Criminal Law

Driver's Licenses and Point Systems

Many states have point systems to keep track of the driving performance of their drivers. The most common basis for driver's license suspension or license revocation is the point system.

Assignment of Points

Under the point system, all traffic violations by a motorist in a state are reported to that state's department of motor vehicles. Accumulation of a certain number of points within a given period of time results in suspension or revocation of the motorist's license. Once points are accumulated, and depending on the number of points and the statute in force, the state may have discretion to assess a penalty.

Each state using a point system assigns a certain number of points for specific violations. Point assignment is determined either by statute or administrative regulation. Points may sometimes be issued in one state for a conviction of a motor vehicle violation in a different state.

For example, in New Jersey, violations are categorized according to seriousness. The violations considered more serious are assigned the greater number of points.

In New York, all violations are assigned two points, except as otherwise prescribed in the statute. The violations that are assigned a greater number of points include failure to yield the right of way, following too closely, driving too slowly, having inadequate service brakes, and reckless driving. These categories are assigned from three to eleven points, depending on the seriousness of the violation.

Under the New Jersey point system, the period of suspension varies according to the number of points accumulated and the time period within which they are accumulated. The New York system, in contrast, does not provide for any specific periods of suspension or revocation. Instead, a New York driver who has received a specified number of points must attend a formal hearing, and the driver's license may be suspended or revoked at this hearing. The duration of the suspension or revocation is left to the hearing examiner's discretion.

Professional Drivers

Some jurisdictions provide that the number of points that will trigger the loss of a license depends on the driver's status. For example, a professional driver, such as a taxi, bus or truck driver, may be allowed to accumulate more points than a nonprofessional driver before the professional driver's license will be affected.

New or Young Drivers

Under some point systems, new or young drivers are accorded different treatment from older or more experienced drivers. Young drivers may have their licenses suspended based on fewer points than older drivers.

Removal of Points

Many states provide for the removal of points from a driver's record under certain circumstances. In some states, if a driver has no violations for a fixed period of time, a specified number of points will be removed. In other states, points may be automatically removed after the passage of a set amount of time.

Other Ways of Suspension or Revocation

The point system is not the only reason a license can be suspended or revoked. Some jurisdictions provide for mandatory suspension or revocation for specific violations. Also, judges may have authority to suspend or revoke licenses irrespective of the point system. State laws vary as to whether a judicially imposed suspension can be credited against the driver's suspension for points or whether point systems operate independently of the other methods of suspension.

How Point System Should be Considered

You should consider the point system before responding to a traffic violation. You or your attorney should make an effort, either by plea bargain or by motion at trial, to reduce the charge if the violation charged has a point assessment greater than that of other offenses. Also, if two or more charged offenses arise out of the same act, you should argue that the violations were "merged" and that you can only be assessed points for one of the violations.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If I receive points for multiple traffic violations, how long will the points stay on my record?
  • If I commit a traffic violation in another state, will I receive points in my home state?
  • If I am responsible for a serious car accident, will I receive more points than a simple speeding violation?
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