While hitting a road sign is not as serious as running over a pedestrian or backing into a parked vehicle, it’s still a moving violation, and virtually all state and local traffic laws don't turn a blind eye toward the accident. The severity of the ticket or, possibly, charges, depends greatly upon the circumstances in which the sign was hit. Traffic law varies by state, but most states follow general guidelines when citing a driver for hitting a sign.
Careless Driving Penalties
Drivers who are momentarily distracted, hit a patch of black ice or otherwise inadvertently run into a sign may be charged with careless driving. Careless driving laws in most states imply negligence rather than a serious violation of traffic laws or willful behavior. In most states, careless driving is a relatively minor moving violation and isn’t cause for license revocation by itself. Expect fines in the region of $50 to $100.
Reckless Driving Penalties
If an investigating traffic officer deems the driver wasn’t merely distracted or a victim of split-second poor judgment, the driver may face reckless driving charges. Reckless driving charges imply that a driver was willfully violating traffic laws or was acting with disregard for the rules of the road. actions such as excessive speeding, rapid lane changes, radical braking or other potentially dangerous behaviors that lead up to the accident may be enough to push a careless driving infraction to a reckless driving infraction. Reckless driving violations are considerably more serious than careless driving charges, with fines reaching $1,000 dollars or more. Depending on state and local regulations, the offense may result in license revocation or a mandated trip to traffic school.
Read More: How to Get Reckless Driving Dismissed
Hit and Run Accidents
A driver that leaves the scene of an accident without attempting to contact police may be charged with a hit and run in addition to the careless or reckless driving charges that stem from hitting the sign. Drivers who hit a traffic or construction sign must immediately notify police before leaving the scene of the accident. In remote spots, areas without cellular reception or on poorly traveled roads, drivers may leave the scene of the accident to contact police but must notify authorities immediately upon arriving in a place that allows for phone calls to traffic authorities. In most states, leaving the scene of an accident where's there's property damage is punishable by heavy fines and jail time of up to a year.
Extenuating Circumstances May Decrease or Increase Charges
Additional circumstances may lessen or increase the charges involved with hitting a traffic sign. Drivers whose brakes or steering malfunction and cause the accident may receive a faulty or defective vehicle citation rather than a careless driving infraction, and if the accident was the result of weather conditions, some states issue citations for driving too fast for conditions rather than careless driving. Drivers found to be under the influence of alcohol or another drug when they hit the sign will also face driving under the influence or driving while ability-impaired charges, which are much more severe than reckless driving charges.
Hitting a road sign is a moving violation, and you could get a ticket depending on the circumstances. If you were intoxicated when you hit the sign, drunk driving charges could be added.
Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.