Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device, codified in O.C.G.A. § 40-6-20, is one of the most common traffic infractions in Georgia. In general, the law states that the “driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of an official traffic-control device, unless otherwise directed by a police officer.” In most cases, this charge results from a person running a red light. This offense can be treated in one of two ways: as a misdemeanor traffic offense or as a civil infraction.
Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device as a Misdemeanor Offense
If a person is stopped by a police officer and charged with Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device, the offense will be treated as a misdemeanor traffic offense. Typically (thought not always), the person will receive a traffic citation with a court date listed, or he or she will receive a court summons in the mail. As in any traffic or criminal matter, the defendant in such a case has the right to retain an attorney, and the State must prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Of course, it is usually possible to pay the ticket in advance of the court date. It is important to note that payment of the ticket is an admission to the offense, and points will typically be assessed on a person’s license. Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device is a 3-point offense. Read more about the points system here, as well as how to reduce the number of points on your license.
What must the State prove?
The State must prove that a person actually encountered a traffic control device. This sounds obvious, but evidently this is not always the case, as evidenced by Harris v. State, where the officer cited a driver who cut through a gas station parking lot and exited on the other side of the gas station in order to avoid a red light. The Court of Appeals found no violation of the law because the driver did not disregard or disobey the traffic light’s instruction to stop at the intersection. Harris v. State, 344 Ga.App. 572, 810 S.E.2d 660 (2018).
The main defense to a Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device charge is that the traffic control device in question was not in the proper position and sufficiently legible to be seen by an “ordinarily observant person.” For example, if a person can prove that a red light was broken or that a stop sign was knocked over when he or she failed to stop, that might constitute a defense in this case. However, traffic control devices need only “approximately” conform to the requirements; thus, if the positioning of the device is only slightly off, this would likely not be a sufficient defense. Furthermore, there is a presumption that traffic control devices are properly placed. That means that a defendant in such a case must affirmatively present sufficient evidence to overcome this presumption. For example, pictures of the faulty or misplaced device, would be illustrative.
Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device as a Civil Infraction
A person who is caught running a red light by a traffic camera mounted to the traffic light may be found liable for a civil monetary penalty. Under this subsection, the civil penalty may be no more than $70. Violations for which civil penalties are imposed are not considered moving violations. Thus, no points are assessed and insurance companies are not notified.
Notification of a violation under this subsection must be sent out not later than ten (10) days after the violation. The notification must include:
- The citation that includes the date, time, and location of the offense,
- The amount of the monetary penalty imposed,
- A copy of the photo(s),
- A copy of a certificate or sworn affidavit by a certified peace officer employed by a law enforcement agency stating that, based upon the images, the owner’s vehicle ran a red light in violation of the law, and that the violation was not otherwise authorized by law,
- Information about how and when the violation may be contested in court, and
- A warning that failure to pay the penalty or to contest liability within a certain time period will result in a waiver of that person’s right to contest liability.
Interestingly, liability under this subsection shall be determined based upon preponderance of the evidence. This means that it must be more likely than not that a person is liable of the violation. This is in contrast to any criminal case, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a much higher standard of proof.
In general, proof that a person was the registered owner of the violating vehicle creates an inference that that person was the driver and therefore liable for the civil penalty. However, this is a rebuttable presumption, and may be overcome if the owner:
- Testifies under oath that he or she was not the driver at the time of the violation,
- Presents to the court a certified copy of a police report showing that the vehicle had been reported stolen prior to the alleged violation, or
- Submits to the court a sworn notarized statement identifying the name of the operator of the vehicle at the time of the alleged violation.
Relationship to Other Offenses
Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device may serve as the underlying offense to other, more serious offenses. For example, in State v. Nix, the Georgia Court of Appeals found that it may be the basis for a Vehicular Homicide or Failure to Yield Right of Way charge. State v. Nix, 220 Ga.App. 651, 469 S.E.2d 497 (1996).
Although Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device may not serve as an underlying offense to DUI, it provides the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion that an officer requires to stop a driver, which may (depending on a variety of circumstances) lead to a DUI arrest.
Why hire a Georgia Traffic Lawyer?
For a Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device case, it is extremely important to ensure that your rights are respected throughout the process. Regardless of whether you are charged with a misdemeanor traffic offense or with a civil violation, you have rights and these rights must be observed. As detailed above, there are also distinct types of defenses in both kinds of cases. If you have been charged with Failure to Obey a Traffic Control Device, call me today.