Getting behind the wheel in California is a big responsibility for drivers, and ignorance of the law and how it works isn’t a good excuse for not following the rules of the road.
One of the more dangerous activities involves putting other people or property at risk due to your driving behavior. This is referred to as reckless driving and it’s essential to understand what qualifies as reckless, along with the punishments that might result from a violation.
In its most basic form, reckless driving in California is characterized by Vehicle Code 23103 as a person operating a vehicle in “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” For simplicity, wanton refers to either deliberate or intentional acts that are bad by nature.
Although the law itself references highways and off-street parking facilities as the place of these violations, these rules don’t merely apply to highways and parking structures, but also ordinary public roads. While the law itself may sound vague, multiple offenses can fall under this category and fit the broad definition above.
One area where this driving code has recently been applied is drivers who make their way through protests. Per the law, you may not drive through a crowd of people, or attempt to move through in any way that displaces protestors. Even if your life is at risk or in danger, driving through a crowd of protestors to escape can still be punished with a reckless driving charge.
Another important consideration in terms of reckless driving is whether someone other than the driver was injured by the driver’s behavior. When this occurs, penalties and punishments can escalate quickly.
While these following activities can put other motorists and pedestrians at risk, reckless driving primarily focuses on the driver’s intent.
Whichexting while driving is a common risky driving behavior. Still, despite the danger of typing on the phone while driving, there are exceptions, and texting itself is not a criminal offense. If texting while driving results in an accident where people are harmed, then it could fall into the reckless category. Still, this is entirely dependent on the circumstances that unfold as a result of the behavior.
One of the areas for interpretation in this law has to deal with speed and speeding limits. While it has been noted that driving more than 15 miles per hour over the speed limit is a qualifier for reckless driving, exceeding the speed limit alone might not qualify as reckless driving. Speeding would have to be accompanied by other dangerous driving behaviors, like swerving into oncoming traffic, driving on the sidewalk, putting pedestrians at risk, or blowing through stop signs and stoplights at intersections.
A possible example that might arise is swerving to avoid an accident. Think about a child running into the street after a ball. If an oncoming motorist swerves out of the way to avoid causing bodily harm and ends up on the sidewalk as part of the maneuver, the intent here wasn’t to be reckless but rather avoid injuring the child. Therefore, the action may be defensible in a court of law despite the possible appearance of recklessness.
In the State of California, reckless driving is considered criminal behavior and is technically a misdemeanor if a driver is convicted. Even though it isn’t a felony offense, this type of misdemeanor is accompanied by sometimes severe consequences. Furthermore, if anyone was injured or if drugs or alcohol were involved, penalties can escalate very quickly.
Depending on the nature and severity of the offense, several different consequences may arise from reckless driving, including the following:
If convicted of reckless driving under code 23103, fines of anywhere between a minimum of $145 to a maximum of $1000 can be assessed. However, this is only for an incident that didn’t result in bodily harm or destruction of property.
Of course, the amount depends on the severity of the incident in question. That is also not to say that the fine will be the only punishment. If convicted of a reckless driving charge combined with other offenses, the penalties can be even steeper and involve a variety of the other penalties listed above, like driver’s license suspension and DMV points.
If convicted of reckless driving, according to vehicle code 23103, a California judge can assign jail time ranging between 5 to 90 days. In the case of no injuries arising from the motorists behavior, the judge may opt to issue a fine, or jail time, or both penalties. The likelihood of serving jail time depends on the severity of the crime.
Vehicle codes 23104 and 23105 cover the minimums and maximums for drivers who injure other people. The starting fine amount is $220, and the maximum is $1000. In cases where an individual was injured as a result of the motorist’s behavior, the jail time can be expanded to 30 days or 6 months in a county jail. However, the sentencing discretion is up to the judge, meaning the outcome may result in a fine or jail time, or both, depending on the extent of the charges and bodily injury.
Accumulating DMV points, whether from a reckless driving incident or other traffic violations can impact your privileges in many ways. Normally, motorists convicted of reckless driving face a 2 point penalty if convicted.
When amassed, these points can result in a temporary suspension or revocation of a driver’s license if the individual accumulates 4 points within 12 months, 6 points within 24 months, or 8 points within 36 months. Moreover, there is a strong likelihood that car insurance premiums will jump by as much as 50% if a conviction is handed down by the judge.
Points can be reduced through traffic school and other measures, but there are limitations to the extent that points can be reduced.
Unlike most traffic infractions and violations which involve civil penalties like fines and tickets, one of the defining characteristics of reckless driving is its visibility on background checks. If potential employers check your record, it may appear, especially for any job in law enforcement or national defense industries.
Fortunately, California legislation is gradually changing in favor of those who’ve been convicted of these offenses. Offenses older than seven years should not appear on background checks according to recent changes. You can also potentially apply for dismissal via Penal Code §1203.4 after a certain amount of time has passed.
Pleading guilty to reckless driving will result in a conviction and lead to a punishment. This can take either the form of a fine or prison time or both, depending on the severity of the crime. Therefore, it’s essential to consider your options carefully with the help of a good lawyer to ensure your interests are protected.
One of the significant benefits of engaging a lawyer is the opportunity to explore a defense for the behavior or plea-bargain. Generally, prosecutors will be less open to striking a plea deal with individuals who represent themselves, given that they will likely have the upper hand in any case.
Additionally, if there are mitigating circumstances or factors that might play a role in reducing the charges against you, or any other valid defense, pleading guilty is likely not the best option and won’t result in the most favorable outcome. A qualified defense attorney can spell out all the possible tactics, defenses, and outcomes to devise the strategy that will ultimately deliver the best results.
The traffic laws surrounding reckless driving may seem intentionally vague at first glance, but a more in-depth read shows that there are many nuances involved that could determine the legal outcome. The key things to remember here is that reckless driving often boils down to the matter of intent and deliberate effort.
If charged, the best way to manage the process is by consulting with a lawyer that is familiar with the law and its subtleties. This could mean all the difference for a plea bargain or reduced charges depending on the circumstances.