I was charged with reckless driving. What does this mean?

Reckless driving often means you were either caught driving 20mph or more over the speed limit, driving too fast for the weather conditions, street racing, or you failed to stop after ordered to by a police officer. A reckless driving charge comes with possible jail time and very expensive fines. You may also lose your driver’s license or be required to take defensive driving classes.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Reckless driving is a serious offense punishable by fines and or imprisonment. Those charged with reckless driving should contact an attorney immediately.

In some states, the charge of reckless driving is also known as careless driving or dangerous driving. Reckless driving is a broad category and drivers that commit moving violations that endanger the lives of others will be charged with this offense.

There are various types of reckless driving that carry different sentences. For example, drivers that are caught speeding in excess of 20 mph or more above the posted maximum speed limit are those most often charged with reckless driving.

Other drivers can be charged with reckless driving for moving violations such as passing a school or emergency vehicle, driving too fast for weather conditions, racing, failure to stop after being ordered by a police officer, or speeding in excess of 80 mph.

Depending on the type of moving violation the driver committed, the punishments associated with the charge of reckless driving vary by state. Some charges of reckless driving are more serious than others.

The punishment for reckless driving is more severe if the driver’s actions caused injury or harm to other drivers or pedestrians. In California, the minimum punishment for reckless driving that results in bodily injury is a jail sentence of at least 30 days and a fine ranging from $220 to $1,000.

Those charged with reckless driving in Virginia face up to one year imprisonment, fines up to $2500, and/or license suspensions. It is usually at the judge’s discretion to impose a lighter sentence if first-time offenders have a clean driving history prior to being charged with reckless driving.

Some states, like Florida, increase the punishment if the driver charged with reckless driving is a repeat offender.

Regardless of the type of reckless driving committed by the driver, the charge of reckless driving can appear on the driver’s permanent record. Drivers charged with reckless driving can also expect their auto insurance premiums to rise.

With the assistance of an attorney, many drivers charged with reckless driving can plead guilty to a lesser charge and pay lower fines and or avoid jail time.

Obtaining legal representation from a lawyer experienced in traffic law when charged with reckless driving is strongly advised and can lead to better outcomes, especially in situations where bodily injury was caused to other drivers or pedestrians.

What if I am charged with careless driving because a witness falsely claimed I hit another car?

The fact is that once a complaint has been made, and the police or DA initiate a criminal action, it is necessary to defend that action or try to get the police to withdraw it (which is risky unless handled by a knowledgeable attorney as anything you say will be used against you). If the matter comes up for trial, the government must prove its case.

Absent photos or a confession or voluntary admission, the witness will be called to testify, and be required to make an admission. The prosecution (or the state) must prove you are guilty, as opposed to you having to prove you are innocent. One way a lawyer would cross-examine the witness is to make them hone in on details that may show he or she is lying or was not in a position to observe (for example: what color the car is, what model, make, time of day, etc.), to bring out possible bias; to show he or she made inconsistent statements; or other reasons to suggest lack of reliability such as the number of times they have sued in the past. If the witness says your motor vehicle was damaged, your lawyer would ask her to describe it, etc.; if the same damage is not shown on the car, this may help prove your innocence. However, if enough time has passed, it may be countered that you had had the car repaired; for this reason, it is best to not drive the car as it can be proved it was stationary and not repaired.

At some point, if the judge does not dismiss the case for failure of proof after the witness’s testimony, you would likely then testify that you did not hit the car and show that here was no damage. But the fact that there was no damage to your car only suggests (though perhaps strongly), but does not prove that you did not hit the car.

It will be best to retain a lawyer immediately after the claim against you is made. As mentioned, any statements you make without a lawyer can be used against you and may even result in the witness’s story – true or not – holding up in court.

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