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Illinois Traffic Violations
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Traffic Violations in Illinois

Traffic violations occur when road users - pedestrians, motorists, cyclists - disobey road usage, traffic safety, or vehicle operation laws. Running a red light, speeding, driving under the influence, failure to provide proof of insurance, texting while driving, and following too closely are typical examples of these violations in Illinois.

While traffic violations seem trivial, and indeed some are, people can still face criminal charges because of them. Most times, when a criminal charge is brought for a traffic violation, it is a misdemeanor charge. A traffic violation usually only becomes a felony when it causes a fatality, injury, or property destruction. In such cases, the criminal court will handle the offense, not the traffic court, like for other offenses. Because criminal traffic violations are deemed serious offenses in Illinois, an offender can expect to be punished with a jail or prison sentence, in addition to other stiff penalties. Another consequence is that the offense will appear on the individual's Illinois traffic record.

On the contrary, when the state of Illinois considers a traffic violation as petty (minor) or a business offense, the offender will only incur a fine from the circuit courts (the state's traffic courts). However, the violation will appear on the individual's driving record unless the party qualifies to attend traffic school or be placed on probation.

Ultimately, an individual who violates a traffic law in Illinois will not only sustain penalties from the courts. The Secretary of State may also add points to the offender's driver's license, the accumulation of which can result in the restriction of the license or the party's driving privileges. Furthermore, a traffic violation may affect an offender's job, educational opportunities, and insurance. In the aspect of insurance, it is quite probable that the offender will have to pay more for coverage, obtain additional coverage, or find insurance elsewhere due to the termination of their policy.

Types of Traffic Violations in Illinois

Traffic violations in Illinois are generally classified as petty offenses, business offenses, or criminal offenses (felonies or misdemeanors). Nonetheless, this categorization can be further broken down into moving or non-moving traffic offenses/violations.

Moving violations occur when someone breaks a traffic law while operating a motor vehicle. Examples include speeding, following too closely, drag racing, and texting while driving.

Meanwhile, non-moving violations occur when a vehicle is parked or stopped. However, an individual can also be cited for a non-moving violation because of defective or improper vehicle equipment or paperwork issues. Some non-moving violations include broken tail light, parking near a fire hydrant, cracked windshield, expired tag or registration, illegally tinted windows, driving with no license plate, and driving without insurance.

As other people are more likely to be harmed by a moving violation rather than a non-moving one, the state imposes higher fines for such violations. Indeed, someone may spend around $100 or less to resolve a non-moving violation but pay up to $2,500 or more for a moving violation.

Moreover, the courts report moving violations to the Secretary of State's Driver Services Department. The effect is that points will be assessed against the offender's license, the offense will be listed on the party's driving record, and such information will be available to insurance companies (which often leads to increments in insurance premiums) and other members of the public.

Also, when a person acquires too many moving violations or points, it results in the suspension, revocation, or cancellation of the individual's license or driving privileges. According to the Secretary of State, an adult driver with three or more moving violations within 12 months will suffer a license suspension or revocation. For an underage driver (under 21 years), the limit is two or more offenses within 24 months.

Still, there are moving offenses for which no points are assessed but result in immediate suspension or revocation. For example, driving without liability insurance, driving without a valid license or permit, felony traffic violations, and fleeing or attempting to evade a peace officer. A complete list can be found within the Illinois Traffic Offenses publication.

Illinois Traffic Violation Code

The Illinois traffic violation code is a set of laws compiled in Chapter 625: Vehicles of the state's Compiled Statutes. The code regulates the operation of vehicles on the state's roadways. It also outlines all traffic violations, including driving-related criminal offenses, and penalties.

Illinois Felony Traffic Violations

Felony traffic violations refer to offenses that involve an aggravating element such as death, bodily disfigurement, property damage, or the threat of it. For these offenses, an offender always has a great likelihood of being sentenced to prison for a long while. Depending on the felony class (4, 3, 2, 1, or X), an offender's prison sentence can range from one to 30 years or more.

