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Guide To Traffic Violations: When Employers Should Be Nervous

Police officer checking a driver's license by a car

When hiring employees who will drive or operating a motor vehicle on behalf of your business, a motor vehicle records (MVR) check is crucial to protecting your company.

This article explains the different types of traffic violations, how to look up traffic violations, which infractions should be a cause for concern, and what to do if you decide not to hire a candidate based on their MVR.

Traffic violations happen every single day in the U.S. According to Geico, an estimated 112,000 speeding tickets are issued every day—which is roughly 41 million speeding tickets a year (and that’s just speeding). 

As millions of traffic violations are issued nationwide each year, it’s not uncommon for people to have an infraction or two on their driving record. But when it comes to hiring future employees who will be driving or operating a motor vehicle on behalf of your business for any reason, it’s important to have a better understanding of the different types of traffic violations that may appear on your candidate’s driving record check, or MVR check, and know which ones should be a cause for concern. 

Understanding the different types of traffic violations, how to look up traffic violations, and how they may affect your hiring decisions can help you minimize risk; protect your organization from liability; maintain your organization’s reputation; and help protect employees, customers, and others from harm. 

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Types Of Traffic Violations

What are traffic violations? When a driver breaks a law regarding operating a motor vehicle, it’s called a traffic violation. Traffic violations are usually categorized as infractions, misdemeanors, or felonies. However, each state’s motor vehicle department may classify, process, and penalize violations very differently. 

Violations are also categorized as moving or nonmoving. Moving traffic violations occur when the vehicle is in motion at the time of the infraction. For example, running a red light, speeding, or driving under the influence are moving violations. These types of violations are more serious than non-moving violations because they pose greater danger to drivers and others on the road. 

Nonmoving violations occur when a vehicle isn’t in motion. For example, parking in a no-parking zone, having expired registration tags, or a broken taillight on the car are non-moving violations. 

Punishments for both non-moving and moving traffic violations vary from state to state. They are also affected by other factors, such as the jurisdiction where the violation occurs; the driver’s prior violations and convictions; and whether the violation results in property damage, injuries, or death. 

Penalties for traffic violations can range from minor (such as receiving a warning) to moderate (paying fines or having strikes against you or points deducted from your license) to major, such as a suspended license, community service, jail, or prison. 

Depending on the severity of the offense and the punishment, traffic violations can have serious implications for a driver’s personal and professional life. Violators may see their auto insurance premiums increase. Losing the right to drive could make it difficult to get to work or, if the person’s job involves driving, could cost them their job. 

Minor Traffic Violations

Are traffic violations crimes? Although some more serious violations may be, most traffic violations are fairly minor and are referred to as civil infractions. A civil infraction is the least serious type of traffic violation. Although it’s breaking the law, it’s not classified as a crime. However, it’s important to remember that depending on the specific offense, even minor traffic violations are still dangerous and can lead to serious injuries, property damage, or death. 

Common types of minor traffic violations can include:

  • Speeding. Even driving at posted speeds can be considered speeding if the driver is going too fast for current road conditions, such as ice or snow.
  • Making an improper turn.
  • Not using a turn signal.
  • Distracted driving. This includes cellphones, but states, cities, and counties may have their own traffic laws that ban or restrict the use of cellphones while driving. 
  • Seat belt or child restraint violations.
  • Passing a school bus while the bus is stopped.
  • Driving without a valid license or insurance.

Even for violations that are classified as minor or civil infractions, repeat offenses; committing several violations in a short period of time; or causing injury, property damage or death can elevate the violation to a misdemeanor or felony charge. This may mean harsher punishments, up to and including jail time. The specific factors that reclassify a violation may vary depending on state and local laws and the driver’s prior driving record. 

Serious Traffic Violations

Serious traffic violations are labeled criminal offenses and are typically categorized as misdemeanors or felonies. Punishment for these offenses can result in imprisonment. 

