Online traffic school, speeding tickets and California law can sometimes be confusing. Please use this glossary of common terms as a helpful guide to understanding the terms involved. This page courtesy of Traffic School for Less.
Absolute Speed Limit Violation
Some states have absolute speed limits violations—meaning if you go any amount of speed over the designated limit, you'll receive a citation. For example, if the speed limit reads 55 miles per hour (MPH), and a law enforcement officer catches you going 56 MPH, you'll still receive a ticket—even for a single measly mile per hour of speeding.
Related term(s): Basic Speeding Violation
Air bags provide vehicle drivers and passengers extra protection in a collision. They are stored in the steering wheel and/or dashboard and inflate during a serious crash, e.g., a head-on collision that occurs at over 10 mph. They place a protective cushion between the person and the steering wheel, dashboard, and windshield.
Any driver who operates their vehicle in an unsafe or reckless manner. Aggressive driving can endanger passengers, other drivers, pedestrians, and even the drivers themselves.
If you lose your traffic court case, you have the option of writing an appeal to a higher court petitioning to reverse or change the decisions made against you. However, filing an appeal does not guarantee that the higher court will agree to reevaluate the case.
Related term(s): Contest, Fight
An attorney, also known as a lawyer, is someone who is authorized to act and argue on your behalf in a court of law.
Related term(s): Lawyer
Basic Speed Law
This is a rule that states that a driver must never drive faster than is safe for present conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit.
Basic Speeding Violation
Basic speeding violations dictate that a law enforcement officer can write you a ticket if they deem you to be driving too fast for current driving conditions.
For example, if the speed limit is 65 MPH but the roads are icy, 55 MPH would still be considered a dangerous speed—even though you're driving below the speed limit. Thus, a basic speeding violation might prove valid if the speed you're going puts yourself or others at danger due to weather and/or other driving conditions.
Related term(s): Absolute Speeding Violation
Any area where the driver’s view is obstructed. This can be caused by anything from poorly aligned rearview mirrors, to the car itself.
Blood-Alcohol Concentration (BAC)
The concentration of alcohol in one’s bloodstream, expressed as a percentage. Blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, is used to determine whether a person is legally intoxicated, especially under a driving while intoxicated law.
The amount of distance required for stopping your car once the brakes have been applied.
Also known as High-Occupancy Vehicle, or HOV lanes, they are a traffic-control system that designated certain lanes as restricted to vehicles with two or more passengers. These lanes are indicated by a diamond symbol.
A citation is another name for a traffic ticket—it is a recorded violation written by a law enforcement officer in regards to any laws you have broken, and might require you to appear in court.
Contact between two or more objects, as when two vehicles collide into each other.
Insurance that provides coverage to pay the costs of repair or replacement of your vehicle involved in a collision.
Commercial Motor Vehicle
A vehicle used to transport/deliver goods or passengers for compensation between points on a fixed scheduled route. The vehicle: a. Has a gross weight, registered weight, or gross weight rating of more than 26,000 pounds; or b. Is designed to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver.
To contest is to formally oppose or argue against someone or something by taking legal action. For example, you might wish to go to court in order to contest a parking ticket that you feel was administered unjustly.
There are two kinds of intersections: open (uncontrolled) and controlled intersections. Controlled intersections have traffic control signs or signals. When a driver approaches this type of intersection, he or she must obey the signs, signals, and right-of-way rules.
Courts are institutions in which a judge presides over the acknowledgement and ultimate determination of legal matters brought up by the plaintiff and opposed by the defendant.
Most counties have traffic courts that oversee traffic-related cases.
A dash cam is a video camera, capable of recording audio and video footage, usually mounted on the dashboard of police cars. Recent laws have allowed the public to request the footage collected in traffic stops, should you want to contest a charge.
A defendant is someone accused of legal violations and therefore is facing charges in court. If you're fighting a traffic ticket in court, you would be considered the defendant.
