What Is Reckless Driving?
In all the American states, reckless driving is a major traffic violation. Reckless driving is more serious and rampant than most people know, and it is a criminal offense. It is worse than improper and careless driving, which are civil traffic violations.
The law generally defines reckless driving as driving with zero regard for safety. It also describes it as displaying a disregard for any consequences when driving a vehicle.
If cited for this offense, you have disregarded the traffic laws. Reckless driving puts demerit points on your driving license, earns you hefty fines, and can lead to license loss and a stint in jail. Reckless driving charges led to an 87.5 percent rise in auto insurance rates. For large fleets, reckless driving charges can hurt a business.
The charge can reduce the fleet’s score and rank in BASIC (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category) and SMS (Safety Administration’s Safety Measurement System). The likely result is business loss. Nobody wants to associate with reckless drivers.
A reckless driver may have caused property damage or an accident. However, they must have done something above and beyond simple negligence to receive a citation for reckless driving.
Most American states have specific laws that address willful and wanton driving. The term may vary depending on the state. Some states refer to it as reckless driving, dangerous driving, and others as careless driving.
The charge for reckless driving is a misdemeanor and not an infraction. Depending on the state’s laws, a conviction can lead to hefty fines and sometimes a jail term of up to one year. Some states charge the crime as a felony, and you could face conviction for a year or more in state prison.
Types of Reckless Driving
The five most common types of reckless driving are:
1. Distracted Driving
Distracted driving is driving while your attention is elsewhere. Multi-tasking while driving is hazardous, and it just takes a split second with eyes off the road for an accident to happen.
Distracted driving is one of the most common types of reckless driving. It encompasses a broad range of activities, such as driving while:
#I. Texting or Talking on a Cell Phone
People who text or talk on their cell phones while driving are the number one reason for accidents caused by distracted driving. The National Safety Council says that approximately 26 percent of car accidents involve people texting or talking on their cell phones.
Reading or sending a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for at least 5 seconds. While driving at a speed of 55 miles per hour, this is like going the length of a football field with closed eyes. Most states have laws against talking or texting on a cell phone while driving. To find out your state laws on this issue, visit Governors Highway Safety Association.
#II. Using GPS
GPS is one of technology’s marvels and helps us navigate to places we are not familiar with. We have become so dependent on this technology that it seems normal when driving. However, setting up your GPS route while behind the wheel is just as bad as texting while driving.
Glancing down at your phone to look at the directions can cause an accident. If you must use GPS, mount your phone at eye level, and adjust its volume to listen to the verbal directions. It is safer than distracting yourself by looking at the screen every few seconds.
#III. Adjusting Your Car Controls or Music
Concentrating on your instrument panel is very distracting. If it is too hot, the music is too loud, or your child cries at the back for their favorite music, this can cause an accident in seconds. That one second you take your eyes off the road can mean the difference between life and death.
#IV. Talking to Your Passengers
It is only natural to hold conversations with your passengers. People cause accidents when distracted by discussions and forget to pay attention to the road. You may turn to look at your passenger, and in that split second, an accident may occur.
#V. Grooming or Applying Makeup
If you wake up late and do not have time to comb your hair or apply makeup, doing it in the car is the worst mistake. These activities mean you take your eyes off the road and hands off the car wheel, leading to accidents.
2. Disregarding Traffic Laws
Traffic laws in every state protect all road users. Disobeying the traffic laws places you and other people in danger. Examples of disregarding traffic laws include:
#I. Exceeding Speed Limits
Exceeding or ignoring speed limits is one of the most common citations in the US. Most drivers choose to pay the fine that comes with the citation. Speed limits improve road safety, and everyone should keep to the designated limit. Some people only slow down when they see a police car.
#II. Not Making a Full Stop at Stop Signs
Some people fail to reach a complete stop at a stop sign. This rolling stop makes others unsure of what they intend to do. It influences their decisions, most of the time, causing accidents.
By not stopping entirely, you could:
- Hit other vehicles that have the right of way
- You could hit a biker or pedestrian
- You might get a ticket for failure to stop, a violation that results in points on your driver’s license. You may have to go back to traffic school to remove these points or dismiss the stop violation ticket.
#III. Running Red Lights
If a car enters an intersection after the signal light turns red, that driver has violated the law. A motorist already in an intersection when the light turns red (for example, waiting to turn left) is not a red-light runner. A driver who fails to make a complete stop is a red-light runner in places where a right turn is illegal while the light is red.
Before red-light cameras came into force, a study on five busy intersections over several months in Fairfax, Virginia, revealed that, on average, a driver ran a red light every twenty minutes at each intersection. During the peak traffic hours, red-light running became more rampant.
3. Street Racing
Whether on private or public property, street racing falls under reckless driving. Most people, especially the young, engage in street racing on public roads. However, they quickly lose control, damage property, and even kill.
More people are street racing, and the government has taken a hard stance against it.
If caught street racing, you could face severe penalties such as:
- Hefty fines
- The law might impound your vehicle for 30 days or crush it permanently
- Your license revoked
- Arrest for participation or spectating and jail up to three months and a fine of up to $1,000
- Car insurance rates increased dramatically, or the insurance revoked
You also get heavy repercussions for aiding and abetting street racing as a spectator. According to the NHTSA, car accidents are the top cause of death for people between 16 and 20 years. Statistics show that for every 1,000 people who participate in a street race, 49 get injuries.