Depending on the situation, some violations may also be classified as more or less serious based on the circumstances of the violation and the state in which you live. For example, a first-time violation is generally considered less serious than the same violation by a serial offender. 

Examples of more serious traffic violations include:

  • Reckless driving: Exactly what constitutes reckless driving may vary from one state to another, but it’s generally defined as driving without regard for the safety of others. Going an excessive amount over the speed limit, tailgating or driving aggressively, driving the wrong way, and racing another car are examples of reckless driving.  
  • Driving under the influence (DUI), sometimes called driving while intoxicated (DWI). 
  • Leaving the scene of an accident, also called a hit-and-run. 
  • Running a red light or stop sign.

Just as with minor traffic offenses, what constitutes a serious traffic violation can vary from state to state. For example, in some states, drivers can be charged with a DUI if they are sitting in a parked vehicle while impaired; in other states, a DUI charge requires the vehicle to be in motion. Penalties may also vary depending on the driver’s previous offenses and criminal history; surrounding risks; and whether the violation caused property damage, injuries, or death.

When To Be Concerned About A Candidate’s Traffic Record

When evaluating candidates for a position that involves driving, it’s important to get a thorough background check that includes an MVR (motor vehicle report).

An MVR check can tell you a lot about a potential employee beyond just their driving record. The way a person drives reflects their commitment to safety; their sense of responsibility; and their respect for company or personal assets. 

If a job candidate has committed a minor traffic violation, it may not be too much cause for concern—especially if it’s their first offense. Minor non-moving violations, such as driving with a broken taillight or without your license, can also be written off as human error in most cases. It’s easy to leave your wallet at home, and you may not know your taillight was out.

A speeding violation may also be considered fairly insignificant, depending on how far over the speed limit the driver was going and how frequently they’ve been cited for speeding. Multiple violations for going 25 miles over the speed limit, however, is more serious and would be classified as a criminal violation. 

More serious traffic violations may be more difficult to judge. You’ll need to weigh their importance depending on the nature of your business, your background screening policy, and the position for which the candidate is applying. For example, if you’re hiring for a driving-related position, such as a delivery or shuttle driver, candidates with serious violations may not qualify. 

If you find a desirable candidate with a serious violation on their MVR, it’s important to consider additional context. For example, how long ago was the violation? Was it a one-time occurrence? Have they rectified the situation? Have they taken steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again? The insight you gain from the candidate’s answers will help you make an informed hiring decision. 

What To Do If You Decide Not To Hire A Candidate Based On Their MVR 

If you learn a candidate has committed more than one serious offense, or the particular offense was extremely dangerous or deadly, what do you do? For all hiring decisions based on background checks, you should consult your company policy and use an adjudication matrix to help ensure you’re making consistent hiring decisions. 

Background checks, including MVR checks, are subject to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), so if you decide not to hire a candidate due to information found in their MVR, you must follow the adverse action steps. At the federal level, these steps include sending a pre-adverse action notice and a copy of the background check. Depending on your jurisdiction, additional steps may be required, such as individualized assessment of how the record relates to the job you are hiring for. If you ultimately decide not to hire, you must send a final adverse action notice. 

Compliance is key to avoid repercussions from your hiring decision, so you may wish to consult GoodHire’s background check compliance guide. It offers a series of employer checklists and information to help you stay compliant with background check laws. 

Get A Clear Picture Of A Candidate’s Driving Record With GoodHire

Gathering in-depth information about a candidate’s previous education, employment and work experience is fundamental to the hiring process. When you’re hiring for positions that involve driving, you should be equally diligent in gathering information about the candidate’s driving history.

Getting an MVR check from GoodHire can reveal relevant information about a potential employee’s driving record, including moving violations, drivers license class, and drivers license status (such as any license suspensions or restrictions), and driving-related felony or misdemeanor convictions (such as DUIs or DWIs). Using GoodHire for MVR checks can help ensure you gather all the information you need while complying with relevant laws and regulations. 

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

author karen axelton

Karen Axelton is a Southern California-based freelance writer specializing in business topics.