The Differences Between Reckless Driving And A DWI In New York State

The Marble Team

The Differences Between Reckless Driving And A DWI In New York State

| 5 min
6 minutes

There’s one clear and noticeable difference between reckless driving and a DWI (driving while intoxicated): you can be charged with reckless driving if you’re sober or drunk, whereas, for a DWI, you must be found to be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The other big difference is that DWI charges are generally much more severe and feature harsher penalties.

Still, these two driving offenses have much in common. They both feature a sliding scale of charges, depending on the seriousness of the violation. They could both result in you facing significant fines, jail time, loss of your license, and that’s before you consider the practical implications of higher insurance or not being able to drive anywhere.

Read on to learn more about the differences between reckless driving and a DWI. In plain English, we’ll define what the charges are, how the police decide whether to prosecute, your legal rights, and the importance of solid legal representation. If you’re facing a reckless driving or DWI charge, you’ll find all the information you need here. 

Reckless Driving: What Is It And Is It The Same As A DWI?

Reckless driving can take many forms: excessive speeding, running a red light, going the wrong way on a one-way street, and more. Essentially, it refers to any driving behavior that disrupts the safe usage of the public highway or endangers other drivers and pedestrians. Penalties include fines, points, and jail time, plus additional potential surcharges.

A DWI is an altogether more serious offense related to your blood alcohol content (BAC) level. There are several different forms. You’ll face a DWAI (driving while ability impaired) if your BAC is between 0.05% and 0.07%, a DWI if it’s over 0.08%, and an aggravated DWI for levels over 0.18%. Associated charges include a Chemical Test Refusal and the Zero Tolerance Law for young drivers.

There’s a sliding scale of punishments and penalties for DWI offenses, including fines, jail, driver’s license revocation, or suspension. Some states differentiate between a DWI and a DUI (driving under the influence). A DWI covers impairment by alcohol, whereas a DUI applies when the impairment is caused by alcohol, medical/recreational drugs, or a combination of these factors. However, New York doesn’t distinguish between these two and strictly refers to them as DWIs.

How Police Address Reckless Driving Relative To A DWI

A person can be charged with both reckless driving and DWI at the same time. Indeed, it’s often the case that reckless driving alerts the police to the possibility of a drunk driver.

On occasion, it’s possible to argue that the police are making a subjective - and flawed - call on reckless driving. That said, if you’ve been clocked speeding at 100 mph or taken a breath or blood test that proves excessive levels of alcohol, it’s harder to contest the evidence. 

Are You Obligated To Provide Breath Or Chemical Samples?

You might be surprised to learn that in every single US state, including New York, you’re legally entitled to refuse a roadside breathalyzer test. However, if you do that, you also need to be aware of the significant consequences that can arise, like being charged with a Chemical Test Refusal. You could also be arrested, taken back to the station, and be obligated to take a chemical test of your breath, blood, urine, or saliva.

If you refuse to provide breath or chemical samples, you could be in big trouble, so it’s worth seeking legal counsel as soon as you possibly can to discuss the best strategy.

Behaviors That Police Consider ‘Driving Under The Influence’

Traffic cops spend their working lives on the road, so they know all the signs and signals of someone driving under the influence. Even the most minor amounts of alcohol or drugs can impair your driving abilities, causing bad decisions on the road.

Here are the sorts of bad driving signs that the cops watch out for:


This is an obvious one. There’s no excuse for speeding, full stop. Driving under the influence often leads to impaired judgment, and that includes breaking the speed limit. 

Inconsistent Speeds

Drunk drivers often drive erratically and unpredictably, weaving from side to side or speeding up then slowing down. For an experienced traffic cop, such driving behavior is a clear sign. 

Failure To Use Signals

Failure to use signals is another indicator that the driver might be over the limit. Once again, intoxication impacts decision-making and awareness, resulting in drivers forgetting to indicate or use their lights.

Ignorance Toward Other Drivers

Crossing the center-line, pulling out in front of another driver, lurching across lanes on an interstate: these moves don’t just show ignorance toward other drivers but are also downright dangerous. Inconsiderate driving, and failure to obey the basic rules of the road, are often linked to alcohol or drugs.

Get Proper Legal Representation On Your Side

Reckless driving and DWIs are both severe charges with far-reaching consequences if you’re found guilty. Accordingly, it makes sense to see if there’s any way that you can contest the charge, get it reduced, or even have it thrown out. To do that, you’ll need the services of a dedicated DWI lawyer.

A trusted attorney can help in several ways: by ensuring due process and protection of your rights, by guiding you through the complex legalities, and by exploring the possibility of a plea bargain.

Bottom Line

The best way to avoid a reckless driving or DWI charge is to drive safely and soberly in the first place. But if you or a loved one are facing charges, the experienced team at Marble is on hand to give you expert, timely, and affordable legal advice. We take a fresh approach compared to traditional lawyers, so call us now for a free case assessment to see how we can help.

6 minutes
Dec 30, 2020
The Marble Team