4. Aggressive Driving
Aggressive driving is a Class 2 misdemeanor. Driving aggressively with intent to cause harm is a Class 1 misdemeanor that can result in up to a year in jail.
Aggressive driving constitutes driving that places other people and property in danger through intentional actions. Aggressive driving can vary from risky behavior to activities that lead to violence.
Such behaviors include:
- Dangerously weaving in and out of your lane
- Overtaking on the shoulder
- Cutting off traffic
- Yelling, honking, flashing inappropriate gestures, and flashing headlights
- Brandishing a weapon
- Ramming into another vehicle
- Evading law enforcers
- Refusal to yield
A study by State Farm and KRC Research said that the leading situations that were more likely to make drivers aggressive were traffic snarl-ups (63 percent), lateness (55 percent), and road construction or closures (47 percent).
When you drive above the recommended speed limit, you become a danger to yourself and other road users. Our brains work faster than our bodies move. When the brain detects a threat on the road, it takes a few minutes for the brain to transmit the danger message to the body.
When the body receives the news, it reacts immediately. Brain and body coordination becomes difficult when we drive above the speed limit. The reaction time becomes longer during speeding, and it takes more time and serious effort to slam on the brakes, leading to accidents.
Careless Driving vs. Reckless Driving
Most people use the terms careless and reckless driving interchangeably. When you get a citation for either, you may be tempted to pay for the ticket and move on. However, you need to pay attention, as there is more involved.
The two terms have distinct differences. Knowing the difference is a determining factor in protecting yourself and whether you need to contact an attorney or not.
These two terms have similarities but have different meanings and can affect your charges, insurance premium rates, and the sentence if found guilty.
#I. Careless Driving
The traffic violations in this category fall under negligent, unsafe, and hazardous. When you drive carelessly, you drive in such a way as to cause damage to property and people. A careless driving charge is not as severe as a reckless driving charge.
#II. Reckless Driving
A charge of reckless driving spells a lot of legal trouble for you. The most significant difference between the two terms (careless and reckless) is the motivation behind driving.
When you drive recklessly, you have the intention of causing harm to property or people. In contrast, the careless driver has none of these intentions. The reckless driver knows what they are doing. They choose to do it anyway in a willful disregard of the law and the safety of others.
What Determines Reckless Driving?
Reckless driving cases are case-by-case as circumstances differ. Most states have a list of things qualifying them as reckless driving.
The courts weigh in various factors when determining a reckless driving charge. These factors include:
- The weather
- Time of day
- People and animals present
- The vehicle qualities
- Whether the driver had familiarity with the area
#II. Safety Risk
Reckless driving involves an increased danger to other people. However, a prosecutor has no onus to prove that you put others in jeopardy. A reckless driving charge can occur even when no one is on the road or property is damaged. Even if the driver only endangered their own life and property, that qualifies as reckless driving.
#III. Beyond Negligence
Reckless driving is beyond negligence or making a mistake. You have to act intentionally and disregard the law and safety.
A prosecutor does not need to show your mental status at the time of the incident. The prosecution needs only to show that the driver knew that they were driving unsafely in the circumstances.
#IV. “Per Se” Recklessness
Some states have laws specifying the conditions that qualify as reckless driving. These conditions are called “per se” conditions. These conditions indicate that the prosecutor must prove that at least one of these conditions was present.
Some factors include:
- Speeding between 20 mph or more above the speed limit
- Overtaking a school bus while the lights are flashing
- Overtaking at a railroad crossing
- Participation in a speed race
Penalties for Reckless Driving
As mentioned, severe penalties face reckless drivers. Penalties differ from state to state, but the more common ones include:
#I. Jail or prison
Reckless driving misdemeanor faces up to a year in jail. Some states charge the crime as a felony, meaning a conviction means a state prison term of a year or more. Reckless driving is a felony in a situation that involves injury to a person.
Most people charged with reckless driving pay fines. The fine amount differs depending on the circumstances and the state. It often ranges from a few hundred dollars to thousands.
A reckless driving conviction may wind up with probation, depending on your circumstances and driving history.
If you get a probation sentence, you must comply with the terms such as:
- Regularly visiting your probation officer
- Getting a job
- Not committing any traffic violations. If you violate the terms, the court can revoke the probation and order you to serve a prison or jail term instead. The probation period may last maybe 12 months and above.
#IV. Suspension of Driver’s License
When a court convicts you of reckless driving, you may face license revocation or suspension. State laws include a compulsory suspension of at least a month after reckless driving.
If you have a previous record of reckless driving or other violations, you might get a longer suspension or a permanent license revocation.
When faced with a reckless driving charge, you must consult a criminal defense attorney. A local attorney knows how the courts and prosecutors in your state handle such accusations.
The attorney also has ample experience dealing with such cases. If this is your first criminal conviction, a reckless charge is a serious offense with severe ramifications. These consequences include challenges to obtaining insurance and possible suspension or revocation.