Who can answer US traffic law questions authoritatively?

Does someone in the government answer questions about laws or do we only find out in court?

For example, can we expect answers from someone in the police department?


2 Answers 2


The only really authoritative source of answers is a court interpreting the laws on an as applied basis (and there are many U.S. traffic laws, one in every state and sometimes additional local ones, not a single U.S. traffic law).

An answer from a government official or police department is not authoritative, although it may be informative of how the official in question would enforce the law.

  • Additionally, courts give great deference to enforcing agencies to distinguish offenses from non-offenses, so it will be very difficult to get such an interpretation (on appeal). I don't think courts of first instance aren't all that useful.
    – user6726
    Jul 27, 2017 at 16:10
  • @user6726 Appellate decisions are absolutely more authoritative than trial court decisions when they are available, but in any particular incident, the trial court is the first body to make an authoritative interpretation of the relevant law as applied to those particular facts in that particular case.
    – ohwilleke
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:18
  • I guess my point is that you can't extrapolate from a magistrate's decision in a particular case to something that one can rely on as a "statement of the law". Maybe if you had a large database of facts and decisions in a jurisdiction that transcended one magistrate.
    – user6726
    Jul 27, 2017 at 21:54

The executive branch may certainly publish the laws and educational materials about how they enforce them. The judicial branch has its own interpretation and may also publish guidance in addition to specific case reports. Your own attorney may earn a living by answering your questions about the likelihood of success on the merit of any particular case, in light of the foregoing.

Even if you were to convince a police officer or motor-vehicle administrator to give you a "firm answer", it would not necessarily be binding upon them or anyone else, if it turns out they were incorrect. Your lawyer, on the other hand, has a duty to be zealous and diligent on your behalf, and has malpractice insurance that may cover the costs resulting from mistaken advice.

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