Careless driving (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97) is often an umbrella charge that captures a wide range of bad driving. Whether that driving was actually dangerous or not is up to the discretion of the police officer. Should he charge you with careless driving, though, it could cost you $200 in fine and surcharges and even up to 15 days in jail.
Every traffic ticket increases your insurance premiums, and some traffic infractions, such as careless driving, even cause you to get points on your driver’s license. If you get too many points on your license, you will have to pay a surcharge to the state, and if you get even more, you could get a license suspension. It is possible to challenge traffic tickets, whether you hire a lawyer or represent yourself in traffic court. If you are being accused of careless driving or another traffic infraction, a New Jersey traffic lawyer can help you avoid unnecessary fees and driver’s license suspension.
How is Careless Driving Different From Reckless Driving and Distracted Driving?
New Jersey law recognizes dozens of different traffic infractions, only some of which are easily understandable based on their names. For example, if a police officer tells you that they are issuing you a ticket for improper passing of a school bus, you immediately know what a school bus looks like and whether or not you passed one; therefore, it is not hard to decide whether you should pay the ticket or challenge it in traffic court. Other infractions, such as careless driving, have broader definitions.
New Jersey laws do not recognize a separate infraction for distracted driving, so most things that qualify as distracted driving could count as careless driving in New Jersey. For example, if you attempt to assemble a child’s toy or apply makeup while driving in traffic, you could get a ticket for careless driving in New Jersey, even if some other states would classify the same mistake as distracted driving. Use of a handheld cell phone or mobile device is an infraction according to New Jersey law, so if you are using your mobile phone and weaving in and out of lanes of traffic, you can get two citations, one for careless driving and the other for improper cell phone use.
The definition of careless driving is operating a motor vehicle without adequate caution and thereby endangering the occupants of the other cars on the road. These are just a few of the actions that can qualify as careless driving:
- Weaving in and out of lanes of traffic by changing lanes more often than necessary
- Honking the horn excessively or when there is no reason to do so
- Driving aggressively and passing numerous cars when there is no discernible reason to do this
The difference between careless driving and reckless driving is that, in the case of reckless driving, the driving behavior is so unsafe that, by engaging in it, one can assume that the driver is intentionally endangering other people. Many reckless driving citations go to drivers who were driving much faster than the speed limit at the time of the traffic stop.
Consequences and Points for a Careless Driving Ticket in New Jersey
Careless driving is a civil infraction according to New Jersey law; this means that you do not get criminal charges if you are accused of careless driving. If a police officer issues you a ticket for careless driving, the associated fine can range from $50 to $200. If you just pay the fine and do not go to traffic court, or if you go to traffic court and the court determines that what you were doing was careless driving, you will also get two points on your driver’s license.
The two-point penalty means that careless driving is a serious enough traffic violation to result in points being added to your license; in other words, it is more serious than a parking ticket or a red-light camera violation. Other traffic infractions that get you two points on your license include running a red light, exceeding the speed limit by less than 14 miles per hour, and failing to yield to a passing vehicle. Careless driving gets you fewer points on your license than more serious traffic offenses such as illegal turns and leaving the scene of an accident.
If you do not have any other points on your driver’s license, then the two points you get for a careless driving citation are not so bad. They will make your insurance premiums more expensive until you have gone a year or more without getting any additional citations, but by themselves, they do not have any other consequences. If you get six points on your license within three years, you will have to pay a $150 surcharge to the Motor Vehicle Commission. Each additional point beyond the sixth increases the surcharge by $25. This means that, if within three years, you get two points on your license for a careless driving ticket and five points for tailgating, the surcharge will be $175. If you get 12 points on your license within three years, you will get a driver’s license suspension. Therefore, a careless driving ticket is bad news if you already have ten points on your license because of one previous ticket for reckless driving and another for improper passing of a school bus.
Should You Hire a Traffic Offenses Lawyer for a Careless Driving Citation?
If you already have points on your driver’s license, then you have a lot to lose by admitting to careless driving. You might think that just paying a $50 fine is not a big deal, but the increase in your insurance premiums might be the very last thing your already tight budget needs. Likewise, the two points on your license mean that you are just one driving mistake away from even more fees. For example, if you pass an ice cream truck and a police officer sees you, you will get an additional four points on your license; the ice cream truck ticket plus the careless driving ticket means that you must pay a surcharge to the Motor Vehicle Commission.
Challenging a traffic ticket is your legal right, the right to due process. You have the right to fight your traffic citation in traffic court for the same reason that people who get accused of crimes have the right to plead not guilty and have a jury trial. When the officer issues the traffic ticket, he or she will explain that sending the fine by mail or paying it by phone or online without going to traffic court means that you are admitting fault; it is the traffic infraction equivalent of pleading guilty in a criminal case. You can fight your ticket in traffic court with or without hiring a lawyer.
It is a good idea to hire a traffic offenses defense lawyer for something as seemingly minor as a careless driving citation if you think that there is room for disagreement on whether your mistake counts as careless driving. For example, the officer might say that you were holding your phone and typing a message while you were driving, but you might argue that you did not take your phone off of its hands-free windshield mount until after you pulled off the road onto the shoulder. Unless the officer has photos or video footage of you holding your phone while driving in traffic, the judge may rule in your favor.
Another advantage of going to traffic court is that you might be able to get points deducted from your license if you complete certain driving safety courses offered by the Motor Vehicle Commission. New Jersey offers these courses not only for careless driving but also for other, more serious traffic violations. The court might assess the points on your license temporarily but then remove them after you fulfill the requirements of the course. If you promise to complete the course by a certain date, then if you show proof of completion by that deadline, the court might not put the points on your license at all. You can find out from the traffic court, the Motor Vehicle Commission, or your lawyer, which courses are available and where and when they meet. You might even be able to find online courses approved by the Motor Vehicle Commission that can keep you from getting points on your license.
A Traffic Violations Defense Lawyer Can Help You Fight Traffic Tickets for Careless Driving
A traffic offenses lawyer can help you if you are in danger of getting points on your driver’s license as a result of a citation for careless driving or another traffic violation. When you need the experience and skill of tried and true traffic violation attorneys on your side, turn to the firm with the standard of success that you can trust.
Call The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall today at (877) 450-8301 for a free consultation and to begin fighting your careless driving traffic violation.