Posted on Jun 11, 2009

In New Jersey, points assigned against your license can cause problems, like increased auto insurance premiums or the suspension of your license if you get too many of them.  That is why people try to avoid them.   Prior to 2000, drivers given traffic tickets that could result in the assessment of points, speeding, for example, were usually able to avoid them when represented by an attorney by downgrading it to an innocuous charge that did not carry points.  However, the State then enacted a statute under the Motor Vehicle Code for "Unsafe Operation of a Motor Vehicle" under N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.2 (commonly referred to as a "97-2″).  This allowed for the avoidance of points, in exchange for a fine and a $250 surcharge, twice within five years.   In other words, if you used it a third time within that period, you would be assessed four points!

This changed several months ago when the New Jersey Appellate Division held, in the case of Patel v. New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, that the five years started to run only after there had been a third offense and the assessment of points!  This effectively says that you only have two lifetime opportunities to avoid points.  After your third offense (and 4 points) you can then "reset the clock" if you go five years without using the plea.  For this reason, this plea should only be used after careful consideration, consultation with a lawyer, and in situations where the assessment of any points could result in adverse consequences, such as the ones stated above.

Another consideration is the dilemma of the out of state driver ticketed in New Jersey.  Traffic penalties in one state are usually "reciprocated" in another, but not always for exactly the same thing.   For example, in Pennsylvania or Delaware, "unsafe operation" is equivalent to "careless driving" and carries points!  As you can see, a 97-2 is not an option in that instance, and only serves to emphasize the importance of out of state drivers consulting with an attorney before entering into any plea in our traffic courts.

UPDATE: This situation has changed, as the NJ Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division in Patel.  See the more recent post here.

Steven J. Richardson
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Bankruptcy, Collections, Student Loan, DUI and Traffic Court attorney in Woodbury, NJ.

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