Related term(s): Plaintiff
This term refers is used to refer to two different things:
- A style of driving that helps you react safely when faced with road hazards, like dangerous weather, drivers, or road conditions.
- A safe driving course you can take after receiving a traffic ticket (court- and state-dependent), or to reduce your insurance premium if your insurance company provides discounts.
- Also commonly known as “traffic school" and “driver improvement"; see below.
In court, if the judge makes the decision to throw out some or all charges brought against you, then they are granting you a dismissal. This often comes as a result of the plaintiff not having sufficient evidence, or you successfully proving the charges against you were unjust.
Related term(s): Appeal, Contest, Fight
Illegally parking next to another vehicle that is properly parked in a stall or on the street. Parking this way prevents other drivers from leaving their parking spaces and stalls the flow of double parking is a traffic violation punishable by fine.
Any event or occurrence that directs the driver’s attention away from the task of driving.
A course designed to teach new drivers the ins and outs of being behind the wheel. Often required by states before drivers are able to receive an initial driver's license (such as teen drivers).
A manual provided by the state Department, or Bureau of Motor Vehicles that contains information about licenses, examinations, road signs, laws and rules of the road, seat belts, and safety issues.
Driver Improvement Program
A term used by some states to describe a safe driving course required or optional after a traffic violation (court- and state-dependent), or for an insurance premium reduction (if allowed by your provider).
* Also commonly known as “defensive driving" (see above) or “traffic school" (see below).
A portion of the highway/roadway used by a vehicle traveling in one direction.
Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while impaired (DWI) are part of a group of serious criminal charges related to drinking/using/being under the influence of drugs while driving or operating a vehicle.
Failure to Appear in Court
A "failure to appear" charge is issued after you have signed a traffic ticket promising to show up, but you in fact do not appear in court the day you are scheduled to. This may result in your license being suspended and even your arrest. Regardless of whether you forgot your court date, showed up on the wrong day, or lost your ticket, you must show up to court if you conceded to do so at the time of arrest.
A felony is considered the most serious criminal offense, and is punishable by lengthy prison time or even death (in some states). A traffic offense might be considered a felony if another person was seriously harmed or killed in a driving-related incident.
Related term(s): Misdemeanor
Fight A Charge
To fight a charge is to legally challenge it, aiming to prove the invalidity and/or unfairness of the evidence against you. Fighting a charge is the same thing as contesting a charge.
Related term(s): Appeal, Contest
The following distance is the space between your car and the car ahead of you. It is recommended to keep a reasonable following distance so you can safely stop in a case of an emergency, e.g., if the car ahead of you stops suddenly. A defensive driver maintains a safe following distance of at least three seconds behind the vehicle ahead. Following distance should be increased during hazardous road conditions, including nighttime and inclement weather conditions.
Field of Vision
The area a driver can see while looking straight ahead.
Graduated Driver’s License
A time-delayed system of increased driving privileges, to help ease new drivers into their roles.
A term used for a driver who has accumulated too many traffic tickets, been in multiple accidents, or received multiple convictions for other offenses.
Hydroplaning refers to a loss of traction and sliding on a film of water. Wet road surfaces can cause tires to hydroplane. This could result in loss of control and steering ability, as your tires may lose contact with the pavement. Hydroplaning is caused by a combination of standing water on the road, car speed, and under-inflated or worn-out tires.
An infraction is a minor offense that usually does not require a court appearance, and can be removed with the payment of a fine.
Related term(s): Non-Moving Violations
A test given to applicants for a driver’s license by a driver’s licensing office. Knowledge tests usually consist of questions based on knowledge of traffic laws, rules and regulations, and traffic signs. Passing a knowledge test is required for getting a learners permit.
Lane position is the placement of your car in the center, on the right, or on the left of a lane. Use these different lane positions to make adjustments for potential problems and create more space between your car and problem situations. On most highways or streets the width of a lane is twelve feet. The average vehicle has a width of six feet, which gives you six feet to maneuver your vehicle within the lane.
