What Safety Pros Need to Know About Major vs. Minor Traffic Violations

Motor vehicle records (MVRs) hold a wealth of information. Some of the most important data found on an MVR includes driver violations. Classified as either major or minor, chances are that some of your company’s drivers have incurred violations.

Violations hold the key in understanding not only your company’s drivers but also divulge the severity of the violation received, whether drivers should be behind the wheel in the first place, the likelihood of violation recurrence as well as success of remediation efforts.

What is a traffic violation?

The word “violations” is defined by Dictonary.com as “a breach, infringement or transgression, as of a law, rule, promise, etc.” When a driver receives a violation, it represents the breaking of the invisible contract signed upon getting behind the wheel to follow the rules of the road.

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Violations are broken down into two main categories – major violations and minor violations. Although this classification varies state-to-state and a definitive list isn’t concretely agreed upon, we often hear the following question – “what’s the difference between major driving violations versus minor driving violations?”

We have the non-technical breakdown of major vs. minor traffic violations that even the most seasoned of safety professionals are looking for.

Different types of traffic violations

What is a major traffic violation?

Major violations are serious offenses that carry heavy weight when accounted for on an MVR. Oftentimes due to the severity of the action, major violations bring about both fines and jail time. Some major violations include:

  • Operating a vehicle under the influence
  • Driving with a suspended or invalid license
  • Reckless driving
  • Behaviors including speed racing
  • Using a vehicle to commit a felony
  • Hit and run
  • Fleeing from law enforcement
  • Vehicular manslaughter or assault with a vehicle

What is a minor traffic violation?

On the other hand, minor violations are really any other illegal behind the wheel behavior outside of the major violations listed above. When pulled over for a minor violation, your company’s drivers can expect to pay a fine, fight your violation in court or, if available, utilize educational tools like traffic school to nullify the violation at hand. Examples include:

  • Speeding
  • Running a red light
  • Failing to yield
  • Failing to obey traffic devices like cones, pedestrian crossing markers or construction signs

Why distinguishing major vs. minor traffic violations matters

As a safety professional with direct line of sight into your company’s drivers, you know the importance of keeping track of all behind the wheel behaviors. Distinguishing these violations proves important though in determining your company’s risk tolerance.

Intolerable risk

Major violations are intolerable risk, proving to be nothing to scoff at. As seen by the examples listed above, these violations can be catastrophic if occurring on or even off the clock (thanks in part to negligent entrustment).

Especially in the age of the nuclear verdict, knowing the drivers in your fleet who have major violations should be cause for concern. Upon discovering this information, employers typically react by engaging in intensive intervention efforts, removing those drivers from being behind the wheel as a whole or even terminating employment because of a breach in company safety policy.

Tolerable risk

Minor violations are oftentimes indicators of violations yet to come but makes up tolerable risk, or risk your company is willing to take on. The risk brought upon by minor violations can prove to be corrected and isn’t always grounds for termination.

There are many factors to consider when thinking of minor violations. Sometimes, minor violations that matter most to your company aren’t accounted for on an MVR. What you aren’t seeing on an MVR – parking lot fender benders caused by inattentiveness, a burst tire due to hitting a curb or backing up into a pole – should be taken as seriously as recorded minor violations.

One statistic to consider when thinking of minor violations and your company’s tolerance? Our data shows that a history of reckless, careless, inattentive or negligent driving (which is what primarily makes up minor violations) increases the likelihood of a crash by 64 percent.

That’s why efforts like driver training typically work best to combat minor violations. Losing your best drivers over mistakes that can be contested with education-based refreshers is many times not worth it.

Major and minor violations as part of your driver risk management strategy

Looking at major and minor violations as a critical component of your overall driver risk management strategy is a must for any savvy safety professional, especially when considering the ramifications of violations incurred. After all, major and minor violations can cost your company more than just money.

When one of your drivers engages in high-risk behaviors, they’re putting your brand and reputation at risk while opening the door for a potential nuclear verdict. Consider this – when your company is not aware of someone behind the wheel who has either a major or minor driving violation, they’re putting everyone at risk.

How are you accounting for such violations in your driver risk management strategy? If you’re curious to see how your company’s efforts are stacking up, download our checklist, titled How Safety Professionals Can Improve Their Driver Risk Strategy This Year, to learn more.


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