What Constitutes Reckless Driving?

by tylercook on November 19, 2013

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Reckless driving is a serious offense across the entire United States, but it holds higher punishments in some states. Because each state sets its own standard for reckless driving, it is important to look up your state’s laws concerning reckless driving. Reckless driving is considered a moving traffic violation and will be punished in any state. Usually, reckless driving means going more than 20 mph over the speed limit or going more than 80 mph, but it can also mean that the person occupying the vehicle simply displayed an intentional disregard of the law. This means that reckless driving can apply to a person’s mental state, not a particular action.

Definitions of Reckless Driving

In most states, the reckless driving is defined somewhere along the lines of “any person who drives a vehicle carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard for the rights or safety of persons or property, or without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property…” (Code of Alabama 1975, Title 32). In some states, the law differs slightly, and in some states, like Virginia, a person’s mental state is considered when looking at a reckless driving charge. Virginia’s code has more specific statues concerning reckless driving, such as anyone going more than 20 miles over the speed limit will be subject to a reckless driving charge. Of course, if a person is convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or any other drug, they will also be convicted (in most cases) of reckless driving.

In some states, reckless driving is charged as a class of misdemeanor, which is the same charge that is given to a DUI. However, you can receive a reckless driving conviction for far less than drinking and driving; for example, the violation of basic traffic laws, swerving, tall-gating, rear ending, driving through red lights, crossing train tracks illegally or in front of an oncoming train, passing in front of oncoming traffic, eluding a police officer, driving without headlights after nightfall, using a cell phone or texting while driving, racing with another vehicle, or speeding could all be classified as reckless driving.

Consequences of Reckless Driving

If a reckless driving charge is classified as a misdemeanor, it will appear on your criminal record. Other consequences can be deportation (if you’re not a citizen of the United States), changing details of your parole, automatic suspension or revocation of a driver’s license, a hefty fine (up to $1000 dollars), or even jail time (up to 90 days). The repercussions of reckless driving differ depending on the state, the seriousness of the offense, what the reckless driving resulted in (did it cause harm to a person or property?), and the discretion of the judge.

What to do if Arrested on a Reckless Driving Charge

If pulled over for reckless driving, cooperate with police officers by giving them your registration and license. If you’re arrested and charged with reckless driving, you should seriously consider retaining legal counsel. A lawyer who understands your state’s laws concerning reckless driving may be an invaluable tool for ensuring that you receive a fair sentence.


Matthew Kingston is a freelance writer focusing on Auto Accidents, Personal Injury, Criminal Defense and other complex legal issues.




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