Georgia Juvenile Traffic Laws
Georgia Juvenile Courts have jurisdiction over all cases involving people under the age of 17. This includes traffic cases. Traffic matters involving people under 17 can be treated in one of two ways. They can be treated as “Juvenile Traffic Offenses” or as “Juvenile Delinquency Offenses.”
Georgia Juvenile Traffic Offenses
Most Georgia Juvenile Traffic tickets are treated as Juvenile Traffic Offenses. O.C.G.A. § 15-11-630 defines a Juvenile Traffic Offense as a “violation of a law or local ordinance governing the operation of a moving motor vehicle upon the streets or highways of this state or upon the waterways within or adjoining this state.”
Georgia law requires that juvenile traffic cases be heard “separately from other proceedings of the court.” In larger jurisdictions, such as Fulton County, the juvenile court may hear only traffic cases for the entire day. In smaller jurisdictions, traffic cases may be heard for a few minutes prior to the commencement of the rest of the court's calendar. Traffic calendars are informal. In some jurisdictions, non-petitioned traffic cases are not even heard in a courtroom, but in a conference room. Because of the informal nature of the proceedings, it is tempting to treat these juvenile traffic matters as though they have relatively minor consequences. This is a mistake because traffic crimes involving juveniles in Georgia can have real consequences.
If the Juvenile Court finds that a child committed a traffic offense (or the child enters an admission to the charge), the Court may:
- Issue a reprimand or a warning,
- Order the Department of Driver Services to suspend the child's license for up to 12 months,
- Require that the child attend a Defensive Driving course approved by DDS,
- Require that the child attend a substance abuse clinic or a program approved by the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental disorders for a “reasonable period of time,”
- Assess a fine not exceeding the amount an adult could be required to pay for the same offense,
- Require the child to complete community service,
- Require such child to attend structured after-school or evening programs or other court-approved programs as well as requiring supervision of such child,
- Require that the child and/or the parent participate in counseling,
- Require the child to obtain a high school diploma or GED, or
- Place the child on probation,
- Impose any other sanction that would be legal in a delinquency case. This may include, in certain circumstances, incarceration in a juvenile detention facility.
While these potential outcomes are severe, some jurisdictions also have “traffic diversion” or abeyance programs, which allow the child to complete some conditions and ultimately have their charges dismissed. These conditions may include defensive driving or community service. These programs can be beneficial because they prevent adjudications from being submitted to the Department of Driver Services and therefore no points are assessed on the child's license. A person is usually only eligible for programs like this one time.
The Court also may transfer the case to the delinquency calendar and order the filing of a juvenile petition. Juveniles and their parents should keep in mind that they are never required to plead guilty to charges. They can still deny the allegations and request a hearing on the charges, during which they can subpoena witnesses, present evidence, and cross-examine witnesses.
Juvenile Delinquency Matters Resulting from Traffic Tickets
There are some moving violations that the Georgia legislature considers sufficiently serious so as to be treated as juvenile delinquency cases rather than as juvenile traffic matters. These are:
- Aggressive driving,
- Reckless driving,
- Speeding offenses punishable by four or more points,
- Homicide by vehicle,
- Manslaughter resulting from the operation of a vehicle,
- Any felony in the commission of which a vehicle is used,
- Fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer,
- Fraudulent use of a driver's license,
- Hit and run,
- DUI, and
- Any offense committed by an unlicensed driver under 16 years old.
As discussed above, Juvenile Court judges may also transfer cases from the traffic calendar to the delinquency calendar. Some of the listed offenses are felony offenses. Most are misdemeanors. The potential outcomes are dependent upon whether the offense is a felony of a misdemeanor as well as the child's juvenile history (if any).
Some of the dispositional options available to Juvenile Court judges include:
- A requirement that the child and/or the parent(s) participate in counseling,
- Probation (supervised or unsupervised),
- Community service,
- A requirement that the child obtain a high school diploma or GED,
- Restitution, if applicable,
- A fine (for certain offenses),
- Suspension of the child's license,
- Placement in an institution, camp, or another facility for delinquent children (if the offense is a felony or the child has significant juvenile history),
- Commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice (if the offense is a felony or the child has significant juvenile history),
- Up to 30 days in a secure residential facility (if the offense is a felony or the child has significant juvenile history).
Traffic Laws for Persons Under 17 in Georgia
17-year-olds are not quite adults, but the courts view them as adults for criminal purposes. If you are 17, you will face harsher consequences regarding your driver's license. For drivers under 18 years old that accumulate four points or more on their license, their license will be suspended. Furthermore, they will not be eligible for a limited use driving permit. This is considered a hard suspension. Georgia traffic laws for people under 17 years old are severe, and it is important to be aware of the consequences you may face.
License Suspensions following Juvenile Traffic Cases
For some offenses involving juveniles, it is possible to simply pay the fine listed on the ticket just like one could do in an adult traffic case. In a Georgia juvenile traffic case, however, this is not advisable. Merely paying the ticket results in the ticket being submitted to the Georgia Department of Driver Services, which then assesses points on the juvenile's driver's license. Many parents are unaware of that and merely pay their child's ticket. They are then shocked when they get a notice in the mail that their child's license is suspended. It is challenging to undo this once it is done. This is not to say that going to court on the offense will necessarily save the child's license, because the same license penalties apply if a child is adjudicated on the charges by a juvenile court judge. Going to court does, however, provide an opportunity to ask the judge for alternative options. It also provides your Georgia Juvenile Court Attorney the opportunity to negotiate a better option with the State.
The Georgia Department of Driver Services assesses points based on the severity of the offense. For example, Unlawful Passing of a School Bus is a 6-point offense, while Texting While Driving is a 1-point offense. For individuals under the age of 18, accruing 4 points within a 12-month period will result in license suspension. This means that, depending on the offense, a single Georgia Juvenile Traffic Citation can result in a license suspension.
In addition to license suspension for accumulation of 4 or more points within a 12-month period, single adjudications on certain offenses will result in license suspension. These include:
- Hit and run,
- Using a motor vehicle in fleeing or attempting to elude an officer,
- Reckless driving, and
An important note: A plea of nolo contendre counts as an admission and will not prevent a license suspension under this code section. It is also important to note that no limited permits are available for drivers under 21 years old, so during the period of suspension, the juvenile will be entirely unable to drive.
With the exception of DUI, after a first suspension for the above offenses (including accumulation of four or more points), the juvenile driver may apply for reinstatement of his or her license after six months. After a second or subsequent such suspension, the license may be reinstated after twelve months.
Reinstatement requires completion of a Defensive Driving course as well as payment of reinstatement fees. Reinstatement fees for a first suspension are $210 if paid in person and $200 if paid by mail. Reinstatement fees for a second suspension are $310 if paid in person and $300 if paid by mail.
Regardless of whether your child's case is being charged with a Juvenile Traffic Offense in Georgia or as a Delinquency Case, the stakes are extremely high. Don't take chances and run the risk of your child being unable to drive, being placed on probation, or even being sent to a juvenile detention facility. Know your options, and contact us today.