Unsafe driving (N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2) is the most common ticket people plead guilty to in the state of New Jersey, and it is almost always done by way of a plea bargain with a prosecutor in municipal court. However, it is also one of the most confusing and misunderstood.
There are some benefits however, Unsafe Driving is a zero-point ticket when you plead guilty to the offense the first two times in your entire driving history. After you plead guilty to unsafe driving the second time, you need to make note of your offense date (the date you received the ticket) and make sure that you do not plead guilty to unsafe driving a third time for any offense date within five (5) years of your second unsafe driving ticket. Otherwise, you will be assessed 4 points by motor vehicles.
After the five (5) years have passed, you can plead to unsafe driving and receive zero (0) points. Some Judges and attorneys believe (I’ve heard it and it makes me cringe) that as long as you don’t plead guilty to unsafe driving three (3) times over a five-year period. Then you will not get points. That is not correct. It used to be the law, but the law was changed by the appellate division which was affirmed by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2008. (Patel v. NJ MVC, 403 N.J. Super. 373 (App. Div. 2008).
In addition, unsafe driving is one of the most expensive. For a first offense, the penalty including court cost is between $339 and $489. For a second offense, the fine increases to anywhere from $389 to $539. For a third offense, the fine can be between $489 and $839. The reason the fine is so high is that former Governor McGreevey was nice enough to make a quick fix to the budget by attaching a one-time $250 surcharge that attaches to every unsafe driving ticket. So, for a first offense unsafe driving ticket, this is how the most common assessment by a municipal court judge would break down, $150 fine, $250 unsafe driving surcharge, $6 state surcharges, $33 court costs, totaling $439.
A word of warning to out of state drivers, everything I have previously stated does not apply to you. In fact, you should never plead to unsafe driving, because you will pay the higher fine and your state will treat the unsafe driving charge as careless driving, which will mean you get assessed points by your home state. There are other zero (0) point tickets that could be available, and in some circumstances, there are point tickets in New Jersey that will actually go back to your state as a zero (0) point ticket. Some states like Pennsylvania and New York, for example, do not assess points for out of state tickets, as long as you do not have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Though, other consequences including a loss of driving privileges can apply, so please seek legal advice before paying the ticket and pleading guilty.
Because unsafe driving is a zero (0) point ticket insurance companies are not legally allowed to increase your insurance rates based upon a plea to this ticket. However, it has not stopped some insurance companies from trying. The reason these insurance companies try is that they are using inaccurate information to review your driving history. The insurance companies that try to increase your rates are using a nationwide driving history, and no other state in the union uses unsafe driving. So, these nationwide driving histories assess two (2) points for insurance purposes, because the nationwide driving history incorrectly views unsafe driving as careless driving. If your insurance company increases your rates, confirm with your insurance company that the unsafe driving ticket is the reason.
If possible, get them to put that in writing. Then obtain a copy of your New Jersey driving history which will show that you received zero (0) points for the unsafe driving violation. Then write your insurance company including a copy of your New Jersey driving history demanding that they adjust your rates, as they have incorrect information. If they do not comply, you have the right to sue them under New Jersey law. Though, I would highly suggest hiring an attorney if you get to this point.