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What laws govern careless or reckless driving?


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State laws govern the definition and penalties for reckless and careless driving. Each state has different traffic laws, penalties for reckless driving, careless driving, negligent driver and other moving violations. Some states have separate definitions and penalties for reckless driving, careless driving, negligent and aggressive drivers while others states include all of these types of offenses into one general definition.

Here are some examples of how states define and penalize drivers for reckless driving, careless driving and negligent drivers.

The state of Washington notes in RCW 46.61.5249 that a person is guilty of negligent driving in the first degree if he or she operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, and exhibits the effects of having consumed liquor or an illegal drug. This offense is a misdemeanor.

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The Washington law goes on to state in subsection (a) that "Negligent" means the failure to exercise ordinary care, and is the doing of some act that a reasonably careful person would not do under the same or similar circumstances or the failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstances.

Reckless driving which the law enforcement officer considers rash, heedless or dangerous operation of a car is 5 points in Nebraska. There is also willful reckless driving that is considered deliberate and intentional and is assigned 6 points by NE department of transportation.

Reckless operation of a vehicle is listed under section 4511.20 of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) and termed "Willful or wanton operation." The definition given is the disregard of the safety of persons or property. Whoever violates this section of the ORC is guilty of a minor misdemeanor. Also falling under reckless operation in OH is driving without being in reasonable control of the vehicle. This too is a minor misdemeanor. Either type of reckless operation has a points assessment of 4 points on an Ohio driver's license.

In Oregon reckless driving is defined under Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 811.140. Here it states that:

(1) A person commits the offense of reckless driving if the person recklessly drives a vehicle upon a highway or other premises described in this section in a manner that endangers the safety of persons or property.

(2) The use of the term "recklessly" in this section is as defined in ORS 161.085.

(3) The offense described in this section, reckless driving, is a Class A misdemeanor up to 1 year in prison and a fine.

According to the Alaska driver's manual reckless driving is defined as a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. Conviction of reckless driving in Alaska will result in a license revocation. There is a lesser charge of negligent driving. AK Statute 28-35-045 states that a person, who drives a motor vehicle in the state in a manner that creates an unjustifiable risk of harm to a person or to property and who, as a result of the creation of the risk, actually endangers a person or property is guilty of negligent driving.

An unjustifiable risk in Alaska is a risk of such a nature and degree that a failure to avoid it constitutes a deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. Proof that a defendant actually endangered a person or property is established by showing that, as a result of the defendant's driving,

  1. an accident occurred;
  2. a person, including the defendant, took evasive action to avoid an accident;
  3. a person, including the defendant, stopped or slowed down suddenly to avoid an accident; or
  4. a person or property, including the defendant or the defendant's property, was otherwise endangered.

In Alaska the offense of negligent driving is a lesser offense than, and included in, the offense of reckless driving, and a person charged with reckless driving may be convicted of the lesser offense of negligent driving. A person convicted of negligent driving is guilty of an infraction

This is different than Statute 28-35-040 for reckless driving which states that a person who drives a motor vehicle in the state in a manner that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to a person or to property is guilty of reckless driving. A substantial and unjustifiable risk is a risk of such a nature and degree that the conscious disregard of it or a failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

A person convicted of reckless driving is guilty of a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year or by both.

Virginia has many driving offenses that they consider to be reckless driving, including speeding 20 mph over the posted speed limit and failure to stop before entering a highway to name a couple. Reckless driving is considered felony or misdemeanor depending on the exact charge. The maximum penalty for reckless driving is one year in jail, a $2500 fine, a 6 month license suspension and 6 points.

In Michigan two separate statutes currently include the concept of aggressive driving. They are "Careless Driving" and "Reckless Driving." The difference between careless and reckless driving is one of intent and/or the possible consequences of such an act.

MCL 257.626b defines careless driving as; "A person who operates a vehicle upon a highway or a frozen public lake, stream, or pond or other place open to the general public including an area designated for the parking of vehicles in a careless or negligent manner likely to endanger any person or property, but without wantonness or recklessness, is responsible for a civil infraction."

MCL 257.626 defines reckless driving as; "(1) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway or a frozen public lake, stream, or pond or other place open to the general public, including, but not limited to, an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.(2) A person who violates subsection (1) is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 93 days or a fine of not more than $500.00, or both."

Careless driving often consists of multiple hazardous violations that are unsafe and negligent, committed at approximately the same time and location. The driver need not show intent to damage property or injure a person, or even a knowing disregard for that safety for the offense of careless driving to apply. An example may be, a motorists driving at an excessive rate of speed and running a red light. The act has to be one that is careless or negligent in manner and likely to endanger a person or property.

On the other hand, reckless driving is an intent crime. In this case, the driver is aware of the unsafe act(s) in which he or she is engaging, but does so anyway. An example might be, a motorist driving at an excessive rate of speed on the freeway, executing multiple lane changes, and cutting off traffic. As the motorist continues, he or she tailgates other drivers and then uses the shoulder to pass. In so doing, other vehicles are forced to take evasive action to avoid being struck by the offenders' vehicle. The intent and/or possible consequences are a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others.

Aggressive driving may fit the definition of either careless or reckless driving. Any operation of a vehicle that is either careless or negligent and likely to endanger another or cause damage to property, or is in willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, is a violation of Michigan law.

Careless or reckless driving can be considered a serious or major offense depending upon the state in which the citation was given and the description of the offense. In general, reckless driving is considered by most states and insurance companies as a serious violation while careless is not as severe and in some states may not even show on your record.

So if you are wondering how these types of moving violation offenses will affect your insurance rates, it will depend on your state and whether you are talking about a careless violation or a reckless violation if the citation will affect your insurance and if so by how much. Since auto insurance company's rating systems differ you would need to speak to your insurance agent about your provider's rating system and how a careless or reckless ticket would affect your rates.

You can shop around for lower cost car insurance here with us if your insurance premiums have been raised due to a reckless or careless driving or any other type of traffic ticket.


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