Law Articles

Examining the Differences Between Traffic Infractions and Traffic Offenses in Washington State

By June 20, 2020 No Comments

You may be familiar with the frustration that comes with being issued a speeding or parking ticket. Suddenly, you must deal with the hassle of paying a fine or contesting this ticket in traffic court. While there are many types of traffic infractions, such as speeding, parking in a no-parking zone, failing to stop at a stop sign, and more, there are also traffic violations that are considered criminal offenses. In general, traffic criminal violations are more serious in nature, and they tend to carry heavier consequences. It’s worth taking a look at some key differences between traffic infractions and criminal traffic offenses, as well as some steps to take if you find yourself charged with a criminal traffic violation.

Traffic Infractions are Civil Matters

The major difference between a traffic infraction and a criminal traffic violation is that the former is a civil violation, while the latter is a criminal offense. This means that traffic infractions are handled in a different manner than criminal violations. For instance, there is a much lower standard of proof that applies to traffic infractions in civil court. In these cases, you appear before a judge and state your version of the events. If the judge finds that the prosecutor’s version—in most instances, a police officer or sheriff’s testimony—is more compelling or truthful, you’ll likely be found guilty. It’s important to note that, as a civil matter, being found guilty of a traffic infraction will only result in a fine. You may face additional penalties from the Department of Licensing if you rack up too many traffic infractions (six or more) in one year, leading to a one-year license suspension.

Understanding Criminal Traffic Violations

When the moving violation is more serious, it may be considered a criminal traffic offense. These include instances of impaired driving, reckless driving, vehicular assault, and other offenses that pose a greater threat to public safety. Additionally, if you drive without a license—perhaps you’ve accumulated over six traffic infractions in under one year, had your license suspended, yet kept driving anyway—you could face criminal charges. Criminal traffic offenses are handled within the criminal court, and the prosecution is obligated to provide a much higher burden of proof than is required in a civil traffic court. If you’re found guilty, you could face jail or prison time in addition to costly fines. 

Seek Legal Representation When Facing a Criminal Traffic Offense

As soon as you’ve been taken into custody for an alleged criminal traffic offense, you should contact a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and help you understand your legal options. Even if no one was harmed, Washington state takes criminal traffic violations seriously. Working with an attorney can ensure that your side of the story is presented fairly and accurately. Whether the charges against you are ultimately dropped or your case proceeds to trial, your attorney will work hard to seek the best possible outcome for you.


If you’ve been charged with a criminal traffic offense in the Vancouver area, John L. Davis PLLC is here to help. Call (360) 597-4740 to speak with a dedicated criminal defense attorney today.