Reckless driving occurs when you operate a vehicle at a speed or in a manner that shows an utter disregard for the safety of others or a willful disregard of the potential consequences of your actions. In other words if you drive recklessly, you know that you are driving dangerously, but are choosing to continue doing so despite the risks involved.
In essence, you are consciously exposing others to the risk of harm. Unlike other traffic laws and violations, such as speeding violations, a charge of reckless driving is highly dependent on the surrounding circumstances of your individual case.
Further, a charge of reckless driving does not require a showing that someone was actually injured as a result of your actions, but such injury will likely heighten the charges brought against you.
Typically, a charge of reckless driving is a misdemeanor, but the charge may increase to a felony in some cases, especially if there is a death or injury involved. The charges of reckless driving vary by state and by the factors involved in each individual case.
What is Involved in a Charge of Reckless Driving?
A charge of recklessness includes a variety of factors, including:
- The defendant intended to commit the criminal act of reckless driving;
- The defendant knew that their acts would cause a risk of harm to others and property, but continued their reckless actions anyway;
- The risk of harm was more than just negligent, i.e. the prosecutor must demonstrate that the defendant’s actions were more than just a simple mistake; and
- The defendant knew that there would be others present and they would be put in harm’s way.
- This element is easily proven because unless the driver lives in an extremely rural area, the presence of other drivers is likely assumed once you get on the road.
One example of reckless is if a driver decides race a friend and to drive at a dangerously high speed in a residential neighborhood. There, the driver knows that racing a friend through a residential neighborhood could cause harm to people or property.
Further, they know that they are being negligent because it is illegal to drive so recklessly and at high speeds in a residential neighborhood. Thus, because the person engages in such a reckless activity anyway, they are showing a blatant disregard for human life and will likely be charged with reckless driving at a minimum. If they exceed the speed limit by over 25 miles per hour, they would likely face a felony reckless driving charge.
Reckless driving obviously includes such extremes as drunk driving or texting while driving, but it also includes everyday examples that you are likely familiar with. For instance, tailgating or swerving at high speeds that can lead to losing control of your vehicle are examples of reckless driving.
Running red lights is another obvious example; not only is it illegal, it’s incredibly dangerous. Further examples include: aggressively not letting people pass you, trick riding, fleeing from police, racing other cars, and ignoring traffic signals and signs.
How Does a Reckless Driving Charge Increase to a Felony?
Reckless driving is considered a felony in some states, but not others. In the states where it may be considered a felony, the charge of reckless driving becomes a felony when the person’s reckless driving causes serious injury or death to another person.
The facts typically dictate the charge, and the decision is ultimately made by the judge. For example, in Virginia a reckless driving charge becomes a felony when the driver shows a complete disregard for the safety of others and causes serious bodily harm or death to another.
In some states, there are some actions that are considered “per se” reckless driving. For example, many states consider the following actions to constitute reckless driving:
- Driving at night without using headlights;
- Drag racing or other racing of a vehicle;
- Excessively driving over the speed limit (generally this means driving 25 mph over the speed limit);
- Failing to pay attention to the road; or
- Improperly passing of another vehicle.
However as noted above, to reach a charge of felony reckless driving, the prosecutor will have to prove the mental state of the driver, which is often times difficult to prove.
Should I Hire an Attorney If I Have Been Charged with Reckless Driving?
Because a charge of reckless driving may be either classified as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances and the severity of conduct at issue, it is important to consult a well qualified and licensed criminal attorney.
If you engaged in reckless conduct while driving and that resulted in an injury to another, you might likely be facing a felony reckless driving charge.
Further, if your reckless driving resulted in the death of another person, then consulting with an attorney is absolutely necessary, because you may be facing a charge of vehicular homicide. Penalties for felony reckless driving include losing your license, fines, imprisonment, and establishing a criminal offense record, to name a few.
When facing these charges, you should remain calm and consult an attorney to guide you through the process of facing a felony reckless driving charge and represent you in front of a court, if necessary.