What is Reckless Driving?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Reckless driving is a moving violation that is often treated as a misdemeanor. People who are convicted of this crime can face a fine, deportation, revocation of parole, and the suspension or cancellation of driver's license. In some areas, the penalties vary, depending on the specifics of the offense, and the law may have several categories established.

Putting on lipstick, talking on a cell phone, or doing any activity that distracts from driving can be considered reckless driving.
Putting on lipstick, talking on a cell phone, or doing any activity that distracts from driving can be considered reckless driving.

In order to be considered reckless driving, activity on the road must include a demonstrated disregard for the safety of property, animals, and people. Someone who is driving recklessly may have a willful disregard of safety, or may simply have a wanton attitude about the rules of the road. In either case, in order for people to be successfully convicted, demonstration of the disregard must be provided in the form of testimony from witnesses about the person's driving. Police officers, for example, can testify about seeing someone engage in a series of reckless acts.

Swerving in and out of traffic is an example of reckless driving.
Swerving in and out of traffic is an example of reckless driving.

Some examples of recklessness can include ignoring basic safety laws, such as laws forbidding people to pass in front of oncoming traffic, laws prohibiting crossing train tracks in front of an oncoming train, and laws regulating speed. People who exceed the speed limit by an unusually high amount may be considered reckless drivers because they are putting other drivers in danger. Likewise, activities like swerving, repeatedly driving through red lights, and so forth can also be grounds for charges, as can driving with the intent to elude a police officer.

Driving through a red light is one example of reckless driving.
Driving through a red light is one example of reckless driving.

The concern with reckless driving is that it poses a risk not only to the driver, but also to people in the surrounding area. Other drivers could be harmed if a car spun out of control, for example, and drivers could also injure or kill pets, children, and pedestrians by driving recklessly. In addition, drivers may cause property damage by driving into buildings. As a result, such behavior is not only inherently dangerous, but a public safety issue.

Road rage may lead to reckless driving.
Road rage may lead to reckless driving.

There are defenses that people may use for reckless driving charges, such as demonstrating that an emergency situation warranted excessive speed. People who are planning to contest such charges instead of pleading guilty may want to consider discussing the situation with a lawyer to see if there are possible defenses or approaches to the case which could improve the possible outcome. Lawyers who specialize in handling traffic cases and violations such as driving under the influence (DUI) often have expertise that can be helpful.

Drinking and driving can lead to reckless driving and is a serious offense.
Drinking and driving can lead to reckless driving and is a serious offense.
People who reckless drive are often pulled over by law enforcement.
People who reckless drive are often pulled over by law enforcement.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The Virginia reckless driving laws are a product of political corruption and greed, not safety. Even Triple - A protested the "million dollar highway", a small stretch of road in the middle of nowhere that has raked in over 100 million dollars ticketing people going as little as 81 in a 70.

The money seems like a very minor issue to me compared to handing out criminal records to people who are not criminals, for the sake of making more money. It destroys the trust between citizens and the police.

I personally consider VA troopers to be a greater threat than criminals. And by the way, what does a trooper need to do to get the same charge? they have to actually kill someone, as has happened on more than a few occasions?


What? In Nevada you can be convicted by the testimony of a witness alone, even if the police say you were fine and did nothing wrong. I was just was convicted like that, so in other words, if you tick someone off on the road they can fabricate a lie about how you drove and mess you up. You're talking about throwing the book and so on! If you're that scared, don't drive!


My friend has been charged with this offense and someone recommended he hire a speciality reckless driving lawyer. People have told him that someone who deals with this all day is more likely to be of help than a regular practitioner.

I'm pretty sure that reckless driving in VA can lead to a short stint in jail, so it makes sense to have as much help as possible when you go to court. (Not that I agree with driving over the speed limit, I just would hate to see him suffer more than necessary for a first offense.)


@jennythelib - I think I’ll jump in here and offer an anecdote that is way off the beaten path of most of the stories discussed so far. I was pulled over by a cop once for driving too slowly-yes, you heard that right, driving too slowly. I was in a 55 MPH zone and I was driving 35 MPH. The minimum speed was 45 MPH.

I saw the flashing lights in my rear view mirror and pulled over. The officer asked me, “Everything OK?” He explained to me that I was driving too slowly, that it could impair the free flow of traffic and that he could fine me $200.

I had to think quickly because I didn’t want a ticket, so I apologized and said that I was such a careful driver. He looked me up, saw that I had no prior violations, and let me go with a warning.


@Mutsy - I agree with what you are saying, but making it a felony offense for a first time offender might be a little harsh because everyone makes mistakes.

Now if there is a second offense then I think that they should throw the book at them. I do like the idea of having federal statues because not all states treat reckless driving with the same penalties.

For example, in Florida a reckless driving charge carries a penalty of 90 days in jail along with a fine, and four points off your license, but in Virginia it is different.

Reckless driving in Virginia is considered when you drive twenty miles above the speed limit. You are not only given a speeding ticket but you are also charged with a criminal offense.

I also think that if the laws in all of the states were uniform people would be aware of them and not break them as often. For example, if have to admit that there have been times that I have gone twenty miles over the speed limit, but if I lived in Virginia there is no way I would do this. I would not take the chance.


@Bhutan - I am from New Jersey and a reckless driving charge in New Jersey can carry a suspended license sentence of 45 days.

I think that a lot of these reckless driving laws are really not strict enough because many people charged with reckless driving are also charged with a DUI.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is even worse because people usually become impaired even after one drink. If they pass the blood alcohol limit who knows what type of damage that they could do.

I was watching a television show that offered a stationary driving simulation of what it would be like to drive after two drinks and after driving after four drinks.

The person attempting the computer simulation had trouble focusing after the first round and after the second round she could not decipher between the various lines on the road. It was really scary.

I think that there should be uniform federal statutes that reckless driving laws with respect to drunk driving should carry a felony offense for the first offense with mandatory jail time as well as a license suspension.

If the penalties were stiffer, I think that the less people would be charged with a reckless driving penalty.


MissDaphne- I have to say that I don’t understand why people have to travel at such excessive speeds. I think if you give yourself extra time you don’t have to speed and raise your chances of getting into an accident and being charged with breaking a reckless driving law.

The speed limits are posted for a reason because those are the safest speeds that a person can travel in the given area. Your chance of getting into an accident multiplies the more you exceed the speed limit. Not only that, but the speeding ticket is really expensive not to mention having to go to driving school.


@jennythelib - In Virginia, where I live, the rules are particularly tough. Reckless driving in Virginia can carry actual jail time (though I don't know anyone who's served it for that reason). Virginia has that rule you mentioned: twenty over or anything over 80.

But some roads have a speed limit of 70, which means that you could, in theory, get a reckless driving ticket going as little as eleven mph over the limit! You don't usually even get pulled over for going eleven over, in my experience. Think about what kind of risk you're exposing yourself to when you set that cruise control at 80!


People may not realize that something you would usually get off for can be a reckless driving ticket under certain circumstances. A friend of mine got a reckless driving ticket for driving five miles over the speed limit, but it was raining, he was in a work zone, and there was a lot of traffic. (And maybe he annoyed the police officer somehow!)

In some states, speeding can become reckless driving for as little as twenty miles per hour over the limit or anything over 80. Watch yourself--there are stretches of road where it seems like everyone's going that fast, but that doesn't mean you won't be the one to get a ticket!

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