Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’: Rules of the Road

Road Trip? Make sure you know some of Pennsylvania’s basic vehicle and traffic laws before you hit the gas.

Car Insurance
Auto insurance protects you against financial loss in the event of an accident. Coverage varies by policy, but typically protects you against property damage to your vehicle, liability for injuries you cause to other people and property, and medical expenses that you or your passengers may incur. The law requires all Pennsylvania motor vehicle owners to maintain vehicle liability insurance on all currently registered vehicles.

Minimal insurance coverage in Pennsylvania includes:
$15,000 for injury or death of one person in an accident
$30,000 for injury or death of more than one person in an accident
$5,000 for damage to property of another person

Keep your insurance identification card in your car at all times as it serves as proof of your coverage. If you cannot show an officer a valid insurance card, the police officer will cite you for driving without insurance and, if convicted, your vehicle registration and driver’s license will be suspended for three months each.

If you get caught driving without insurance, you may face:

For more information, visit

Drinking and Driving
Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a crime. You may hear references to: Driving under the influence (DUI), Driving while intoxicated (DWI), Operation Under the Influence (OUI) and Operating a Motor Vehicle Intoxicated (OMVI).

The bottom line is this - it is unlawful for you to operate a car, truck, motorcycle or any motor vehicle if you are under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, prescribed medication such as painkillers, or even over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines. It may also be unlawful to ride a horse, operate a bicycle, boat or even a Zamboni while intoxicated. It is important to note that the vehicle does not need to be in motion for you to be charged­. In fact, police do not even have to observe you behind the wheel in certain situations. In most states, a person may be charged if in actual physical control, seated in the driver’s seat, in possession of the ignition key and capable of starting the motor.

Pennsylvania law grades the offense by blood alcohol content (BAC)

Penalties for general impairment, first offense:

Penalties for higher blood alcohol contents and for repeat offenders are much stiffer and can result in a license suspension of 18 months, as many as five years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

More Bad News
If anyone is injured as a result of your driving while impaired, you could face additional criminal charges and civil liability for the injuries you’ve caused. A DUI arrest stays on your driving record for ten years and will stay on your criminal record until it is expunged by the Court. A DUI charge can affect your future and jeopardize your career, including your ability to get a professional license. Your car insurance rates may increase after an arrest. Some insurance agencies may cancel your policy and others may refuse coverage. If you refuse to take a blood or breath test, your driving privileges can be revoked for one year, even if you win the DUI case. The Accelerated Rehabitive Disposition (ARD) program is available on a county by county basis for first time offenders. In addition to specific limitations set by individual District Attorneys’ Offices, you are not eligible for ARD if you were involved in an accident that kills someone or causes serious injury, or if you had a passenger under the age of 14.

ARD provides for a suspension of the criminal prosecution while the accused completes a program designed to identify the driver’s alcohol problem and provide treatment. ARD programs may require a license suspension of up to 90 days. You must attend and complete alcohol highway safety school as part of ARD. If it is deemed necessary you also will need to attend a licensed alcohol or drug treatment program. If you successfully complete an ARD program, you are eligible to have the charge dismissed, however if you are charged with another DUI within 10 years, that subsequent offense will be considered a second offense.

For more details about Pennsylvania’s DUI laws, including implied consent to blood alcohol content testing and driving impaired by medication,

Traffic Violations
Unlike scoring points in basketball and football, driving points are bad. Moving violations result in monetary fines, points, which may raise your car insurance rates, and even possibly suspend your operating privilege.

Many Pennsylvania moving violation convictions add points to your driving record. After six points, you will be required to take a special written examination to keep your license. If you pass this test within 30 days of being notified, then two points will be removed from your driving record.

Common moving violations:

After 12 months without being convicted of another violation three points may be removed from your record. Traffic tickets must be settled with the magisterial district court of the municipality in which you were cited. Follow the instructions on the citation. All courts accept cash and checks. Some courts allow you to pay traffic tickets online. When you pay a ticket it counts as a guilty plea and you’ll get points. You always have the option to fight the ticket in court if you disagree. Appear in court on the date and time listed on the ticket. You will have the opportunity to plead innocent and be scheduled for a trial.

If you don’t pay the fine by the deadline displayed on your ticket or appear in court on the date specified, the traditional judicial response is to issue a bench warrant. A bench warrant is a variant of an arrest warrant which authorizes the immediate on-sight arrest of the individual subject to the bench warrant. Sometimes drivers, stopped for a routine matter such as a faulty turn signal, are surprised when they are taken into custody to address a bench warrant issued years earlier for an infraction as minor as a parking ticket.

Parking Tickets
Unpaid parking tickets can hurt your credit and result in a bench warrant.

You can be pulled over if the music in your car is too loud. If the police can hear it from 50 feet away, it’s too loud.

Seat Belt Safety
There should not be more passengers than seat belts in a vehicle. Also, Pennsylvania law requires that all drivers and front-seat passengers be secured in a properly adjusted seat belt.

If you are considering tinting your vehicle windows, be sure the tinting complies with the laws in the state where the vehicle is licensed. If the level of tint is above the amount allowed by law, drivers will be cited and fined.

Vehicle Modifications
Any vehicle modification that makes it different from the way it was originally manufactured and registered will usually need state approval. Many minor vehicle modifications can be carried out without approval, but they must still comply with the regulations. Before making any modifications, find out if approval is required. Your local Pennsylvania vehicle inspection station and the licensed inspector can offer advice on modifications permitted by Pennsylvania vehicle inspection laws. It is also suggested that you talk over the modifications with your insurer. Failure to do this could result in a subsequent insurance claim being denied. Generally, modifications may not be completed if the change reduces the strength of the vehicle body, reduces the controllability or safety of the vehicle or causes danger to other people.

Vehicle Searches
During a traffic stop a police officer may ask to search your vehicle. You may refuse but you should decline as politely and firmly as possible. Without a warrant or your consent, police have limited authority to search private places such as glove compartments or your trunk. During a traffic violation stop, the police can ask for driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration. They can ask for a sobriety test and are allowed to pat down a person suspected of carrying a weapon. They may search around the driver’s seat and look through windows. If a more extensive search is required, police can make you wait or impound your vehicle while a search warrant is obtained.