“Reckless driving” is legalese for driving that takes too many risks. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some type of reckless driving statute in their code of laws. While the precise statutory details may vary from state to state, these statutes share some commonalities: Reckless driving indicates a serious disregard for the safety of persons or property, and reckless driving is a serious offense punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.
If you get charged with reckless driving, you should not take the charge lightly. It’s important to contact a lawyer immediately and to say as little as possible to the arresting officer until you retain the services of an attorney since any statements you make, no matter how innocuous they may seem to you, can be used against you in a courtroom.
When Is a Reckless Driving Charge Likely To Be Brought?
One of the situations that often leads to reckless driving charges is a single-car accident. Your vehicle may run off the side of a road; collide with a stationary object like a tree, a wall or a guardrail; or hit an animal or a pedestrian.
Liability in these types of incidents isn’t always straightforward. There are a number of reasons why these types of accidents may happen:
- Roads may be poorly maintained
- Other drivers may be driving recklessly, which caused a situation that you had to swerve to avoid
- There may be a defect in the manufacture of one of your vehicle’s components
- A pedestrian may have disobeyed traffic laws
Should you find yourself in this situation, however, it’s very likely that the police officer first at the scene will assume the accident occurred as a result of your negligence. When you are granted a driver’s license, you are put under a legal obligation that stipulates obeying traffic laws and driving with a reasonable amount of care. That care entails staying aware of the circumstances around you, be they weather conditions, road hazards or the behavior of other vehicles. The police officers on the scene may infer that you have violated this duty of care.
In some instances, there may be evidence at the scene that could indicate you were at least partly to blame for losing control of your vehicle. Skid marks on the road, for example, could indicate that you were driving too fast. However, skid marks could also indicate that your vehicle wasn’t braking efficiently due to a defect in the brakes.
In some instances, the officer at the scene may have no choice but to issue you a ticket for reckless driving after a single-vehicle accident because that is a policy in the precinct or department in which he or she works.
Reckless Driving Penalties
Reckless driving is not a traffic infraction but a misdemeanor offense in most states. In a handful of states, however, reckless driving is a felony. While the penalties for reckless driving vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, they can include:
- Jail or prison time: An individual who’s convicted of reckless driving can face up to a year in jail if he or she is convicted in a state where the offense is a misdemeanor. In a state where reckless driving is a felony, an individual can face up to a year in a state prison. Even in states where reckless driving is considered a misdemeanor, the charge will probably be upgraded to felony status if someone was injured or killed as a result of the accident. In some instances, courts will forego jail or prison time in favor of probation. This will depend upon the specific circumstances of your case and your previous driving record.
- Fines: Fines imposed as a penalty for reckless driving differ from state to state. They can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
- License suspension: In most states, a reckless driving conviction carries an automatic driver’s license suspension of at least 30 days. More often, the suspension will be imposed for six months to one year. If your driving history shows numerous infractions, you are more likely to get a longer suspension.
What Speaking with an Attorney Can Do for You
When you’re facing criminal charges, it’s important to hire an attorney as soon as possible who can help you safeguard your rights. If you don’t live in the jurisdiction in which you’ve been charged, hiring an attorney may actually help you save on costs since you may not have to appear in court every time your case is being heard.
A local criminal defense attorney with experience defending individuals accused of reckless driving can give you the help you need in a difficult time. This attorney will understand both the formal protocols of justice and the informal ways that things get done in that particular neck of the woods.
You’ll want to make sure this attorney has access to the police report that was made at the scene of the single-vehicle accident. You’ll want to make sure he or she has copies of any paperwork related to the charges you’re facing and upcoming court appearances, too. To avoid any conflicts of interest, your prospective attorney will also want a list of any witnesses to the incident and any individuals who may have suffered an injury or damage to their property as a result of the accident. If the attorney you’re consulting has had any connection to these individuals in the past, he or she may need to refer you elsewhere.
If you’re committed to fighting reckless driving charges, an attorney understands the procedural arguments that may help you challenge the allegations against you. An experienced lawyer may also be able to help you get your misdemeanor charge reduced to a civil traffic offense, which will carry less severe penalties.
Reckless driving is serious. If you’ve been charged with this offense, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to pursue the course of action that best protects your rights. A criminal defense lawyer with a successful track record in defending individuals charged with reckless driving can be counted upon to help you strategize the best resolution given the circumstances of your case.