A lawyer is an authorized entity who argues for and/or defends a case in a court of law.
Related term(s): Attorney
A state document required for beginning drivers to operate a vehicle while under the supervision of an experienced driver.
Liability insurance is the insurance coverage that pays for other people’s expenses in crashes caused by drivers covered under your policy. Liability insurance is required by law in most states.
The termination of a driver’s license or driving privilege for an indefinite period of time.
A suspension is the temporary withdrawal of a drivers license or driving privilege for a definite period. A license may be reinstated after meeting legal requirements.
A misdemeanor is a classification of crime that is punishable by incarceration and requires a court appearance. Misdemeanor traffic offenses vary state.
Related term(s): Felony
Moving violations are traffic laws broken while your vehicle is in motion. For example, speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence (DUI/DWI) are all moving violations.
Related term(s): Non-Moving Violation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Part of the U.S. Department of Transportation whose mission is to “save lives, prevent injuries, [and] reduce vehicle-related crashes.” The NHTSA oversees critical behavioral and vehicle studies, along with maintaining and distributing data for safety research and statistics.
A driver who has accumulated a certain number of points on their driving record. A negligent driver may also be one who has been charged with driving under the influence, hit and run, or other multi-point violations.
Non-moving violations apply to situations that do not concern your vehicle's movement. Some examples include parking in front of a fire hydrant, parking in a “no-parking" zone, and driving with faulty car parts.
Related term(s): Infraction, Moving Violation
Operating Under the Influence (OWI)
An offense a driver may be charged with if driving after consuming alcohol and/or other drugs. Also known as Driving Under the Influence, or DUI.
A guide to operating the vehicle, provided by the manufacturer.
Parking next to a curb in the space between two parked cars.
The person, company, or legal agency filing charges and seeking repairs against someone else is considered to be the plaintiff. For example, if you're fighting your traffic ticket in court, the state's law enforcement agency would be the plaintiff.
Related term(s): Defendant
Point and Insurance Reduction Program (PIRP)
A safe driving course designed for drivers to remove points from a driving record and/or reduce insurance rates. Most commonly used in New York State.
A point system assigns point values to traffic violations for each state. When the BMV receives a conviction notice from the court, the offense is entered on your driving record and points are assigned. These points are counted during a specified time period. Once you accumulate a certain number of points, your license may be suspended, you may be required to attend a hearing, take a behavior modification driving course, or undergo a driver assessment reexamination.
Points are units of measure that track the severity and accumulation of traffic offenses on your record. Different offenses receive different point values. Not all states have a point system.
Public Driving Record
Each state maintains records on every licensed driver. While the traffic court or motor vehicles department has access to your complete driving record, insurance companies, employers, and others can only access your public driving record. This is important because taking a traffic school or defensive driving course will not erase a traffic ticket from your permanent record but it may be able to keep it off your publicly accessed record, depending on your state's rules.
Reasonable suspicion outlines a set of mitigating circumstances that might lead a police officer to briefly pull you over, but not conduct a lengthy, full search and/or interrogation.
Reckless driving is a moving violation characterized by a blatant lack of care for traffic laws and other people's safety on the road. In most states, some actions that are considered reckless driving are drag racing, eluding a police officer, and driving at excessive speeds.
Red Light Violation
A red light violation occurs when the wheels of your vehicle pass over an intersection's boundary line (e.g. limit line, crosswalk) once the light has already turned red.
Revoked Driver's License
When your driving privileges are cut completely, resulting in the need to re-apply for a license from scratch. Driving privileges can be revoked for driving under the influence, excessive speed, too many traffic violations, and other dangerous driving decisions.
Unlike a suspended license (see below), when a driver's license is revoked, driving privileges are permanently cancelled, and you will be required to not only meet all court-ordered fees and courses, but also apply and test for a brand new driver's license.
The privilege of having immediate use of a certain part of a roadway when two or more users of the roadway want to use it at the same time.
