What Traffic Law Violations Cause Wrecks?

Vehicle safety regulations exist largely to minimize the number of auto accidents and improve the efficiency at which traffic moves. Disobeying a traffic law can often put other vehicle occupants and pedestrians at risk for injury in a traffic collision. Police enforce traffic laws rigorously, and if a violation results in an accident, the driver may be responsible for injuries and damages resulting from the crash.

A skilled lawyer can utilize police reports, observe damages and injuries resulting from the crash, talk to eyewitnesses and work with professionals who can reconstruct an accident in order to determine who is at fault and whether someone broke a law.

Breaking almost any traffic law can cause a car crash, but some of the most commonly broken regulations that result in collisions include:

  • Following too close/tailgating – Drivers must maintain a safe distance from other drivers on the road so that if one car needs to brake suddenly, the driver behind it has time to react and stop before a rear end collision occurs. These back end crashes can cause severe injuries, especially when the vehicles involved travel at high speeds.
  • Failing to stop at a red light or stop sign – Disregarding stop signs or traffic lights can result in fatal accidents, especially when the violating vehicle strikes another car directly on the driver or passenger’s side.
  • Speeding – Driving above the speed limit may give a driver less time to react to sudden obstacles, poor road conditions or other vehicles. Drivers should also adjust their speeds to compensate for weather conditions such as rain or fog.
  • Driving while Intoxicated – Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offense, since it greatly inhibits a driver’s reaction time and other factors that are important for safe driving.
  • Cell phone use while driving – Many – but not all – states ban drivers from texting and talking on cell phones or other mobile devices while driving.
  • Careless driving, reckless driving and similar offenses – Various offenses exist to penalize drivers who are inattentive or driving dangerously. The definition of these terms and what types of behavior are prohibited by law differ from state to state. However, reckless driving typically indicates a willful and wanton disregard for traffic laws and comes with severe punishments.

Need to Talk to a Lawyer Who Investigates Traffic Violations?

Breaking the rules of the road may not only lead to criminal punishments, but also civil liability. In order to prove whether any traffic violation occurred, you need to seek out an experienced lawyer who can investigate accidents in order to determine the cause.

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Can you get a “DUI” if you are sleeping off the effects of alcohol in your car?

If you have had too much to drink and do not want to drive your car, do not sleep off the effects of the alcohol in your car. The Illinois Supreme Court has found that a man who was sleeping in his car with the car running and a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 was guilty of driving under the influence. At trial, the defendant was sentenced to one year of court supervision and a $250 fine.
The defendant argued that he had no intention of driving but was using his car only as a stationary shelter where he could sleep it off, so he was not in actual physical control of the vehicle under the drunk-driving law. Even though the issue of actual physical control of the vehicle is decided on a case-by-case basis, the courts apply such criteria as: (1) whether the drunk person was in the driver’s seat; (2) whether the person had the key to the car in his or her possession (presumably, if one does not have the key, actual physical control cannot be found); and (3) whether the person had the physical ability to start the engine and drive the car. The courts believe that a person who is behind the wheel of a parked vehicle can easily move into a position to operate the vehicle and endanger other people, property, or vehicles.
Critics may disagree with the court’s reasoning because drunk persons who would opt for sleeping off the effects of the alcohol in their cars will now have the incentive to drive home drunk, taking their chances that they will not endanger themselves or others, or that they will not get caught. On the other hand, the “sleeping it off” rule encourages people to make travel and lodging plans before they drink, rather than when their judgment is impaired.

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Can you be guilty of “driving under the influence” without actually driving?

It is safe to assume that most Pennsylvania drivers realize that it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol. But some of the details and workings of the Pennsylvania statute may surprise you. For example, while the crime is called “Driving Under the Influence,” you can actually commit the crime without doing any driving. The statute forbids drivers from being in “actual physical control” of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Pennsylvania courts have determined that a driver is in actual physical control of a vehicle stopped or parked on the side of the road, either running or with the keys in the ignition.

