determine the severity of the offense and, consequently, the punishment meted out. Class three misdemeanors are the least severe form, followed by Class two, with Class one as the highest level. Suppose someone has been convicted of a class 3 misdemeanor offense three times in under two years. In that case, the sentencing in the third year will increase to that of a class 2 misdemeanor.
Examples of traffic misdemeanors in Arizona include:
- Misdemeanor failure to stop or provide driver license or evidence of identity.
- Misdemeanor exceeding the reasonable and prudent speed.
- Misdemeanor hit-and-run (Fleeing the scene of an accident or failure to stop).
- Misdemeanor driving on a suspended or revoked license.
- Misdemeanor reckless driving.
- Misdemeanor leaving the scene of an accident.
- Misdemeanor criminal damage.
- Misdemeanor criminal speeding.
- Misdemeanor exiting the scene of an accident involving a parked car;
- Misdemeanor Evading a Police Officer.
- Misdemeanor Driving Under the Influence (First, second, or third DUI offense within ten years).
- Unlawful use of a disability placard.
- Failure or refusal to appear in court or pay fine for a traffic citation.
- Weight violations.
- Driving on divided highways.
Arizona Traffic Infractions
Arizona regards traffic infractions as any violation which may result in a civil penalty, i.e., a non-criminal offense. Persons who receive citations for civil infractions may face penalties excluding jail terms. Fines, community services, mandatory traffic school attendance, negligent operator points, etc., are some punishments.
Furthermore, the fines issued for infractions are considerably smaller than those for felonies and misdemeanors. According to the Arizona Department of Transport (ADOT), the most common traffic infractions are:
- Driving on a suspended or revoked license.
- Failure to appear or pay fines for traffic citation.
- Altered or fictitious license.
- Running a red light.
- Refusal to stop at an accident scene as required by law.
- Failure to adhere to traffic signs and codes.
- Crossing at other than a crosswalk.
- Riding on roadway and bicycle path.
- Violating the “hands-off” law.
- Illegal materials on windows or windshields.
- Illegal or Improper U-turn.
- Aggressive driving, including:
- Refusal to obey traffic control signs or signals.
- Overtaking on the right.
- Unsafe lane change.
- Following too closely.
- Failure to give way for emergency vehicles.
As stated earlier, traffic offenses listed as infractions do not carry jail terms. However, it is possible to elevate a traffic infraction to a misdemeanor under some circumstances or vice-versa. Such conditions include the accused’s criminal history and the severity of the offense. In addition, failure to pay the ticket or fine may result in the court issuing a bench warrant.
Arizona Traffic Violation Codes and Fines
Road users must adhere to the laws and codes guiding road usage. Violation of these laws has consequences that include fines which sometimes come with additional fees. In Arizona, a traffic ticket will contain the fine payable. The amount depends on the type of infraction committed by the road user, the location where it happened, and whether the case is at a city or county level.
According to the Arizona Driver License Manual and Customer Service Guide, a person with their first traffic violation conviction must attend Traffic Survival School. In addition to other fines, Section 12-269 gives counties the right to determine additional charges that an individual will pay for a civil traffic violation.
Commercial vehicle drivers must adhere to the CDL guidelines. A first criminal conviction could result in a penalty ranging from 1 to 3 years disqualification, and a second conviction could lead to life disqualification.
In addition, the state of Arizona's statutes 212-116.01 and 12-116.02 allow counties to levy surcharges on civil traffic offenders and motor vehicle statutes violations. This surcharge will be a percentage of the fine or penalty, and the offender will pay it in addition to any other liability provided by law.
For every moving traffic violation conviction against a person, driving points accumulate against their permanent driving record. If individuals get eight or more points within 12 months, they risk a one-year suspension of their driving privilege.
Alternatively, traffic offenders might be mandated to attend Traffic Survival School (TSS) instead of punishment.
How to Pay a Traffic Violation Ticket in Arizona
In Arizona, law enforcement agencies issue two types of traffic tickets: civil tickets or criminal tickets. Each ticket has specific payment methods. A person who receives a civil traffic citation may respond in one of the following ways:
- Attend defensive driving school.
- Admit responsibility and pay the civil penalty.
- Deny responsibility and request a hearing.
Defensive Driving School: In Arizona, a person who receives a civil traffic moving violation may be eligible to attend an Arizona defensive driving school class. A person who takes the course will, among other things, have their violation dismissed. So, offense and points associated with that violation will not appear on their Arizona driving record.
Admit Responsibility and Pay the Civil Penalty: A person who admits their wrongdoing can make payment online or by mail. For instance, to pay in Phoenix, visit the Phoenix Municipal Court Payment Portal, follow the steps outlined, and make a remittance using a credit or debit card to make an online payment.
To pay via mail, print and fill a summary form. Enclose the printed form with the ticketed amount in an envelope and send it to the Phoenix Municipal Court, P.O. Box 25650, Phoenix, Arizona 85002-5650.
Tickets paid via mail cannot be paid as cash but sent in the form of a cashier's check, money order, bank card, or a personal check. Some counties also accept wire payments. It is advisable to direct all inquiries to the specific court where one received their citation.
Traffic Violation Lookup in Arizona
There are many reasons why a person may need to look up traffic violations in Arizona. Sometimes, a road user may lose their ticket, and in such a case, the person may search for traffic violations using any of the following methods:
Online: Individuals may search for traffic tickets online, using the Arizona court system's website. The traffic ticket information provided includes the case number, the presiding court and judge, and all case activities. To access criminal and civil court documents in the Superior Court, visit the eAccess portal.
