Can a Speeding Ticket Be a Misdemeanor or Felony?

Aggravating circumstances that can turn a speeding ticket to a criminal offense.

Generally, a traffic ticket for speeding is an infraction, which typically isn't considered to be a criminal offense. As a traffic infraction, a speeding ticket normally carries a small fine and possibly license demerit points. But a speeding violation that's charged as a misdemeanor or felony can come with more serious penalties such as jail time. This article outlines the factors and circumstances that can elevate a simple traffic ticket for exceeding the speed limit to a serious criminal offense.

Standard Infraction Speeding Tickets

Drivers who get caught speeding usually receive an infraction ticket. The ticket will normally specify what the violation is (exceeding the speed limit), a deadline, and the driver's options for resolving the citation.

Dealing With an Infraction Speeding Ticket

Drivers who receive infraction tickets normally must either pay the ticket or appear in traffic court.

Drivers who pay the fine by the stated deadline generally don't need to appear in court or take any further action.

Drivers who wish to fight their tickets must come to traffic court and plead not guilty to the violation prior to the deadline. The judge will then set a hearing date. At the hearing, the driver can dispute the ticket and assert any defenses they might have.

How Much Infraction Speeding Tickets Cost

Speeding infraction tickets generally carry fines that range from $50 to a few hundred, depending on the driver's speed relative to the speed limit and whether the violation occurred in a work or school zone.

Also, a speeding violation will generally result in traffic violation demerit points and can contribute to increased insurance premiums.

However, traffic infractions typically can't result in the driver spending time in jail.

Misdemeanor Speeding Tickets

In a few states, all traffic offenses (including speeding violations) are classified as misdemeanors. However, in the majority of states, a speeding violation will be a misdemeanor only if it involves certain aggravating factors. Some of the more common reasons a speeding violation might be charged as a misdemeanor include:

  • Excessive speeding. The most common misdemeanor speeding charge is for excessive speeding. In other words, you could face misdemeanor charges if you get caught driving at a speed that's well above the speed limit. In some states, speeding is a misdemeanor if you get caught exceeding the speed limit by a certain amount. Depending on what state you're in, this amount might be anywhere from 15 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour in excess of the speed limit. In other states, misdemeanor charges can result for anyone traveling over a specific speed. For example, in some states, driving over 100 miles per hour can lead to misdemeanor charges.
  • Commercial vehicles. A standard speeding ticket can also be charged as a misdemeanor based on the type of vehicle operated. Drivers of commercial vehicles—especially school buses and hazmat transports—are held to stricter standards than are other drivers. So, for commercial drivers, exceeding the speed limit by only a small amount can sometimes lead to misdemeanor charges.
  • Reckless driving. Excessive speeding that poses a substantial risk to others or the property of others can be charged as reckless driving, which is typically a misdemeanor. For example, driving extremely fast through an area where there's lots of pedestrian traffic could lead to a reckless driving charge.
  • Street racing. Street racing on public streets and highways is generally a misdemeanor charge.

These are the major categories of circumstances that can result in misdemeanor speeding charges. However, the laws of each state are different, so the specifics of what can make a speeding violation misdemeanor also vary by state.

Dealing With a Misdemeanor Speeding Ticket

When you pick up a misdemeanor charge, you'll generally have to go to criminal court rather than traffic court. And, unlike with traffic court, you typically can't get out of having to go to criminal court by paying a fine ahead of time.

Criminal court is normally more formal than traffic court. But in criminal court, you'll also have more rights than you'd get in traffic court. For example, in criminal court, you have the right to court-appointed counsel if you can't afford to hire an attorney. In traffic court, you can either represent yourself or hire an attorney—the state isn't responsible for providing an attorney even for indigent defendants.

Misdemeanor Speeding Ticket Penalties

Misdemeanor speeding offenses generally carry up to a year in jail and a maximum of $1,000 in fines. Depending on the circumstances and the laws of your state, a misdemeanor speeding violation might also come with license demerit points and possible license suspension.

Felony Speeding Violations

Generally, a speeding violation won't result in felony charges unless accompanied by some other highly dangerous activity. However, here are a few ways speeding can lead to a felony charge:

  • Injuries and deaths. When a speeding violation results in injuries or deaths, the driver could face felony charges for vehicular assault or vehicular manslaughter.
  • Evading an officer. Speeding can also be a felony if the driver is being pursued by law enforcement. In some states, felony "evading" is defined as exceeding the speed limit by more than 15 miles per hour while fleeing from law enforcement.

Also, speeding-related offenses that are normally misdemeanors (such as street racing) can sometimes result in felony charges for a second or subsequent violation.

Felony Charges in Court

As with misdemeanors, felony charges are handled in criminal court. Felony cases are serious and the court procedures are normally somewhat more involved than those that apply in misdemeanor cases. But, as with misdemeanor cases, in felony cases, the defendant has the right to court-appointed counsel to help navigate the process.

Penalties for Felony Speeding-Related Charges

The hallmark of felonies is that they carry a minimum of one year in prison. The maximum amount of time you'll spend in prison on a felony conviction depends on the circumstances. But, generally, the maximums go up with the seriousness of the offense. Also, anyone convicted of a felony offense will generally face hefty fines that can be anywhere from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars. License suspension or revocation will almost always result from felony speeding-related offenses.