Advice about a traffic violation, mandatory court appearance.
October 31, 2012 1:54 PM   Subscribe

How much will this traffic violation cost me?


Recently I was involved in a minor car accident in Savannah Ga. I'll give you guys any info I feel might be relevant and hopefully someone can offer me some advice on this.

Driving down a one way street, I became confused about the nature of the street and tried to turn. I was on the right hand side of the road. I attempted to turn left onto a different road. There were caution lights at this intersection, and while this might indicate in most cases that this was not a 4 way stop, I have seen at least 1 one 4 way stop in Savannah . I tried to turn left, believing that I was at a 4 way stop and that any traffic I would need to take into consideration would come from the left, right, or from the other side of the street. When I turned, I was side-swiped in the passenger side by another vehicle using the left side of the 2-lane one way street. There were no injuries, and damages to both cars were minor. The other car suffered some scratched paint and had a door dented in. My car lost it's left turning light and suffered some scratched paint and a dent.

We both pulled out of the main flow of traffic. Before doing anything else, I made sure that no one was harmed and that there wasn't a need to call an ambulance. The first thing the driver of the other car did was to tell me that the police didn't need to get involved if I paid him money. I didn't feel comfortable with this arrangement, and when I told him that I didn't have any money, he called the police and was almost aggressive about this. There was no reason for me to leave the scene, but he kind of kept insinuating that I'd be in big trouble if I left and that the police would find me. In a few moments I would have called the cops anyway, since, hey, it's a car accident, that's what you should do, but this guy started making this suggestion before he did anything else. He didn't inquire about my safety, he didn't ask about just felt really sketchy.

When the police arrived I was given a ticket, and the officer seemed fairly understanding of the situation. Apparently, the accident I was involved in isn't terribly uncommon. Savannah is FULL of one way streets that switch into 2 lane roads, and then sometimes switch back, there isn't necessarily a good pattern to them. Most of the 2 way streets on my side of town have 2 driving lanes, and most people park their cars facing both directions on one side of the street. So this can make it hard to orient yourself. While I am now familiar with the directions each set of streets runs in, I had just moved to a new apartment less than 2 weeks before the accident occurred, so I was still unsure of what each street did.

While the officer was questioning the other driver, I stayed quiet and said nothing, but I couldn't help but take note that when the other driver described the accident, he stated specifically that he thought my driving behavior was odd, but that he did not make any changes to how he was driving. I am fully aware that I am the one at fault, but I find it very odd that he noted that I was not driving appropriately, but did not slow down or drive more cautiously. When he hit me, he was driving at roughly 30 mph. I had come to a complete stop for at least 20 seconds and had my turn signals on, indicating that I was attempting to turn left.

This kind of violation requires that I appear in court. While my driving record until this point has been pretty strong (I only have one violation from when I was 16) I have had an increase in minor parking violations since I came here. (Much like the 2 way street situation, the parking here can be odd. I'm not being reckless, it's just a case of me not understanding the ways in which this driving environment was different from what I was accustomed to.) These have all been paid off, but I don't know if they will affect anything in this case.

After doing my research, I don't think I'll fight this charge. I made a driving error, and I think to claim otherwise would get most judges rolling their eyes at me. At the moment, I think my best option is to accept the judges fine, and to offer to take an optional driving safety class. That being said, I found the behavior and response of the other driver highly suspicious, and feel that the accident could have been avoided had he responded to what he clearly thought was a strange event with more caution. I'm not sure if this is in any way relevant to how I'll be judged, and I don't even know when I would bring it to the attention of the judge.

I tried looking up online how much court costs will be, and I also called the court house, but I could find no reliable information online, and the court house employee's told me that they could not tell me how much things would cost until the trial was over. As far as I could tell 3 points will be added to my license, but this doesn't particularly perturb me as I have no others. My hope is that, court costs included, This will be less than $500, because that's really all I am able to afford at the moment. Has anyone had any experience with this sort of thing? I plan to leave Georgia for the holidays right after this happens, and won't be around for the entire month of December. I really, really don't want to put myself in a position where I'm legally required to stay in the state to do anything. If I take the optional driving safety course, can I take it in Colorado? Otherwise...I'm out one plane ticket, and I can't see my family for the holidays.