Through the Presiding Court: The presiding court is the court handling that particular citation. For inquiries such as the date of the court appearance, questions about ticket fines and payment methods, inability to locate the lost traffic ticket on the website, etc., it is necessary to contact the presiding court directly.
The Arizona Motor Vehicle Division: With some basic information such as name and Arizona driver's license number, a person can retrieve the relevant traffic citation information, including court appearance date, the exact amount of the traffic ticket fine, additional fees, etc.
How to Plead not Guilty to a Traffic Violation in Arizona
A road user cited for a criminal traffic violation in Arizona has three options.
- Plead guilty (for a criminal traffic violation) or responsible (in the case of a civil traffic violation) and pay a fine.
- Plead "Not Guilty" and contest in court.
- “No Contest” (nolo contendere) plea.
A "Not Guilty" plea implies that the accused denies guilt, and the state prosecutor's office has to prove the criminal charges leveled against the accused. The first step is to visit the concerned court, preferably before the court date on the ticket, and inform the court of an intention to plead "not guilty," and then request a hearing.
The accused must then communicate their decision to hire an attorney to the court in writing or via mail (if acceptable by that court) at least ten days before the hearing. If someone receives a complaint with more than one charge, the person will need to enter a separate plea for each charge.
Once the court agrees, it will schedule a date for the hearing. Thus, it is essential to gather all possible evidence to support the "not guilty" claim before appearing in court.
To plead "not guilty" for a traffic misdemeanor, a person has to represent themselves in court or pay an attorney because the state will not provide one. However, the state will only provide a prosecutor to prove a case against the suspect. The suspect will hear all the state witnesses, and either the suspect or the suspect’s attorney may ask the witness questions. After the state prosecutor has presented their case, the defendant will be allowed to submit their claim and call other witnesses to testify.
After all, is said and done, if the state cannot prove their case, the charges are dismissed. But if found "Responsible/Guilty," the Hearing Officer or Judge will state the penalty for the defendant. This penalty may differ from the initial amount listed on the fine ticket issued by law enforcement.
What Happens if You Plead No Contest to a Traffic Violation in Arizona
A “no contest” (nolo contendere) plea means that the suspect does not admit to the crime, but at the same time, is not willing to contest the charges brought against them. So, the court can determine the punishment.
In reality, a “no contest” plea has the same legal implications as a “guilty” plea. However, a “guilty” plea is liable for use in a civil action. But a “no contest” plea is not. In other words, pleading “no contest” will prevent the case judgment from being used against the person in any later civil or criminal proceeding. Once a person enters a plea of “no contest,” the Judge will automatically enter a judgment of “guilty” for them.
How Long Do Traffic Violations Stay on Your Record?
After conviction for a traffic offense, the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reports the violation on the offender's driving record, including the points accumulated due to that violation. The implication of this is that it can affect that person’s auto insurance rates and other things.
How long a violation stays on a person’s record varies, depending on which state it happened in and the kind of traffic violation that was committed. In Arizona, a standard or infraction speeding ticket may be cleared from a person’s motor vehicle record after a period, usually around one year.
However, misdemeanor and felony convictions in Arizona remain on a person’s record until age 99. According to ARS 28-701.02, criminal speeding is a Class 3 misdemeanor. So, a person’s criminal speeding ticket will be on their record for 99 years – or life.
Can Traffic Violations Be Expunged/Sealed in Arizona?
No. Laws in Arizona do not allow criminal conviction records to be expunged or sealed. All criminal convictions recorded by Arizona courts are public records.
Hence, all courts in Arizona must report criminal convictions to the Arizona Department of Public Safety Criminal Records Division, who then forward all judgments to the FBI NCIC (National Criminal Information Center).
After serving the entire sentence, probation, and fines, a person may file a petition requesting the court to “set aside” their qualifying convictions. Note that this does not remove the crime from official records.
What Happens if You Miss a Court Date for a Traffic Violation in Arizona?
When a court issues a date for a traffic violation hearing, missing the assigned court date can carry significant repercussions. The major consequence of missing a court date for a traffic violation in Arizona is a Failure to Appear charge.
Failure to appear in connection with a misdemeanor or petty offense or being absent from a court proceeding after giving a written promise to appear under A.R.S. § 13-3903 can be charged as a second-degree class 2 misdemeanor (A.R.S.13-2506).
The penalty for class 2 misdemeanor can reach $750 in fines or up to 4 months of jail time. The court will also have to enter a "default judgment" against that person. In most cases, the court may:
- Find the offender responsible for the civil violation and impose a fine.
- Issue an order to suspend their driving privileges until they pay the fine.
- Furthermore, when a person misses their court appearance for a felony, the court can, according to (A.R.S.13-2507).
- Charge the person with a first-degree class 5 felony, in addition to charges for contempt of court. A first-time offender convicted for Class 5 felonies in Arizona may go to jail for 6 to 30 months.
- Charge the person with Class 1 misdemeanors, resulting in $2,500 in fine plus a prison sentence of up to 6 months.
- Slam the offender with A.R.S. 13-2506A2, Failure to Appear, a class 2 misdemeanor, and issue a bench warrant for arrest.
- Issue an order to the Arizona Motor Vehicle Department to suspend their driving privileges.
In other words, it is advisable to always show up on court dates for traffic violations.