We all heard the term reckless driving, but not many of us know what it means or how it can affect our lives. Regardless, a lawyer can handle all of the issues you will face after a reckless driver injures you.
What Is Reckless Driving?
Some states define reckless driving with numbers. Michigan, for example, says that, among other things, if a court finds you to be traveling at 25 or more miles over the speed limit, you were driving recklessly.
For example, in New York, the law says that you are guilty of reckless driving when you drive or use a motor vehicle to unreasonably interfere with the free and proper use of the roads or unreasonably endanger users of the roads. No particular amount over the speed limit will cause a court to deem your actions reckless driving.
Some of the specific conduct that courts have recognized as reckless driving includes:
- Speeding well above the posted limit
- Disregarding traffic signs or signals
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Weaving in and out of lanes; sudden lane changes
- Turning improperly on busy roads
- Distracted driving, including texting
- Carrying too many passengers
- Driving fatigued
- Tailgating aggressively
- Driving on the sidewalk or over the curb
- Hit and run accidents; if there are severe injuries or fatalities, this is a felony
- Passing by a stationary school bus
- Drag racing on the road
Courts will then examine conduct to see whether the offense is considered severe.
Some of the factors used to decide are:
- Time of day when the incident occurred
- Road conditions where the incident took place
- Weather conditions
- Driver’s familiarity with the area where the incident occurred
A judge may look at all these factors and decide about a case based on how much conscious disregard of the safety of others the at-fault driver showed
What Does It Mean if a Court Finds a Driver Reckless?
Reckless driving can impact the driver in many ways. It can leave them with a criminal record, a revoked license, and higher insurance premiums. And that’s without facing claims for an accident where the driver may be liable for punitive damages, even under strict standards for punitive damages.
#1. Criminal Penalties
In many states, reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense. In addition to the points, the misdemeanor conviction means you have a criminal record for the rest of your life. In New York, the sentence might include up to 30 days in jail for a first offense, 90 days for a second offense, and up to six months for a third offense. You may lose your license and pay a fine of up to $300 for a first offense, $525 for the second, or $1,125 for the third. You must pay a court fee of $93 and, as discussed more below, receive five points on your license.
#2. License Points
Reckless driving adds points to your license in most states. For instance, a ticket for speeding 20 miles per hour over the limit might net you four points, while 21 miles per hour or more is six points. In other words, if you’re driving recklessly and doing at least 21 miles per hour over the limit, you can get 11 points on your license. And that one ticket will then be worth enough points to get your license suspended.
Even at the six points for the 21 miles per hour, you will have to pay a Driver Responsibility Assessment Fee. The fee is $300 annually, with $25 added for each point over 6. If you are convicted of a DUI offense or refuse to take the test, you pay a separate fee. That fee is $250. If you do not pay the fee, the state may suspend your license.
You can reduce the points on your license through the Point & Insurance Reduction Program (PIRP). Under PIRP, if you take an approved qualifying course, you can reduce your accumulated points by as much as four points.
The DMV notes your eligibility and the potential points and notifies your insurance company. If you are the principal operator of a vehicle, this will reduce your insurance rates by at least ten percent of the base rate for your liability and collision premiums. This reduction will not, however, reduce or remove the PIRP assessment. Nor does it remove the violation that earned you the points from your driving record.
#3. Higher Fines
A ticket for speeding 20 mph over the limit in some states can carry a fine between $90 and $300. A reckless driving conviction carries fines up to over one thousand dollars for a third offense.
#4. Impact on Litigation
A criminal conviction can affect the statute of limitations for a car accident case, extending it to one year after the conclusion of the criminal case. Also, the criminal conviction is powerful evidence of careless disregard for others’ safety. It may lead to assessing punitive damages against the at-fault driver in a personal injury case and may be evidence of civil negligence in your case.
#5. Higher Insurance Rates
The insurance rates of a driver convicted of reckless driving are likely to skyrocket. An increase of 50 percent or more is not unusual, which can average to nearly $1,000 per month. As discussed above, whatever your rates are, you can reduce them slightly by taking one or more approved Point & Insurance Reduction Program courses. Successful course completion can reduce your payment by at least 10 percent per month.
What Causes Reckless Driving Accidents?
Reckless driving causes a lot of accidents.
Usually, a reckless driver makes many dangerous decisions, which might include:
- Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol – Driving under the influence of any drug or alcohol is likely to be found reckless. People regularly hear about drivers convicted of vehicular homicide or manslaughter based on their reckless decision to get behind the wheel while under the influence. Causing a serious accident while under the influence will leave a driver with long-term criminal and civil problems.
