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What is Careless Driving?

A careless driving citation carries different penalties across states. Generally, careless driving refers to failing to drive a motor vehicle in a careful and cautious manner. Careless driving may be accidental, but nevertheless the driver presented a danger to other drivers and pedestrians.

The list of careless driving behaviors is extensive, and below are only a few examples that may result in a careless driving citation:

  • Illegal lane changes;
  • Drivers holding cell phones;
  • Falling asleep at the wheel;
  • Speeding;
  • Drivers not using signals; and/or
  • Disobeying traffic signs.

For states that have careless driving statutes, the typical penalties for a conviction include a fine and actions such as traffic school or community service. In more serious cases, drivers may be charged with reckless driving.

Is Careless Driving Different from Reckless Driving?

Generally, states hand down lesser penalties to drivers guilty of careless driving as opposed to those who are convicted of reckless driving. In some cases where a plea deal is reached, the charge of reckless driving may be reduced to careless driving, depending on circumstances.

Most statutes define reckless driving as a “wanton disregard” for traffic laws. Reckless driving is a level of deliberate disregard for the law and penalties may include fines and jail time. For example, in Virginia a first offense of reckless driving could result in $2500 in fines and up to a year in jail. Penalties for careless and reckless driving may be more severe if injury or death occurred as a result of the violation.

What States Have Careless Driving Statutes?

Only a few states have careless driving statutes, whereas the majority have reckless driving statutes. There are still others that include careless driving under the reckless driving umbrella. Oregon, Minnesota, and Louisiana have statutes specifically denoting careless driving or careless operation as chargeable offenses.

Can Careless Driving Be Charged as Something Else?

While only a few states have careless driving laws, many states have made it illegal for individuals to drive while texting or holding the phone to their ear. Otherwise known as “distracted driving”, many states heavily regulate what kind of cell phone use is allowed while operating a motor vehicle.

There is also a movement for laws that require you to restrain your pet while driving. Many accidents are caused by pet owners trying to control their pet, so Minnesota, Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut require that animals are not allowed to be transported either out of cages or unrestrained.

For example, in New Jersey the police have a right to pull over a driver with an unrestrained dog (either no seat belt or not in a crate) and fine them $250 to $1,000 for each offense.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Careless Driving Charges?

If you have been charged with careless driving, you should speak with a criminal lawyer, especially if your charges involve property damage or injury. Prior offenses may also increase the penalties of a careless driving charge. A lawyer in your area will be able to determine your best course of action and represent you in court if necessary.

Photo of page author Sarah Tipton

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 01-30-2018 02:50 PM PST

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