“Failure to maintain lane” tickets can bring costly surprises

Traffic law, Crime

Lane-change violations might not be the first moving offense that comes to mind when you think about fighting a ticket or appearing in traffic court, but these tickets are serious and often come with hefty penalties.

What is “failure to maintain lane”?

Motor vehicle codes vary greatly state to state, but there are many commonalities. One common regulation relates to safe driving and, literally, staying in your lane. Many read like this example from Washington State:

Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic the following rules in addition to all others consistent herewith shall apply:

(1) A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety. (Revised Code of Washington 46.61.140)

There are, of course, other lane regulations related to such matters as passing on the left, passing on the right, and using HOV, bus, and bike lanes.

Sometimes lane-change tickets are issued as stand-alone violations, meaning the officer pulled a driver over just because of the lane infraction. Other times these are issued after an accident or in conjunction with a series of offenses. For instance, officers who suspect a driver of being impaired or otherwise distracted may use a lane violation as the reason to make a traffic stop.

How much will a lane-violation ticket cost?

The ultimate cost of a ticket is going to depend on many factors. These will include where the infraction took place: not just in which state, but also which county in that state, and sometimes which city in that county. Municipalities of all sizes frequently add fines and fees on top of the state’s base fine. For example, California’s base fine for a minor traffic violation is $35, but in San Bernardino County the total inflates to $196.00 once all the additional fines, fees, costs, and assessments are added.

Communities often raise base fines to achieve specific local public safety goals. For example, Washington, DC got a lot of attention when the local government proposed increasing certain speeding violations to $1,000. While that measure didn’t pass, it highlights the local nature of traffic laws.

Moreover, judges have leeway in raising or lowering of fines and penalties. Past driving infractions or outstanding traffic warrants can also affect the outcome.

What about points and traffic school?

In addition to monetary penalties, lane violations will often come with points. Points are state penalties “added” to your driver’s license. Accumulate too many points and you can lose your license. Simply paying a ticket (which admits guilt) means that the points are automatically added to your record.

Many states, such as Florida, offer drivers the opportunity to attend traffic school to avoid the addition of points. Traffic school, however, comes with its own set of costs and requirements in addition to the penalties of the underlying ticket.

I got a lane-violation ticket. What should I do?

The first thing to do when you get a ticket of any kind is to read the citation carefully, front and back. Sure, it has a lot of fine print, but, as they say, the devil is in those details. And time is of the essence. Penalties, fines, and costs increase with every day that passes after any deadline.

While traffic court and traffic tickets do not require a lawyer, it might make sense to get legal advice, especially if you intend to fight the ticket. Traffic attorneys deal with traffic violations every day. They understand the ins and outs of the court system and can help explain the local rules and provide advice on how to plead, whether or not to request a court appearance, and how to handle that appearance.

Below is some basic information on failure to maintain lane violations, potential fines, and links to local information in selected cities. Keep in mind that this information is highly location and fact specific and is subject to change.

City Violation Potential Cost of Typical Ticket* Further Information
Atlanta Improper lane change (no accident involved) $194.40 (base fine plus surcharges) The Municipal Court of Atlanta
Chicago Improper lane usage data not available State of Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County
Dallas Failure to maintain a single lane $102 (base) + $104.10 (fees/costs) = $206.10 Dallas City Hall (Fines and Infractions)
Houston Changing lanes not in safety $199 City of Houston
Los Angeles Lane straddling/failure to use specified lanes $35 (state base fine with fees $238) Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County
New York Unsafe lane change $200 (fees and fine) + $88 surcharge (Nassau County (Long Island)) New York Department of Motor Vehicles Traffic Violations Bureau
Orlando Failure to maintain lane $60 state base fine 2017 Florida Statues
Philadelphia Failure to yield half of roadway to oncoming traffic $50 base fine Pennsylvania State Legislature
Phoenix Drive in one lane; unsafe lane change $186 (base) + $27.45 (court technology enhancement fee) = $213.45 City of Phoenix: Civil Traffic Violations
San Diego Fail to drive single lane $162 City of San Diego Municipal Court Fines
San Francisco Failure to use designated lane $35 (state base fine with fees $238) San Francisco Superior Court
Seattle Improper lane usage or travel (RCW 46.61.140) $48 (state required base fine) King County District Court: Citations or Tickets

* Fine amounts based on state, county, and city data readily available.