Reckless driving is driving or using a motor vehicle to unreasonably interfere with the free and proper use of the roads or unreasonably endanger others. However, given that broad and vague definition, let’s look at some specific examples of reckless driving and how it causes traffic accidents. Non-reckless drivers should always stay aware in case a reckless driver hits them and causes injuries.
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Traveling at a rate of 20 miles or more over the posted speed limit is reckless driving in many states. Traveling over 80 miles per hour on any road can also result in a reckless driving charge.
Driving Under the Influence
Drunk driving is more serious than reckless driving in most places. For this reason, if a driver faces charges of drunk driving, their attorney may attempt to plead it down to reckless driving. However, remember that this plea will still leave the driver with a criminal conviction. Further, a driver can face reckless driving and DWI charges. Furthermore, many prosecutors won’t reduce a DWI charge to reckless driving.
Some Other Forms of Reckless Driving
Most people think of reckless driving as driving way too fast for conditions, but many other acts can constitute reckless driving:
- Driving in the wrong direction – Sometimes, a careless driver goes down a one-way street without paying attention to the directional signs. This act leaves the driver going against the regular traffic flow, a highly dangerous and reckless situation.
- Distracted driving – Distracted driving is among the fastest-growing causes of traffic accidents. As drivers use cell phones, navigational systems, entertainment systems, and laptops that allow for playing games, and the usual eating, applying makeup, and active conversations, we seem to pay attention to everything except operating the multi-ton lethal weapon that is a car or truck. According to the CDC, over 3000 people died and 400,000 suffered injuries in distracted driving accidents in a recent year. One in five of those who died were either pedestrians or bike riders.
- Swerving in and out of traffic lanes – Some drivers seem never to be happy with their lane, moving back and forth between lanes at high speed – often without a signal. This reckless conduct can lead to accidents, especially if the swerving happens near a big rig truck.
- Striking or nearly striking pedestrians – A driver who hits a pedestrian can face civil and criminal consequences. The driver can be liable for the pedestrian’s injuries and face penalties for reckless driving. Since pedestrians virtually never wear any protective gear, such an accident can result in catastrophic injuries.
- Failure to observe traffic signs or signals – States will fine drivers who recklessly disregard traffic signs and signals and award them two points on their license.
- Driving off the road at high speed while making no effort to slow down in the presence of pedestrians.
- Running a police barricade – Whether police set up a sobriety checkpoint or a barricade for other purposes, failing to stop is reckless driving.
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Reckless Driving Accident Statistics
Much of the reckless driving conduct above leads to car accidents and injuries. For example:
- Nearly one-third of crashes involve distracted driving
- Improper passing is a factor in eight percent of reported traffic accidents
- Tailgating is also a factor in eight percent of traffic accidents
- Failure to yield is a factor in nearly seven percent of traffic accidents
- Speeding leads to over one-fourth of all crashes
If drivers stopped being reckless on the road, it might prevent many crashes. However, until everyone abides by all safety laws, which is unlikely, accidents will continue to result from reckless driving.
Understanding the Application of the Law
Generally, a driver will only receive a reckless driving conviction if they committed more than one traffic offense, especially if the offenses are dangerous to the average individual.
For example, a woman swerved across the center lane and collided with another vehicle, and the other driver died. Rather than simply being found to have made a bad lane change, the court took note of all the driver’s behaviors, including swerving into oncoming traffic and being the cause of a fatal crash (People v. Lamphear, 30 AD2d 305). According to the court, this behavior in its entirety constituted reckless driving instead of one individual act. Based on this analysis, two ordinary traffic offenses are necessary for a reckless driving conviction, and if someone suffered injuries, the finding is far more likely.
In general, to convict someone of reckless driving, the prosecution must show that the driver was actively disregarding the safety and well-being of others on the road. They must prove that the conduct interfered with or endangered others legally using the road. Generally, they must also prove the driver was violating more than one traffic law.
Penalties for Reckless Driving
There can be serious consequences for reckless driving offenses, varying from state to state.
Some penalties in New York, for example, can include:
- Criminal record – Reckless driving is—at best—a misdemeanor offense, and it can even be a felony. Having a criminal record makes getting a job, going to college, and accessing housing more difficult for the rest of your life. It will leave you with a permanent criminal record.
- Fines – Potential fines escalate with each additional offense. The minimum for the first offense is $100; the maximum for a third offense is $1,125.
- Jail Time – Reckless driving is more likely to include jail time than most other traffic offenses. For a first offense, one can spend up to 30 days in jail; for a third offense, the potential sentence is up to six months.
- Surcharges – A reckless driving citation includes a state surcharge of $88 or $93, depending on where the ticket was issued.