Any advice or suggestions guys?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just to clarify -- were you stopped when he sideswiped you? Because from your description it sounds like you were stopped, with your left turn signal on, and he hit you. If that was the case you wouldn't be at fault (although it might be too late to fight it since you didn't tell the cop). However if you were moving it's a different case. Also what did you tell the cop? That matters a lot.
posted by DoubleLune at 2:04 PM on October 31, 2012

The police don't decide guilt, forget about his story, and from your description I can't tell if you didn't know that there was more than one lane, or you didn't know that it wasn't a two-way street.

I think generally it would have been reasonable to assume you were just parked there with a turn signal on like a dope, since it was a two-lane one-way and you were basically stopped in the right lane. That is, I would have passed you similarly, assuming that you wouldn't try to make a left turn from the right lane.

Note that I have gotten in an accident before where I actually said in my head, "no way is this person going to barrel into my lane and crash into me," after which they did exactly that.

HOWEVER, the judge doesn't care about this story, and by-the-by what is the charge for that you have to appear? Is it a misdemeanor or something? Unsafe lane change? Negligent or reckless driving? Regardless, I would focus on the contributing factors: poor signage, the speed of the other car such that it wasn't able to avoid you, and so on. I don't think there will be a question of whether or not the accident happened, so knowing the actual charge could be helpful here.

Beyond that, the guy probably doesn't have insurance. While it may come out mostly or completely your fault (not sure about GA insurance laws and whether they have no-fault), your insurance will figure that out, and if GA has insurance requirements like CA does, he'll lose his license once the insurance wheels start turning and the DMV gets wind of the situation.

Mostly speculation, natch.
posted by rhizome at 2:42 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't live in Savannah but I do live in Atlanta and have been to traffic court more than once. I think this was pretty clearly your fault and I don't think you need to go into any more detail in court than you have already. The more you say, the deeper a hole you dig yourself. The best outcome is that you go to court and get fined and go on about your life. Worst case, you get into a fight with this guy about his intentions or trying to bribe you (or whatever) and then the accusations fly and you end up in bigger trouble. Just stay calm, state your case, and be more careful in the future. In my experience, your parking tickets won't be brought up at all. If you can't afford to pay, they will work out a payment schedule with you. I know it all sounds scary but it's really no big deal and will only be painful in your wallet and the wasted time. Good luck!!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 2:45 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Judges hate nothing more than a party blaming the other party for not predicting how to avoid your confusing /reckless driving.

Do not attempt this line of defense - its predicated on the the idea that other driver had no concern for his car or body, and simply wanted to hit your car for no reason. He did not know you were going to make such a turn, and that's why the accident happened.

The more you have to talk and explain, the more the facts don't support your case.
posted by Kruger5 at 3:14 PM on October 31, 2012 [8 favorites]

Others have already given what seems to me the best advice on the actual in-court situation, so to address your final concern about travel to Colorado:

I can't imagine a scenario in which you are forced by a traffic court judge to remain in-state for any reason. If part of the judgment is that you take some kind of safe driving course, you should absolutely be able to schedule a time to take the course before or (within reason) after your trip.
posted by ronofthedead at 3:24 PM on October 31, 2012

What are you being cited for? That should help in figuring out maximum penalties.

In our jurisdiction, there are infractions (e.g. speeding, parking in handicapped spots) and misdemeanors (e.g. reckless or negligent driving.)

If this is an infraction, you normally are able to contest the ticket -- which I don't believe you should do -- or explain it on a "mitigation calendar," for which you can usually get a reduction in the fine.