Furthermore, while most Pennsylvanians might assume that only those on the road are subject to arrest for Driving Under the Influence, the statute makes it a crime to exercise control over a vehicle in a “trafficway” while under the influence. Our courts have held that parking lots subject to public use are trafficways, even if the lots are posted with “private” signs. Even where access to a private lot is restricted, but the lot is used by tenants, delivery persons, visitors, and other members of the general public, the lot qualifies as a public trafficway if users are entitled to an expectation that others will drive safely. Public parking lots, like those that serve businesses, restaurants, malls, and other places generally held open to the public, are considered trafficways, as well.

To convict a driver of Driving Under the Influence, a prosecutor must be able to show that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs to a degree that he or she was incapable of safe driving, or must be able to show that the driver had a blood-alcohol content of .1% or greater at the time of his or her control of the vehicle. While it is risky to do any driving after drinking, the mere presence of alcohol in your blood is not enough to create liability for the crime.

Drivers found asleep in their cars by the roadside or in public parking lots are vulnerable to arrest and conviction for Driving Under the Influence. If you find that you have consumed more alcohol than is safe, do not go out to your car to “sleep it off.” If you have no other choice, be sure to leave your keys with someone else and do not place yourself behind the wheel. Never move your car at all if you might be under the influence, even within a parking lot.

The public dangers posed by driving under the influence are serious. The Pennsylvania statute is designed to penalize anyone who handles a car when it is not safe to do so.

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Can the police ever search without a warrant?

There are numerous circumstances under which a search may lawfully be made without a warrant. The search can be conducted without a warrant if the safety of the police officer is involved. It may also depend on whether the police are in hot pursuit of a criminal or when they see illegal evidence in plain view. If a person consents to being searched, and/or if a lawful arrest has been made the police can search without a warrant.

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Can the police break a door down and enter the house to arrest a person?

Laws related to this area are known as Knock and Announce rules. The general rule is that the police officers must announce their authority and purpose in executing a search warrant. Implied in this general rule is that a suspect should be given a reasonable amount of time to come to the door before the police barge in, as a matter of protecting individual privacy. On the other hand, the mere failure of the police to announce their purpose does not necessarily violate the Constitution; although, it may be a factor later on as to whether the search was reasonable. This is especially true in grave offenses like drug trafficking etc.

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Can persons sentenced to life imprisonment be eligible for parole?

In Pennsylvania, persons convicted of premeditated murder must be sentenced to life imprisonment or death. Once sentenced to life imprisonment, they are not eligible for parole, but must serve the entire life sentence unless they secure commutation directly from the Governor.

While sentences short of life imprisonment are subject to parole, prisoners are not eligible for parole until they have fully served their minimum time. All sentences in Pennsylvania are expressed as minimums and maximums, and the minimum sentence cannot be more than one-half the maximum. Thus, commonly reported sentences in Pennsylvania are 5 to 10 years, or 6 to 12 months. Sentencing procedures and laws in some states and for some federal crimes permit of quick or early parole. But in Pennsylvania, the parole rights of convicted criminals are limited, and life means life.

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Can driving violations from out-of-state be reported to your home state?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a member of the Driver License Compact. The Compact is an agreement among some of the states of the United States to engage in mutual enforcement of penalties for serious driving violations. Thirty-nine states have signed the Compact, including Pennsylvania. The 11 states that have not signed are Alaska, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The Compact requires state motor vehicle authorities to report each serious motor vehicle conviction of a person from another party state to the person’s home state. The Compact further obliges a home state to treat such convictions the same as similar conduct occurring within that home state. The Compact only requires reporting and imposition of sanctions among states that have signed the Compact.
Pennsylvania entered into the Compact by legislative action on December 10, 1996. For any offenses that occurred before December 10, 1996, Pennsylvania cannot impose sanctions pursuant to the Compact. Only out-of-state driving offenses that occurred after the effective date of the legislature’s statute can serve as a basis for sanctions or license suspension in Pennsylvania.

If you are a Pennsylvania resident and you are cited for a serious traffic offense in another state that is a member of the Compact, you may face license suspension or revocation, or driving privilege limitations here in Pennsylvania. If your offense occurs in a state that is not a member of the Compact, you may be able to avoid punishment in your home state.