An uncontrolled emotional response by a driver to a traffic situation (deliberate tailgating, yelling at other drivers, assaulting another driver). An extreme form of aggressive driving that may be considered as a criminal offense.
Safety Belt/Seat Belt
A safety belt securely fastens a person to a car seat to prevent falling or injury. The law requires using your seat belt even if the vehicle is equipped with air bags. The seat belt must be in good working order and must be worn by you and all passengers while the car is moving.
A school zone is an area near a school. All states have a reduced speed limit (15-25 mph) in a school zone during certain hours. The beginning and ending of a school zone may be indicated by special signs.
Speeding violations are the most common types of moving violations that people receive. Depending on which state you live in, the parameters for giving out speeding violations will differ. Laws regarding speeding violations vary by state.
Related term(s): Moving Violation
Strict Liability Offenses
Strict liability offenses are traffic law violations that do not require proof of criminal intent to result in a conviction. Some examples include speeding, not using turn signals, driving with burned out headlights, and failing to yield.
Suspended Driver's License
A temporary stoppage of your driving privileges. Drivers can lose their privileges behind the wheel for a number of reasons, to include:
- Failing to appear in court.
- Too many negative driving points.
- Insufficient auto insurance.
- Driving under the influence.
Each department of motor vehicles or traffic court will have specific requirements for reinstating a suspended license. This may include resolving an outstanding court case, paying hefty fines as well as attending traffic school or a defensive driving course before a license will be reinstated.
A habitual continuation of traffic violations may result in a revoked driver's license (see above).
Tailgating is following another car too closely. If someone is following you too closely, be careful. Tap your brake lightly a few times to warn the tailgater that you are slowing down. Brake slowly before stopping. Avoid tailgaters when possible by changing lanes. If you cannot change lanes, slow down enough to encourage the tailgater to go around you. If this does not work, pull off the road when safe and let the tailgater pass.
Traffic includes all modes of transportation sharing the road for travel. Some examples are pedestrians, cars, public transportation, ridden animals, and bicyclists.
Traffic cameras are pieces of law-enforcement equipment used to automatically capture pictures of vehicles that have violated traffic laws. Such cameras have been used to ticket those who've run red lights and gone over the speed limit.
Traffic court is the legal entity responsible for the overseeing and prosecuting of traffic law violations.
Related term(s): Court
Traffic laws are the rules and regulations imposed by the state that govern how people must use public roads and operate their modes of transportation (e.g. car, bike, horse, etc.).
Another term used to define safe driver courses drivers can take to improve their driving record, offset driving record points, reduce insurance premiums, or other options required/allowed by their state.
* Also referred to as defensive driving course, driver improvement course, online traffic school, ticket dismissal course; see above. I know we're biased, but we suggest trafficschoolforless.com as the preffered california traffic school course.
A traffic ticket, or citation, is written by a law enforcement officer in regards to the traffic laws that you have broken. Usually, you'll be required to pay a fine or appear in court to address the charges.
Related term(s): Citation
Traffic Ticket Lawyer
A traffic ticket lawyer is someone who you can hire in order to fight or lessen charges being brought against you for traffic law violations (e.g. speeding, running a red light, driving under the influence).
Related term(s): Attorney, Lawyer
You incur a traffic violation when you ignore or break the traffic laws in your state. Some examples of traffic violations include reckless driving, speeding, texting and driving, driving under the influence, driving without a license, and running red lights.
Related term(s): Moving Violation, Non-Moving Violation
There are two kinds of intersections: open (uncontrolled) and controlled intersections. Uncontrolled intersections don’t have traffic control signs or signals. When a driver approaches this type of intersection, he or she must obey right-of-way rules.
A state’s Vehicle Code is a collection of laws related to the operation of motor vehicles.
Allowing other road users go first. A yield sign assigns the right-of-way to traffic in certain intersections. If you see a yield sign ahead, be prepared to let other drivers crossing your road take the right-of-way.
California law states that drivers under the age of 21 with measurable blood alcohol concentration of .01 percent will be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI).