If you were involved in some sort of traffic incident in the state of Pennsylvania, whether you were pulled over for speeding or for running a red light, you may be surprised to know that the state has only a limited time to file charges against you before the statute of limitations expires. After the statute of limitations has expired, the state of Pennsylvania may no longer pursue charges for that particular traffic incident. With some exceptions, the statute of limitations is 30 days from the violation or the discovery of the identity of the offender if it is not known at the time of the incident.
The Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for Traffic Incidents
The statute of limitations for offenses related to vehicles is governed by Section 5553 of the Pennsylvania Code. Although there are exceptions, in general, proceedings must be commenced within 30 days after the alleged incident, or within 30 days after the identity of the alleged offender is discovered, if it is not apparent at the time of the incident, such as might be the case in a hit and run.
Traffic offenses that are subject to the 30-day statute of limitations are those defined as summary offenses under Title 75 of the Pennsylvania Statutes and include, but are not limited to:
- Violations of traffic rules, such as running a stop sign or failing to use a turn signal,
- Driving over the speed limit,
- Texting while driving,
- Failing to meet vehicle equipment standards, like noise pollution or working brake lights,
- Driving on a sidewalk,
- Careless or reckless driving,
- Abandoning a vehicle, and
- Damaging property with a vehicle.
Read More: Statute of Limitations on Traffic Violations
What Constitutes Commencement of Proceedings
The commencement of proceedings for the purposes of the statute of limitations is either when a complaint is filed or a summons is issued. From a practical standpoint, because traffic tickets generally include a summons, the statute of limitations on a speeding ticket would be a factor only if the officer did not issue a ticket at the scene. However, in cases where there is not an officer on the scene or where there is an investigation, such as if a vehicle damages property and then leaves the scene, the commencement of action happens when a complaint is filed with the court or a summons is issued for the incident.
Exceptions to the 30-Day Statute of Limitations
There are three exceptions to the 30-day statute of limitations for summary traffic offenses.
- The first exception is when proceedings were commenced within 30 days, but it later appears that someone else was the offender. If a complaint or summons is filed within 30 days of discovering the true identity of the offender, the statute of limitations is met.
- Secondly, if the offense involved an accident resulting in the bodily injury or death of a person, the statute of limitations is extended to 365 days after the commission of the offense or after the discovery of the identity of the offender.
- Finally, if the officer suspects that the conduct constitutes more than one summary offense and that the offense occurred while the suspect was driving under a suspended or revoked license, the proceedings must be started within 30 days of the offense, within 30 days of discovering the identity of the alleged offender, or within 30 days after the police officer receives verification of the basis for the suspended license, whichever is later.
Even with the exceptions, Pennsylvania has a three-year maximum statute of limitations on summary traffic offenses. Therefore, even if exceptions apply, proceedings cannot be brought more than three years after the commission of the offense.
Sally Brooks is a writer living in New York City with her chunky toddler and patient husband. She graduated magna cum laude from the University Cincinnati College of Law and her work has been featured in Jurist and the Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review.