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BAIL: Getting out of Jail

Most people want nothing more than to stay out of Jail. Once arrested, the law requires that the prosecution file charges and bring you to court within 48 hours of your arrest. So, you have two options. You can immediately bail out, or wait until your arraignment in court when your lawyer can ask the court to release you on your own recognizance (OR release) or to reduce the original amount of bail to a lesser amount. Some people, mostly for financial reasons, wait until their arraignment to see if they can either get an OR release or lower bail that they can afford.

The law requires the judge to base his decision on two factors.

1) Protection of Public – Whether the defendant poses a threat to society.
To determine this the court considers: the seriousness of offense charged, whether there was involved an Injury, Firearm, or alleged threats, whether the defendant is on trial for another action, and the defendant’s Prior Criminal Record.
2) Probability of the defendant appearing (Flight Risk)

The first and primary factor the judge must look at is whether or not the defendant presents a risk of danger to the safety of a particular person or society in general. Here, the judge evaluates whether or not the crime charged involved injury, firearms, violence or other crimes.

The second factor is whether the defendant poses a flight risk of attending future court appearances if released on bail. Here, the judge looks for the defendant’s ties to the community. Factors include: whether the defendant is a resident of the community and, if so, is he a long-term or short-term resident, the defendant’s employment status and history, family ties and other factors that show either a strong or weak connection to the local community. The court may also evaluate the potential severity of the sentence which might induce a defendant to flee.

In each case, the court will evaluate both flight risk and dangerousness in determining whether or not to give a defendant an OR (own recognizance) release or a reduction in bail. The defendant’s lawyer can help tremendously by contacting family, friends and employers to obtain employment and residential letters confirming the defendant as peaceful man with a good reputation in his community. Family and friends also may wish to attend the defendant’s arraignment and bail review hearings to speak directly to the judge on behalf of the defendant.

A good attorney can often suggest No Bail alternatives, such as Supervised OR release subject to certain conditions, such as chemical testing, submitting to search and seizure etc. This is a key stage as it is important to get out of Jail and back to your life and working on your case.

To post bail, there are three options:
1) Post the full Cash Bond. (Your money is returned to you once your case is over and the bail bond is “exonerated”)
2) Pay a Bail Bondsman to post bail for you. The bondsman charges you 10% of the total amount of Bail as his fee (you don’t get it back).
3) Post a Property Bond. This is where the court allows you to place a lien on your assets (car or house) as a Bond, as long as the asset is appraised at twice (2x) the value of the Bond. Setting up a property bond costs approximately $2500 and takes over a week.

Which method is most economical depends on the amount of Bail. A good criminal attorney works with a Bail Bondsman to take care of this matter for you quickly and easily. This way, you can stay out of Jail!

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Are thermal detection devices used by law enforcement an invasion of privacy?

When a confidential informant advised Pennsylvania law enforcers that a suspected drug dealer was growing large quantities of marijuana in his home using artificial lights, a drug task force used a thermal detection device to confirm the report. The device, called a WASP, distinguishes appreciable and noticeable amounts of heat. Using the device, the task force found an unexplainable amount of heat coming from the basement area of the suspect’s home. Because the task force did not have to intrude onto the suspect’s property to use the WASP device, it did not request or obtain a search warrant.

The trial court found that vented heat or heat waste are not issues as to which residents expect privacy. The Pennsylvania Superior Court then heard the issue on appeal and disagreed.

Noting that thermal imaging can measure all temperatures across the exterior surface of a structure, creating an infrared picture of the heat sources and heat-generating activities inside a home, the Superior Court found the use of such devices to be an unconstitutional intrusion. The court noted that a person may suspect that his movements in a car may be tracked or that his suitcase might be inspected during his public travel. However, citizens do not expect that their activities within their own homes will be subject to high technology surveillance. Had the task force requested and secured a search warrant for the use of the WASP device, the Superior Court may not have been troubled by the issue.

It is likely that the technological tools available to law enforcers will be subjected to continual constitutional challenges. Where the use of innovative equipment is accomplished without search warrants, Pennsylvania courts will continue to focus on issues of privacy in determining the propriety of police conduct.

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