It's simple, really, Careless Driving (39.4-97) can be just about anything you do wrong when you drive. In fact, if you cause any kind of accident in New Jersey and a police officer responds, you are likely to get a Careless Driving (39.4-97) ticket, if not a more serious ticket (such as for Reckless Driving). Careless Driving brings two points and a small fine. It is also likely to cause you to learn about another violation which you arguably committed – Unsafe Operation (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2).
Unsafe Operation (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2) is when a driver operates a motor vehicle "in an unsafe manner likely to endanger a person or property". Sounds a lot like Careless Driving (N.J.S.A. 39.4-97), doesn't it? In fact, the same mistake that earns a driver a Careless Driving (N.J.S.A. 39.4-97) ticket could just as easily be called Unsafe Operation (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2). That's because Unsafe Operation (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2) is a catch-all statute created by the New Jersey legislature to give defendants in municipal court the option to avoid points on their license though a plea bargain.
Here's how it works. You get in an accident – hopefully one without injuries. Then you get cited or Careless Driving (N.J.S.A. 39.4-97). The officer may hand you the ticket at the scene of the accident or he may mail it to you days later. Either way, you end up holding a summons to appear in municipal court. If you decide not to pay by mail and actually show up on the court date, the prosecutor may be willing to entertain the option of pleading guilty to Unsafe Operation (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2) (subject to certain restrictions and conditions). This will eliminate the points, but it will also cost you about three to four hundred dollars more than you would pay if you pleaded guilty to Careless Driving (N.J.S.A. 39.4-97).
So that's the deal – in certain situations, a driver facing a Careless Driving (39.4-97) conviction can avoid the points by paying a lot more money and pleading to Unsafe Operation (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2).
Now it's important to know that doing so is not always in the defendant's best interest. After all, the defendant's insurance company may not raise the defendant's rates because of a single ticket and only two points on their license. In fact, it's not easy to predict what an insurance company will do -- which is why it's advisable for the driver to ask his insurance company to be sure. And it's advisable to contact an attorney.
That's where I come in. If you're wondering what to do about a traffic ticket you received in New Jersey, please contact me, Greg DePaul, at (973) 376-8585. Consultations are free for minor traffic matters.