Also, when other penalties (e.g., fines) are imposed, they are often more severe than what non-criminal traffic offenders sustain. Below are some felony traffic violations in Illinois:

  • Aggravated fleeing or attempting to evade a police officer
  • Leaving the scene of an accident (w/death or injury)
  • Aggravated reckless driving
  • Vehicular homicide
  • Driving while license suspended
  • Aggravated driving under the influence and prior DUI convictions

Illinois Traffic Misdemeanors

Traffic misdemeanors comprise offenses whose penalties are a step-down from felony traffic offenses but still involve imprisonment. Typically, the most an individual can suffer for a traffic misdemeanor in Illinois is 364 days in jail, a fine not exceeding $2,500, or both. Examples of these violations include:

  • Driving while license suspended or revoked
  • Leaving the scene of an accident (w/vehicle damage)
  • Driving under the influence (w/alcohol concentration. 08 or more)
  • Reckless driving
  • Street racing
  • Speeding 26 mph to less than 35 mph over the posted limit
  • Speeding 35 mph or more over the posted limit
  • Fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement

Traffic misdemeanors can usually be enhanced to felonies if specific circumstances exist. Case in point: the crime of reckless driving is defined under 625 ILCS 5/11-503 as "driving a vehicle with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property" or "intentionally using an incline in a roadway to cause a vehicle to become airborne". For this offense, an individual will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, which attracts six months to less than a year in jail and a fine not exceeding $2,500.

However, reckless driving can be escalated to a Class 4 felony (two to five years in prison) if the violation causes great bodily harm or a permanent disfigurement/disability to another person. The charge can also be enhanced to a Class 3 felony (one to three years in prison) if a child or a school crossing guard on duty was severely harmed. An offender will also be subject to a fine of up to $25,000.

Illinois Traffic Infractions

Illinois does not classify driving-related offenses as traffic infractions but rather as "petty" or "business" offenses. Nevertheless, all describe the same type of violation: an offense without a jail or prison sentence. Because the law regards petty and business offenses as minor, cited motorists can usually pay fines to resolve such violations. Examples include:

  • Failure to wear a seat belt
  • Failure to yield
  • Equipment violations (e.g., faulty headlamps)
  • Speeding less than 25 mph over the posted limit
  • Driving without proof of insurance
  • Driving while license suspended
  • Texting while driving
  • Following too closely
  • Excessive idling
  • Red light and stop sign violations
  • Improper lane changes
  • Parking violations
  • Most ordinance violations

Although the consequences of petty or business traffic tickets are quite insignificant when compared to a misdemeanor or felony traffic violation, such offenses can still affect a person's life, especially when a ticket is ignored. One common outcome of an unresolved ticket is the suspension or revocation of a person's driver's license or privileges.

Illinois Traffic Violation Codes and Fines

Traffic offenders are often liable to pay fines because of their offenses. These fines are established by legislation and are based on the severity of a person's offense. For instance, when an offense is categorized as a petty offense, the offender will be subject to a fine from $1 to $1,000 plus mandatory court costs. However, if the violation is a business offense, the fine will be more than $1,000, excluding court costs.

Meanwhile, the fine penalty assessed for a misdemeanor depends on its class. In Illinois, misdemeanor offenses are grouped into Class A, B, and C offenses. Hence, when one's offense is a Class C or B misdemeanor, the maximum fine is $1,500. When the offense is a Class A misdemeanor, the maximum is $2,500. Felonies, on the other hand, are punished with a fine of up to $25,000, despite the class of felony.

Usually, the law specifies a fine range for a traffic violation, but occasionally, a specific amount may be indicated. When this happens, the fine imposed by the courts may be the lesser amount.

How to Pay a Traffic Violation Ticket in Illinois

Traffic violation tickets issued by law enforcement officers in Illinois will either order offenders to appear in court on a particular date or not. When no court appearance is mandated, an offender has the following options to resolve their violation:

  • Plead guilty and pay the fine without visiting the court
  • Plead guilty, pay the fine, and attend traffic safety school
  • Plead not guilty and request a hearing
  • Plead guilty and attend court on a designated date for the judge or prosecutor to decide the appropriate sentence

Anyone who opts to pay the fine will usually find instructions on the ticket or circuit court clerk's website. Subsequently, the party can visit the court to make the payment or send the ticket amount via check or money order to the clerk's official mailing address. The street and mailing addresses of the appropriate court can be sourced from the judicial directory provided by the Illinois judiciary.

Additionally, all Illinois circuit court clerks maintain traffic ticket payment systems on their websites, which are typically accessible with a person's last name and date of birth, citation number, case number, or driver's license number. These systems simplify ticket payments, thereby eliminating the wait times associated with mail payments and the need to visit the court to settle a fine-only violation.

Prospective payers should note that paying a traffic ticket equals pleading guilty to a traffic violation in Illinois. As such, the conviction will be placed on one's driving record unless the party chooses - and is eligible - to attend traffic safety school. People who attended traffic school in the past 12 months may not be eligible.

Furthermore, when unable to pay a fine, the court may arrange a payment plan upon the offender's request. However, people whose licenses were suspended or who have pending tow or storage fees may not qualify for such relief. The procedure for requesting a payment plan may be provided on the circuit court clerk's website or acquired directly from the clerk.

