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Common North Carolina Traffic Violations and Penalties (2024)

On Behalf of The Law Firm of Brent D. Ratchford |

Navigating North Carolina roads can be tricky. Even the most careful drivers can end up with a traffic violation. While some violations are minor, others can come with severe fines and consequences. If you or someone you know has received a traffic violation, seeking legal counsel from an experienced North Carolina traffic attorney is essential.

Understanding common violations and penalties in North Carolina equips you with the knowledge to stay safe and keep others safe when you operate a motor vehicle in the state. Even though some penalties are less severe than others, it only takes 12 points on your license to have it suspended.

Running a Red Light or Stop Sign

Running a red light or stop sign is one of the top violations leading to accidents in North Carolina. Possible penalties for running a red light or stop sign are:

  • a fine of up to $100
  • 3 points on your driving record, and
  • 3 points on your insurance record.


One of the most common traffic violations is speeding or driving faster than the posted speed limit. No matter the rush, showing up a bit later is always safer than putting yourself and others in danger.

For speeding, a typical charge ranges from $10 to $250, depending on how much over the limit you were and where you were speeding. In addition to a fine, if caught speeding, you may face other consequences like adding points to your license or a suspended license if you already have points.

Failing to Have Insurance

North Carolina drivers are required to have the state minimum automobile insurance. Being found without it results in several penalties. Failing to have insurance means that you would face:

  • A $50 fine and $50 license reinstatement
  • Up to 45 days of probation
  • Your vehicle registration suspended for 30 days

A second offense would incur harsher penalties, like serving up to 45 days in jail.

Driving with a Suspended License

A suspended license happens for many reasons, such as failing to appear in court, driving without insurance, DWI convictions, accruing 12 points in three years, failing to pay child support, and more.

Getting caught driving with a suspended license means facing a Class 3 misdemeanor. This Class 3 misdemeanor carries a fine of $200 and up to 20 days in jail.

Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is more than a simple traffic violation in North Carolina; it is a Class 2 misdemeanor and criminal traffic offense. The charge can come from tailgating, illegal passing, failing to yield the right of way, aggressive driving, or driving at extremely high speeds.

Reckless driving carelessly and willfully disregards the rights and safety of others. A reckless driving violation comes with hefty penalties and fines. Being a Class 2 misdemeanor, the first offense of reckless driving can lead to up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. The second offense would come with even harsher penalties.

A reckless driving conviction also adds 4 points to your driver’s license and an automatic license suspension.

Driving Under the Influence (DWI)

In North Carolina, driving under the influence is typically called a “DWI” or “driving while impaired.” Like reckless driving, DWI is a misdemeanor.

Driving under the influence is never safe. In NC, you don’t even need to be “driving” to receive a DWI; the vehicle doesn’t have to be moving for you to operate or have physical control of it.

A North Carolina driver is seen as being under the influence if they have ingested a substance that causes impairment to their faculties. Along with this. North Carolina also prohibits operating a motor vehicle:

  • with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more (.04% for commercial vehicle drivers), or
  • with any metabolized schedule one controlled substance (like opiates or benzodiazepines) in their system.

Penalties for a DWI, including other factors, could be up to a $10,000 fine and up to 36 months in jail. If you are planning to consume alcohol or anything that can impair your faculties, designate an alternative travel plan beforehand.

Possible Defense in Court

With serious penalties possible, legal counsel is imperative. In some cases, like with a speeding ticket, a proper defense of your claim may help reduce or remove charges. Potential defenses for a traffic violation may include arguing:

  • Necessity
  • Improper or no signage
  • You did not commit the offense
  • Inaccurate equipment by law enforcement

While these defenses may not remove your traffic violation charge, they may help reduce the sentence.


Q: What Is the Most Likely Punishment for a Traffic Violation?

A: Although the punishment for a traffic violation varies depending on the type of violation, most violations in North Carolina are labeled as infractions. Infractions usually have penalties costing up to $500, but more serious offenses can include higher fines and jail time. The punishment may also vary depending on the facts of the case.

Q: Which Violation Carries the Most Points Against Your License in NC?

A: While many serious violations put points on your license, the offenses that put the most points on your license in North Carolina are DWI, manslaughter/negligent homicide, and prearranged racing. These all put 12 points on your license and immediately revoke or suspend it. Your license can be permanently revoked if you are a repeat offender.

Q: What Are Traffic Violations in NC?

A: Common traffic violations in North Carolina are speeding, running a red light, reckless driving, driving without insurance, driving with a suspended license, and DWI. While most traffic violations are infractions with a fine of up to $500, some violations are misdemeanors with heftier fines and jail time.

Q: Which Class of Violation Is the Most Serious?

A: Class A1 misdemeanors are the most serious traffic violations in North Carolina, but if a driver injures someone, these misdemeanors may become even more severe or get upgraded to felonies. For example, a misdemeanor death-by-vehicle is a Class A1 misdemeanor, and a conviction can carry a 150-day jail sentence and appropriate fines.

Contact The Law Firm of Brent D. Ratchford Today

Traffic violations in North Carolina can range from minor offenses to serious penalties. Use caution whenever you are in the driver’s seat. If you have received a traffic violation, seeking legal assistance is a great option to understand the charges and determine a good path forward. Contact the team today for a consultation.