The Important Differences between Careless & Reckless Driving

reckless driving

Although they might sound similar, careless and reckless driving differences are enough to perpetuate possible jail time, fines, and more. Driving recklessly can create a situation where SR-22 insurance is necessary. Know the differences between careless & reckless driving before getting behind the wheel and finding yourself in a position where your future is at stake.

What is Careless Driving?

Suppose you are among some 200 million drivers on America’s roadway. In that case, the chances are good that you may see an example of careless driving every single day. While the specifics in each state may vary, the general consensus is that careless driving is an act that may be unsafe. Still, the driver did not mean intentional harm. Examples of careless driving may include:

  • Illegal lane changes
  • Aggressive driving
  • Excessive honking
  • Failure to use a turn signal
  • Driving while distracted
  • Falling asleep at the wheel
  • Disobeying traffic signs
  • A driver holding a cell phone

The driver may be pulled over and fined if they are caught performing careless driving actions. Most states don’t have careless driving statutes, yet others place careless driving within the reckless driving category. These states include Louisiana, Minnesota, and Oregon, where statutes denote the careless operation of a vehicle or careless driving as a chargeable offense. So, the examples cited above may be considered reckless driving in these states.

Careless driving is considered a civil traffic violation, and the driver will most likely be issued a citation. They may pay the fine or request a formal hearing. 

What is Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving may not be seen as often as examples of careless driving. Still, it can be much more dangerous and lead to jail time for the offender. The difference between the two is that reckless driving involves a willful disregard for the safety of people or property. There is an intentional indifference and conscious choice by the driver to have no consideration for the life and property of others during a reckless driving act. 

Examples of reckless driving include:

  • Racing with other vehicles
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Passing school buses when their stop signs are engaged
  • Driving around railroad barriers when they are down
  • Swerving in and out of lanes
  • Passing on blind curves
  • Excessive speeding
  • Running a stop sign or red light
  • Swerving into oncoming traffic
  • Driving on sidewalks or other areas that aren’t intended for motor vehicles
  • Tailgating

Each case is individual, and it’s easy to see that some careless driving behaviors can easily be considered reckless given the circumstances and situation. The ramifications of reckless driving can have an immediate and long-term effect on the driver’s life, personally and professionally.

differences between careless & reckless driving

Possible Consequences of Reckless Driving

Laws vary from state to state, but overall a reckless driving conviction can mean:

  • An arrest and jail time
  • License suspension
  • Vehicle impoundment
  • Points accrued on driving record
  • Steep fines and lawyer fees
  • Much higher car insurance

And those are merely the legal ramifications. Without a vehicle, the individual may lose their job, credibility, and respect for their peers and family. Hefty fines may create a financial crisis within the family, causing possible foreclosure on a home and bankruptcy. 

Accumulating Reckless Driving Convictions

If a driver is convicted of driving recklessly more than once, fines and jail time increase:

  • The first offense is punishable with up to a $500-$1000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.
  • Second and subsequent offenses may see a $1,000+ fine and up to 6 months of jail time.
  • Suppose there is damage caused to property or an individual. In that case, the reckless driver may be punishable with over $1,000 in fines, a year of jail time, and a year of probation.
  • If a serious bodily injury is caused to another individual, reckless driving may become a 3rd-degree felony. The offender may be looking at five years in prison with fines in excess of $5,000.
  • SR-22 insurance may be a requirement to get back on the road.

Texting while Driving

Texting while driving increases a driver’s crash risk between 3 and 23x more than average. Writing, sending, viewing, and reading text messages on a cell phone while operating a vehicle is becoming a criminal misdemeanor in more and more jurisdictions across the country. While it might not fall under the reckless driving definition yet, due to the enormous risk of texting while driving, many districts aim to impose heavy fines as a way to deter the behavior.

Before heading out on the road, remember that distracted driving, in any form, is a recipe for disaster. Always stay focused on driving, and be watchful for others who may be careless or impaired.