According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, aggressive driving is defined as “the operation of a motor vehicle in any manner that endangers, or is likely to endanger persons or property.” Recently, aggressive driving has been subject to increased regulation due to the fact that such behavior endangers the safety of other drivers and passengers.
Some of the most common examples of aggressive driving include, but may not be limited to:
- Driving above the speed limit;
- Violating traffic control measures, such as signal lights and traffic signs;
- Changing lanes;
- Overtaking or passing recklessly;
- Failing to stop or pull over for emergency vehicles;
- Failing to stop or slow down at a school crossing zone; and
- Tailgating, swerving, or other such dangerous maneuvers.
Aggressive driving is generally included under state statutes which regulate reckless driving, which will be further discussed below. Additionally, driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol could also result in aggressive driving charges.
Aggressive driving may also be considered an example of careless driving. A careless driving citation can result in many different penalties across states. Generally speaking, careless driving refers to failing to drive a motor vehicle in a careful and cautious manner. While careless driving may be accidental, the driver nevertheless presented a danger to other drivers and pedestrians with their actions.
Examples of careless driving behaviors include, but are not limited to:
- Illegal lane changes;
- Drivers holding cell phones;
- Falling asleep while at the wheel;
- Failing to use appropriate signals; and/or
- Disobeying traffic signs.
For states that maintain careless driving statutes, the most common penalties for a conviction include a fine, as well as actions such as traffic school and/or community service. For more serious cases, drivers may also be charged with reckless driving.
Do All States Have Aggressive Driving Laws?
While many states address reckless driving, not all states specifically include a category for aggressive driving. However, as was previously mentioned, aggressive driving is increasingly becoming recognized as a substantial danger. By 2009, 11 states had passed aggressive driving laws. More recently, the states of California, Utah, and Pennsylvania have enacted aggressive driving statutes. However, the state of Florida has banned the enforcement of aggressive driving laws.
Reckless driving specifically refers to driving a vehicle at a speed or in a manner that shows an utter disregard for the safety of persons or property. To put it another way, a reckless driver knows that they are driving dangerously, but chooses to do so despite the risk. Depending on the state in which the offense occurs, reckless driving is considered to be either a misdemeanor criminal offense or a misdemeanor traffic offense. Some states refer to the violation of reckless driving as “careless driving.”
What Are The Legal Penalties For Aggressive Driving?
Aggressive driving can result in misdemeanor criminal charges, meaning that offenders may be subject to criminal penalties such as fines of up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail. It is important to note that this sentence is to be served in a county jail facility, and not in a federal prison facility, which is generally reserved for felony crimes. Being found guilty of aggressive driving can also result in other penalties, including the loss of driving privileges and negative impacts on the driver’s insurance policies.
In some states, aggressive driving can result in more serious criminal felony charges. This is due to the fact that some states regard automobiles as deadly weapons, under specific circumstances. If the driver is being charged with assault with a deadly weapon or vehicular manslaughter in connection with aggressive driving, they could face fines of up to $10,000, as well as 1 to 4 years spent in a federal prison facility.
In terms of reckless driving, penalties can vary depending on whether a state considers reckless driving to be a misdemeanor criminal offense or a misdemeanor traffic offense. Some of the most common consequences include:
- The reckless driving charge will be placed on your driving record;
- You will have a criminal record;
- You may be put on probation;
- Your driving privileges may be suspended;
- You may face fines of up to $2,500, depending on your state’s laws regarding reckless driving; and/or
- You may face jail time of up to one year.
To reiterate, the severity of your penalties will largely depend on your state’s laws, as well as your prior driving history. An example of this would be how a first time offender will generally face less severe penalties than the penalties faced by a repeat offender.
What Else Should I Know About Careless Driving In General?
Generally speaking, states institute lesser penalties to drivers who are guilty of careless driving, as opposed to those who are convicted of reckless driving. In cases in which a plea deal is reached, the charge of reckless driving may be reduced to careless driving, which would reduce the severity of punishment.
The majority of state statutes define reckless driving as a “wanton disregard” for traffic laws. To reiterate, reckless driving is a level of deliberate disregard for the law, and penalties may include fines and jail time. An example of this would be how in the state of Virginia, a first time offense of reckless driving could result in $2500 in fines, as well as up to one year spent in jail. Penalties for careless and reckless driving will likely be more severe if injury or death occurred as a result of the violation.
There are only a few states that have careless driving statutes, while the majority of states have reckless driving statutes. Additionally, there are still other states that include careless driving under the reckless driving umbrella. Oregon, Minnesota, and Louisiana have statutes which specifically categorize careless driving or careless operation as chargeable offenses.
Many states have made it illegal for people to drive while texting or holding the phone to their ear. This is otherwise known as “distracted driving”, and many states heavily regulate what kind of cell phone use is allowed while a person is operating a motor vehicle.
Finally, it is worth noting that there is also a recent movement for laws that require you to restrain your pet while you are driving. This is because a number of auto accidents are caused by pet owners who are trying to control their pet while also driving. The following states require that animals must be transported either restrained, or in a cage:
- New Jersey;
- New Hampshire;
- Rhode Island; and
An example of this would be how in New Jersey, the police have the right to pull over a driver with an unrestrained dog and fine them anywhere from $250 to $1,000 for each offense. Here, unrestrained means either no seat belt or not in a crate.
Do I Need A Lawyer For Aggressive Driving Charges?
If you are facing aggressive driving charges, you will need to contact an experienced and local traffic violation lawyer.
An attorney can help you understand your state’s specific laws regarding reckless and aggressive driving, and what your legal rights and options are according to those laws. Your lawyer will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.