According to California Vehicle Code 23103, aggressive or reckless driving is defined as a criminal act that involves driving a vehicle on a highway in manner that exhibits wanton or willful disregard for the safety of other persons or property.

California is one of the only states that explicitly recognizes aggressive driving as a criminal offense. The state has also classified it as a type of automobile crime. In California, aggressive driving is considered a criminal offense when a driver engages in dangerous driving activities. These include drag or street racing, tailgating, executing doughnuts in an icy parking lot, swerving, and/or driving a motor vehicle at high speeds while in a school zone.

California state courts will look at several factors when determining whether an act of aggressive driving occurred. Such factors include whether the driver made any dangerous or reckless driving maneuvers (e.g., swerving, taking excessively sharp turns, etc.), the speed at which the motor vehicle was traveling, and whether the driver’s actions endangered other persons and/or property.

Finally, it is important to bear in mind that aggressive driving is a criminal offense in California. Thus, a California driver who is charged with and convicted of an act of aggressive driving may face serious criminal penalties and can potentially receive a charge that remains on the individual’s criminal record for the rest of their life.

Therefore, if you have been charged with aggressive driving in California, it may be in your best interest contact a California criminal lawyer as soon as possible to obtain further legal guidance on the matter.

What Are the Penalties for Aggressive Driving in California?

Some consequences and/or penalties for aggressive driving under California state law include:

  • Having to pay criminal fines that range anywhere between $145 to $1,000 (note that the amount of fines may be increased if a driver caused death or bodily injury to another individual other than themselves);
  • Serving time in a county jail for 5 to 90 days (again, this sentence be longer and may need to be served in a state prison if the driver’s actions caused minor injuries, severe bodily injuries, or death to another individual other than themselves);
  • Receiving 2 points on their driver license (note that acquiring a certain amount of points within a specific time frame can result in a loss of driving privileges);
  • Having their car impounded (usually reserved for felony charges); and/or
  • Experiencing an increase in their automobile insurance rates.

In addition, depending on how serious the circumstances surrounding the case are, the driver may be charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense. While it is not easy to get either type of crime expunged from a record, it is generally much more difficult to remove a felony crime. Thus, a driver who is charged and convicted of a felony may lose their right to vote, obtain custody over their children, and have issues securing a job or adequate housing.

Lastly, it should be noted that a driver who is charged with the crime of “extreme aggressive driving” (e.g., intentionally injuring another person with a motor vehicle), may be convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, which is a serious felony offense that can result in harsher punishments.

How Long Will My License Be Suspended for Aggressive Driving in California?

Under California law, the court or the state’s Department of Motor Vehicle (“DMV”) may suspend or revoke an individual’s driver license for being a negligent operator. This can happen when a driver accumulates too many points on their license, when the court decides that a particular driver committed an offense that warranted a revocation or suspension of their driving privileges, or when the driver is convicted of a serious automobile crime.

For example, a driver whose license is suspended by court order may lose their driving privileges for up to 30 days for a first-time offense, and up to 60 days for a second conviction of aggressive driving. A driver who has committed this offense two or more times, can lose their driving privileges for anywhere from six months to one year. The DMV may also suspend a driver’s license for a certain amount of time or place the driver on probation for one full year.

In cases where a driver ignores the DMV’s notice of suspension, this violation can result in having their license suspended for another six months, gaining an additional year of probation, or getting their license revoked for an entire year.

How Does a California Court Prove That I Commit Aggressive Driving?

In order to prove that a driver committed the criminal act of aggressive driving, the prosecutor must satisfy the following elements:

  • That the driver operated their motor vehicle on a highway, other public roadway, or in an off-street parking facility (e.g., parking garage, lot, etc.); and
  • That the driver intentionally drove with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other persons or property.

    • Wanton disregard can be proven by showing that the driver intentionally ignored the risk and that the driver was aware that their actions presented a substantial and unjustifiable risk of injury.

In addition, a prosecutor may file charges against the driver for other related and more serious criminal offenses (e.g., assault with a deadly weapon). Should these charges arise in a driver’s case, the prosecutor will be responsible for proving the elements of all these crimes as well. The prosecutor must also be able to prove that the driver was guilty of committing such crimes in accordance with the “beyond the reasonable doubt” standard.

Are There Any Defenses against Aggressive Driving Charges in California?

Some potential defenses that a driver might be able to raise against aggressive driving charges in California include the following:

  • That they are not the driver in question (e.g., if the prosecutor cannot prove they were the driver or if they were only a passenger in the car);
  • That the driver engaged in the act of aggressive or reckless driving out of necessity (such as an emergency, coercion, duress, etc.);
  • There is a lack of evidence or proof to support the prosecutor’s case beyond a reasonable doubt; and/or
  • The statute of limitations to file charges has expired.

Do I Need an Attorney for Aggressive Driving Charges in California?

Being charged with the crime of aggressive driving in California can lead to some serious legal consequences. Depending on the facts of your case, a conviction can result in having to serve a jail or prison sentence, paying criminal fines, and establishing a criminal record. Thus, if you are facing charges for aggressive driving in the state of California, it may be in your best interest to contact a California criminal lawyer immediately for further legal advice.

An experienced California criminal lawyer will already be familiar with the laws in your state, can advise you of your legal rights and options under these laws, and can discuss the potential outcomes for each of those options. Your lawyer can also represent you in court, or alternatively, can negotiate on your behalf during a plea bargain meeting.

Additionally, your lawyer will be able to determine whether there are any defenses available that you can raise against the charges, and if so, can submit a request for an alternative or reduced sentence.