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 judge or jury.
States define reckless driving in different ways. But most states have a general reckless driving definition and few states have more specific definitions.
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.
Speeding and manner other traffic violations can lead to a reckless driving conviction. But, as for general reckless driving laws, the violation of violations must include an added element of dangerousness to qualify as reckless driving.
For example, excessive speeding in areas where there are lots of pedestrians could amount to reckless driving because doing so puts the safety of pedestrians at significant risk.
Examples of Possible Reckless Driving
As previously discussed, definitions of reckless driving are general. However, some examples of conduct that could fall in the reckless driving category could include things like:
But, again, it all depends on the specific circumstances and whether or not the conduct poses a substantial danger.
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.
The classification and penalties of a reckless driving violation depend on the circumstances and state law.
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.
A reckless driving conviction—whether a misdemeanor or felony—can also lead to license suspension.
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.