Attorney at Law

Reckless Driving

James Parker
September 10, 2023
Last reviewed by
September 10, 2023

What Is Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving is a criminal charge that is defined by the operation of a motor vehicle in a way that shows indifference to the safety or property of others. Reckless driving has some variability in its application and is not always a strict definition of conduct, but rather a criminal charge that is brought by the citing officer and ultimately decided on by a jury.

There are some actions that a state will define as reckless driving “per se” meaning by definition these actions are considered reckless driving. These per se violations include violations of road safety like driving over 100mph, often called excessive speeding, passing a school bus illegally, or street racing. These actions are considered inherently neglectful of the safety of other motorists and can result in a charge of reckless driving on the basis of fulfilling a defined criteria of the crime as defined by the state law. 

The other way that drivers are charged with reckless driving is if a motorist is engaged in behavior that a state trooper, sheriff, or arresting officer subjectively considers to be in disregard for the safety of other drivers. This can include cutting off other drivers, making aggressive driving moves, and weaving between the slow and fast lanes to pass vehicles. If the arresting officer believes that these actions are endangering other motorists or have a high potential to cause a car accident, then the driver may be pulled over and cited for reckless driving. 

Subjectively defined reckless driving charges are no less acceptable by the court’s standards but can take extra considerations in order to prove. The officer will argue that they have a wealth of experience that allows them to make a judgment as to whether or not the behavior in question threatened other motorists. From there, it will be up to a jury to decide whether the behavior indeed counted as reckless driving.

Key Takeaways

  • Reckless driving is a criminal charge that alleges that a driver operated their vehicle in a way that demonstrated a lack of consideration or indifference for the safety of people or property.
  • Reckless driving can range from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on whether any actual damage occurred to people or property. 
  • In some states, a DUI can be pleaded down to reckless driving and in others, reckless driving charges are enhanced if the user was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • If you are facing a DUI or a reckless driving charge that has been enhanced by the presence of alcohol or drugs, an experienced DUI attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by leveraging experience and expert testimony.

Reckless Driving and Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Charges

Reckless driving and driving under the influence share different relationships depending on the state in which the charges are being filed. In some states a reckless driving charge is a lesser charge to the more intense charge of DUI and in other states it is reversed. 

In Florida, for example, a DUI charge can be pleaded down into a reckless driving charge. This mitigates some of the more harmful effects of a DUI charge by converting it into a so-called “wet reckless” charge instead. When pleaded down in this way, a wet reckless will usually appear as a misdemeanor charge with damages assessed between $50 and $1000 in fines and a few points on the driver’s license. By comparison, a DUI may have resulted in the installation of an ignition interlock device, a more serious misdemeanor or felony charge, and the potentially required suspension of the defendant’s license. 

Sometimes, however, a reckless driving charge is more serious than a DUI and can actually be enhanced by the presence of an allegedly intoxicated driver. These cases usually involve some form of bodily injury and are often charging reckless driving as a felony where the defendant’s alleged intoxication has been used to enhance the penalties being leveraged. 

In these cases, intoxicated reckless driving charged as a felony carries significantly higher penalties and different burdens of proof. In some states, a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) higher than 0.08 indicating intoxication per se could be grounds for a reckless driving charge. These felony charges could result in up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $5000. 

It is advisable that an individual facing either reckless driving charges or DUI charges should consult a DUI attorney to review their state laws regarding these charges. A local attorney will know more about the local ordinances governing DUI, reckless driving, and the enhancements and penalties for each. 

Varying Reckless Driving Laws

Reckless driving laws can vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another, and these variations can have a significant impact on how reckless driving offenses are defined and prosecuted. In some states or countries, reckless driving is defined broadly, encompassing a wide range of dangerous behaviors on the road, such as excessive speeding, aggressive weaving between lanes, and reckless disregard for the safety of others. In contrast, other regions may have more specific criteria for reckless driving, requiring a more blatant and extreme disregard for safety, such as driving under the influence, excessive speeding well above the posted limits, or intentionally causing collisions. The penalties for reckless driving also differ widely, with some areas imposing hefty fines, license suspensions, and even jail time, while others may have more lenient consequences.

Furthermore, the interpretation of reckless driving laws can vary among law enforcement officers and judges, leading to disparities in how these cases are handled. Factors like the driver's intent, the circumstances surrounding the offense, and prior traffic violations can all influence whether someone is charged with reckless driving and the severity of the penalties they face. It's essential for individuals to familiarize themselves with the specific reckless driving laws in their area and exercise caution and responsibility while driving to avoid potentially life-altering consequences. Whether the laws are strict or relatively lenient, the goal is always to promote road safety and protect all motorists and pedestrians from harm caused by reckless behavior behind the wheel.

Bottom Line

While reckless driving is a criminal charge, depending on the state and jurisdiction this charge can be preferable to a DUI charge with less harsh penalties and fewer inconveniences. The easiest way to know which option and how to plead is to consult a DUI attorney. 

An experienced DUI attorney can help you to achieve the best possible outcome in your case. By utilizing experience, trial tactics, and expert testimony to plead down or even dismiss the charges you are facing, whether they are reckless driving or DUI.

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