Question: What is considered negligent driving?

Answer: The definition of negligent driving varies depending upon state laws and their various definitions.

For example 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.

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.

Alaska Statute 35.045 addresses negligent driving. Here AK law 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.

Alaska defines an unjustifiable risk as 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,

  • an accident occurred;
  • a person, including the defendant, took evasive action to avoid an accident;
  • a person, including the defendant, stopped or slowed down suddenly to avoid an accident; or
  • 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 in this state.

New Hampshire laws definition of negligent driving states that whoever upon any way drives a vehicle negligently or causes a vehicle to be driven negligently, as defined in RSA 626:2, (d) [see below], or in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property shall be guilty of a violation and shall be fined not less than $250 nor more than $500 for a first offense and not less than $500 nor more than $1,000 for a second or subsequent offense

Subsection (d) of this NH law states that a person acts negligently with respect to a material element of an offense when he fails to become aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the material element exists or will result from his conduct. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that his failure to become aware of it constitutes a gross deviation from the conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

In Maryland, a person is deemed guilty of negligent driving if the person drives in a careless or imprudent manner that endangers property or human life. A negligent driving violation requires the assessment of one point against the driving record and is a misdemeanor subject to a maximum fine of $500. The fine currently assessed by the District Court for this offense is $140. If the negligent driving offense contributes to an accident, the fine increases to $280

Some states find that if you are distracted while driving and cause an accident then you are guilty of negligent driving. The distraction can be using a cell phone, texting, etc and then if you are observed by law enforcement for driving in a dangerous manner then the driver can be stopped and cited for negligent driving. In some states negligent driving is the same as reckless or careless driving while in other states these are all different charges with different definitions.

To get information on a specific state’s definition of negligent driving you can contact the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. A lawyer familiar with this portion of your state’s negligent driving laws should also be able to give you information on what state laws say and how to look up the statutes that would pertain to negligent driving.

It is recommended that you learn about the different types of car insurance to determine which coverages you want when you are behind the wheel.

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Michelle Megna
Editorial Director

Michelle is a writer, editor and expert on car insurance and personal finance. Prior to joining, she reported and edited articles on technology, lifestyle, education and government for magazines, websites and major newspapers, including the New York Daily News.