Traffic Violation Lookup in Illinois

Case lookup databases hosted on the websites of the circuit court clerks allow individuals to find information on traffic violations in Illinois. To search such databases, a person often only needs a citation number, case number, or last name.

As mentioned earlier, the circuit court clerks maintain traffic ticket payment portals on their websites. Apart from using these systems to find and pay for outstanding traffic tickets, people can also uncover information related to a violation, such as an amount owed and a court date.

How to Plead not Guilty to a Traffic Violation in Illinois

Any person cited for a traffic violation in Illinois has the right to contest the charge (plead not guilty) upon believing to be innocent. Instructions on how to do this will be written on the back of the blue copy of the ticket under "Avoid Multiple Court Appearances". This information will also be available on the circuit court clerk's website.

Generally, anyone who elects to plead not guilty must sign and return the blue copy to the appropriate clerk's office at least 10 business days before the date listed on the ticket. The copy can be delivered in person or by mail (the respective addresses can be found on the clerk's website or the ticket). Afterward, the clerk will schedule a new court date and notify the offender.

It should be noted that if one's citation requires a court appearance, the individual can appear in court on the date specified on the ticket and plead not guilty before a judge. However, the hearing or trial will not be held on the same day.

What Happens if You Plead No Contest to a Traffic Violation in Illinois

A plea of no contest (referred to as nolo contendere) is similar to a plea of guilt. The notable distinction between the two is that while a person who pleads guilty accepts their role in the crime, a person who pleads no contest does not accept responsibility but does not contest the charges either. The result is that the offender will receive the criminal penalties associated with a guilty plea, but the conviction cannot be used as evidence against them in subsequent trials or proceedings.

However, people who violate traffic laws in Illinois can only plead guilty or not guilty. There is no option to plead nolo contendere to traffic offenses.

How Long Do Traffic Violations Stay on Your Record?

When an individual commits a traffic violation in Illinois, one consequence is that the offense will be disclosed to the Secretary of State, but only if it is a moving violation. This disclosure leads to points on the offender's license and the violation listed on the offender's driving record. Also, because insurance agencies will obtain this information, the offender's insurance premiums will likely be increased or canceled.

According to the Secretary of State, moving violations stay on a traffic offender's driving record for four to five years. However, if the violation is a DUI (driving under the influence), it will remain on the record permanently. Furthermore, if the violation led to a license suspension or revocation, that information will remain available for at least seven years, beginning from the license reinstatement date.

It should be noted that a felony traffic offense such as a DUI or vehicular homicide also has a good chance of appearing on a person's criminal record. In such cases, the offense will remain there, accessible to the public, unless the offender manages to expunge or seal the record.

Can Traffic Violations Be Expunged/Sealed in Illinois?

Yes. The Illinois statutes permit the expungement (erasure) and sealing (concealment) of traffic violations. The general rule is that people arrested or charged with certain traffic violations can apply for an expungement or sealing. However, to be eligible for such relief, they must not have any pending criminal charges and incomplete sentences, and the necessary waiting period (if specified for the offense) must have elapsed.

Traffic violations that cannot be expunged or sealed in Illinois include:

  • Convictions and court supervision for minor traffic offenses cannot be sealed.
  • Convictions and court supervision for the following offenses cannot be sealed:
    • Driving under the influence (DUI)
    • Reckless driving unless the offender was below 25 years of age at the time of the offenses and had no other convictions for reckless driving or DUI
  • Minor traffic violations cannot be expunged unless the offender was released without being charged or accused of a Class A or B misdemeanor.
  • Civil infractions cannot be expunged or sealed. They do not appear on criminal records.
  • Reckless driving (for offenders 25 or older) and DUIs involving court supervision cannot be expunged.

Note that expungement or sealing in Illinois only applies to a person's criminal record, not driving record. Details about the state's expungement and sealing procedures, forms, and costs are available on the Office of the State Appellate Defender's (OSAD) website.

What Happens if You Miss a Court Date for a Traffic Violation in Illinois?

When mandated to appear in court for a traffic violation in Illinois, an individual is strongly encouraged to observe that court date, as missing it may trigger more penalties. For one, the court may issue a bench warrant for the defaulter's arrest (though this mostly occurs when the underlying charge is criminal). In less severe cases, the court may assign another date for the court appearance and notify the defendant by mail.

Furthermore, if the traffic offense is a fine-only violation, the judge may hold the hearing and enter an ex parte judgment of conviction (a judgment passed in the defendant's absence). The defendant will be subject to that judgment, including any penalties levied, unless the party overturns it.

Lastly, the court can direct the Secretary of State to suspend the offender's driver's license. This suspension remains active until the party goes to court to resolve the original violation and provides proof of that resolution to the Secretary of State. A license reinstatement fee will also be required.