Reckless Driving Traffic Violations

How “reckless driving” is defined and the penalties that result from a conviction.

Reckless driving is a criminal charge that can come into play in lots of situations. The laws in most states define reckless driving in broad and general terms. So, whether a driver's actions can be characterized as "reckless driving" really comes down to judgment calls of the citing officer and, ultimately, the jury.

How Reckless Driving Is Defined

The particulars of state laws differ. But most states define reckless driving (also called "reckless operation" and "driving to endanger") as willfully operating a vehicle in a manner that shows an indifference to the safety of persons or property. In other words, the person was aware he or she was driving in a way that put other people or property at risk.

In addition to having a generally defined reckless driving offense, the laws of some states include specific circumstances that are considered "per se" reckless driving. Some of the more common per se examples involve excessive speeding (for example, driving over 100 miles per hour), illegally passing a school bus, and street racing.

Reckless Driving and DUI Plea Bargains

When a person is charged with a DUI, it's sometimes possible to negotiate (plea bargain) for a less serious charge. Because reckless driving is defined in general terms and carries lesser penalties than a DUI conviction, it's a prime candidate for DUI plea deals. A reckless driving charge is commonly called a "wet reckless" when it's the end result of a DUI plea bargain.

Reckless Driving Penalties

Reckless driving is typically a misdemeanor criminal offense. In most states, a reckless driving conviction carries about $50 to $1,000 in fines and up 90 days to a year in jail. And states that have traffic violation points systems normally assess points for a reckless driving conviction.

The laws of some states make reckless driving a felony when the violation involves certain aggravating factors like injuries or fatalities. For a felony reckless driving conviction, the defendant may be looking at a year or more in prison and thousands of dollars in fines.

A reckless driving conviction—whether a misdemeanor or felony—can also lead to license suspension.

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