If this is a criminal charge, i.e. a misdemeanor, you will want to talk to the prosecutor, either on your own or with an attorney, and try to negotiate a favorable plea bargain. This is not a case I would take to trial. At the plea and sentencing, don't cast fault on the other driver, but do explain the reasons you hope the judge is lenient in sentencing you (e.g. lack of prior moving violations, unfamiliarity with the roadway, difficulty paying a high fine.)
posted by bearwife at 3:29 PM on October 31, 2012

tell me that the police didn't need to get involved if I paid him money

Here in California, this is totally normal for accidents with minor damage and no injuries. He wasn't asking for a bribe - he was saying that if you paid for his damage out of pocket, you could avoid telling your insurance company, and thus avoid higher rates, and also not tell the police (and avoid getting points).

It's not always a good idea to accept these offers (or make them) for various reasons, but it does tend to work out cheaper so a lot of people do this. It is, in my opinion, a nice thing to offer.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:35 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

OP: You come across
as a bit timid/naive, and he likely picked up on that and took the tone that he did. Do not get caught up in how he acted, it is a distraction and meaningless. Some people act like that in the world, especially if they've just been in an accident.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:47 PM on October 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Point taken Kruger5. Thanks for the input.
posted by Rosengeist at 4:58 PM on October 31, 2012

First off, take responsibility for your actions: you were not sideswiped, YOU sideswiped another vehicle, YOU tried to make a left turn without paying proper attention to the vehicles that had the right of way. (Did you even come to a full stop before you made your turn, or just sort of keep rolling and never actually do a complete, 100% STOP-stop?) Don't go into court and blame anyone else; don't keep making excuses by saying there aren't many 4-way-stops in Savannah, there wasn't much other traffic that day, the other driver is to blame because you think he had room to avoid your illegal move, the other driver demanded cash after the accident, the other driver was agressive when he called the police .... All of that, your failure to take responsibility and your excuses, will just irritate the heck out of the judge.

The ONLY thing that matters is who caused the accident (YOU did), was anyone injured (thankfully, no) and how the accident happened (you were careless).

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but part of being an adult is facing your screwups. And I'm going to have to agree with the court clerks: they can't tell you now what the judge will decide later.
posted by easily confused at 5:19 PM on October 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Lawyer. Lawyer. Lawyer. The "take responsibility for your actions and throw yourself on the mercy of the other party" is a fine idea in your personal life, but a terrible idea where the law is concerned.

I have had polite folks who don't want to bother the insurance companies over a small dent. But I also had a litigious woman who frankly scared me. She went to all my court dates for the traffic violation and when the case was dismissed, she flipped out and started cussing at me to the point she was threatened with contempt by the judge.

She was just waiting for my guilty verdict to go ahead with a nice big civil suit against me (and my cheap insurance company I didn't particularly trust to defend my interests)

That the cop only cited you for "failure to use due caution" does seem a feather in your cap. It's vague enough that the judge might decide the other driver should have reasonably been able to mitigate the accident. I'm not sure if Savannah cops are required to show up in court. In Texas, cops are pretty lax and only show up for the more serious traffic violations.

Also, you may have been responsible for the accident. But that doesn't change the fact that it is possible that he sideswiped you. The photos from the accident should make that fairly clear. Let the system work, and don't try to whine your way out a ticket. But this is a legal matter. Don't just decide to be a doormat and hope it will work out.
posted by politikitty at 5:32 PM on October 31, 2012

Some of you seem to be conflating the traffic citation with insurance adjustment, but the judge doesn't give a toss about fault because that's for the money people to decide. It's just about the "due caution" ticket, which sounds like even lower than negligent driving or whatever. Now, the outcome of the court case might influence the insurance assessment, but it's not going to happen at the courthouse. No insurance people are blocking time out of their schedule to attend.

So, OP can describe ways in which they attempted to use due caution, if any, but that's probably about it. The other guy isn't even going to be there, and you'll probably get about two, two and a half sentences for your defense. You need something like "the closest previous one-way sign is 8 blocks behind the accident location. I never saw it."
posted by rhizome at 5:41 PM on October 31, 2012

Best answer: The person who can give you legitimate advice here is a lawyer. I would gently suggest that you anonymize this post and contact one.
posted by ellF at 7:11 AM on November 1, 2012

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