- Driver Responsibility Assessment Fee – Drivers who get too many points of violations in 18 months get assessed a fine called the Driver Responsibility Assessment fee (DRA). The DRA costs $300 plus $75 for each point above six. Since reckless driving is five points, there’s not a lot of room left to avoid this fee.
- Points on License – As we just said, reckless driving is five points for each conviction.
- Potential License Suspension – Criminal judges have a great deal of discretion in suspending someone’s driver’s license. This suspension can easily happen: one reckless driving plus two red light tickets equals 11 points. Beyond that, any driver with 11 or more points against their license will suffer a license suspension by the DMV.
- Insurance Premium Increases – A reckless driving conviction can lead to a 76 percent increase in auto insurance premiums.
Other Impacts of Reckless Driving Charges
Insurance premium increases
Most moving violations will impact your auto insurance premiums. Your premiums may increase as much as 57 to 76 percent for a reckless driving charge specifically. Also, since reckless driving is a criminal offense, the ticket can affect homeowners’ and life insurance premiums.
Having a criminal record can significantly negatively impact your employment prospects. Since a reckless driving conviction is a criminal conviction, you must report it on any job application that asks if you have a criminal record unless the form specifically only requests felonies. In that case, if your conviction was for a misdemeanor, then you need not report it.
Most colleges request information about criminal convictions on their standard applications. Given the highly competitive nature of seeking a university place or scholarship, having a criminal conviction on your record can significantly impact your ability to achieve your academic goals.
Underage Reckless Driving
An underaged driver without a license can receive citations both for the unlicensed driving and driving recklessly if the facts support that charge. Even though the underaged driver has no license for points to be charged against, other penalties will apply to the underaged driver. First, the criminal misdemeanor will show up on background checks forever. This record can adversely affect the underaged driver’s future employment and educational opportunities.
The underaged driver will pay up to $600 in fines for the two offenses and may even face 30 days in jail. Further, this conviction will impact the individual’s insurance premiums when they finally get a license, if the state lets them get one at all.
Reckless Driving for the CDL Driver
CDL drivers face all the penalties discussed in this article for reckless driving. However, they also face the potential loss of their CDL license, necessary for many occupations. Generally, a CDL suspension does not result from the first offense of reckless driving, but a second offense within three years will result in a CDL suspension for 60 days. A third offense in three years will cause a 120-day suspension.
Civil Liability for Reckless Driving
Fines, probation, points on your license, and long-term consequences of reckless driving are not the only possible consequences if a reckless driver causes accidents and injuries. If a reckless driver hit your car and you suffered serious injuries, you can hold the driver liable for all your losses. Losses include medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and more.
The criminal case will not do much to compensate you for your losses. Instead, you need to file an injury claim with the driver’s insurance company, and you should have a car accident lawyer handle this process for you.
If the driver received a reckless driving conviction, that constitutes proof of their negligence and liability. However, you can still prevail in a civil claim if a driver does not get convicted. Your lawyer can present other evidence of their dangerous driving that led to the crash.
Some reckless drivers also disregard auto insurance laws, and they might not have the required coverage. A lawyer can assess your options in this situation, including filing a claim with your uninsured motorist coverage. Even though this claim is with your policy – not another driver’s – you still want to have legal representation to ensure you receive total compensation for your injuries and losses.
Criminal penalties are not enough if a reckless driver causes you injuries. Always seek a legal consultation to learn more about your options for compensation.
Punitive Damages and Reckless Driving
The law makes it extremely difficult to obtain punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit. The legal standard is such that the underlying conduct must have demonstrated such disregard for the safety of others as to virtually constitute intentional misconduct. However, even that standard implies that some conduct will justify punitive damages. In a car accident case, much of that conduct overlaps with the conduct that comprises reckless driving.
You may seek punitive damages for accidents caused by:
- Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol – Since the dangers of drunk driving are extremely well-known, drunk driving accidents are often sufficient justification for an award of punitive damages.
- Driving Under the Influence of Drugs – Driving under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, even some legal drugs, will be viewed the same as driving while using alcohol. This risk makes these cases likely candidates for punitive damages as well.
- Excessive Speeding or Street Racing – Driving at extremely high speed creates tremendous risks for everyone else on the road. Street racing, in which the racers put their desire for thrills ahead of the safety of others, also creates excessive risk. Both are likely candidates for punitive damages because of their high levels of reckless disregard for the well-being of others.
Talk to a Car Accident Attorney Today
If you suffered injuries in an accident where the at-fault driver may have been driving recklessly, you should consult with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible. Settlements involving such dangerous driving conduct require careful handling by a car accident attorney, even if the at-fault driver faces criminal charges.
Even with a reckless driving conviction against the other driver, insurance companies will still try to limit the settlement they pay. Don’t try to handle these matters on your own.