- Driving while distracted, including talking on the phone, texting, playing with the radio, or eating. – Distracted driving is among the fastest-growing causes of accidents in the United States, and it is rapidly becoming illegal virtually everywhere. For example, in New York, driving while using a handheld cell phone, even to talk, is a primary offense, so police can stop and cite you just for doing that. The law prohibits handheld games, navigation devices, movie and television screens, and similar items when driving a car. (You can, however, text at a red light, prohibited in most states.) Behaviors not involving electronics are at the discretion of the officer. If they see you eating, applying makeup, or talking directly to the person next to you and believe that the behavior impacts your driving, they can cite you.
- Making illegal turns or lane changes – Constantly being where you’re not supposed to be on the road is a classic example of conscious disregard of the road rights of others, which is the classic definition of reckless driving.
- Failing to use headlights at night or in the rain – Headlights aren’t just for seeing; they’re equally important for being seen. In rain or low light conditions like those at dawn or dusk, other drivers will see you from a much greater distance if your headlights are on.
- Not using turn signals when changing lanes or turning – Other drivers must anticipate what you will do and where you will be on the road. That means use your turn signals to change lanes or when turning. It’s not your responsibility to make sure that other drivers anticipate your movements, just to make it possible for them to do so.
- Tailgating or driving too close to the car in front of them – Nobody likes it when the car behind them seems to try to get into their trunk. If you’re too close behind, there’s no way you can stop if the car in front of you does and you were not a reasonable and prudent distance behind. Stopping takes space, about 300 feet, for the average passenger vehicle.
- Braking suddenly – Tailgating is one of the major reasons that braking suddenly is considered a reckless cause of an accident. Although sudden breaking can happen when a child runs into the road, or another driver pulls out in front of you, it also happens when you tap your brakes because of the annoying tailgater behind you.
- Failing to stop at red lights or stop signs – Failing to obtain traffic signs and signals is reckless driving. Follow the rules, and it’s much more likely that you and the other drivers you encounter on the roads will stay safe and healthy.
- Driving too fast or exceeding the speed limit – Speeding is also a standard for defining reckless driving. Driving a certain specific amount over the speed limit will be cited for reckless driving in many states. Others, like New York, don’t specify a number but do include driving too fast for conditions as an example of reckless driving.
What Happens to Victims in Reckless Driving Accidents?
Reckless driving often leads to especially severe injuries to those involved in an accident with a reckless driver.
Common injuries in these cases include:
- Spinal Injuries – Spinal injuries can have devastating consequences. Even a bruise to the spinal cord can result in permanent or temporary loss of function or sensation.
- Traumatic Brain Injuries – Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be life-altering. You may lose motor function, cognitive function, and even so-called executive function, a series of traits common among high-ranking professionals. TBIs that medical professionals call mild can be severe injuries resulting in s lasting effects and complications. Even brain trauma that your doctor diagnoses as minor can result in potentially fatal complications because the mild TBI classification relates only to the initial symptoms and not to the overall prognosis. If doctors diagnose you with any TBI, watch for any symptoms, complications, or lingering effects.
- Whiplash – We often do not take it very seriously. Whiplash and other soft tissue injuries can reduce your mobility and flexibility while leaving a lifetime of chronic pain.
- Fractures and Amputations – Fractures of limbs can lead to infections or even amputations.
- Internal Bleeding & Organ Damage – Broken ribs can damage internal organs like the lungs, kidneys, liver, and heart and cause internal bleeding that can be fatal within hours if not aggressively and promptly treated.
Damages Available From Reckless Driving
There are three kinds of damages available in a personal injury lawsuit. Economic damages include hospital and medical expenses, lost wages (present and future), assistive equipment and staff, and property damage to your vehicle. Non-economic damages are more subjective and less easy to define than economic damages. They include pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity, loss of consortium, loss of enjoyment of life, and other similar hard-to-calculate damages.
Additionally, there are punitive damages. They are difficult to obtain in many cases. However, if your at-fault driver has a reckless driving citation in the case, you are likely well on the way to doing so. Remember, punitive damages do not compensate you. They punish the at-fault driver and, hopefully, deter others from the same conduct. The court awards the damages to you, the insurance company (or the driver) pays them to you, but they are not compensation. The IRS may subject it to income tax, unlike your compensatory damages.
Finally, many state laws do not place a cap on any of the three types of damages.
How a Reckless Driving Attorney Can Help You?
If a reckless driver has injured you or a loved one, you should not be spending your precious healing time dealing with insurance company claims adjusters and lawyers. Let a skilled and experienced reckless driving attorney reduce your burden and take over the negotiations and, if required in the end, litigation.
Contact a car accident attorney today for a no-cost initial consultation and case evaluation. Let your attorney handle your financial recovery while you handle your physical recovery.