What is Reckless Driving?

While there are many fender benders and mild accidents on the roads of Orange County, an accident with a reckless driver can be a much more difficult scenario. Reckless driving often involves high speeds and a disregard for the rules of the road, so the crashes that result from them can cause serious personal and property damages to victims. If you are hoping to learn more about what reckless driving is and how to react if you are a victim, read on for all the information.

How Is Reckless Driving Defined in California?

Reckless driving is defined differently depending on what part of the country you are in. In many states, specific actions such as driving over eighty miles per hour, popping a wheelie on a motorcycle, or falling asleep at the wheel are automatic indicators of reckless driving. Though California does not have any of these automatic qualifiers on the books, they do list a very broad view of what reckless driving means in order to encapsulate many types of scenarios where drivers can be convicted of this crime.

In California, a reckless driver is defined by the law as “a person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” and/or “a person who drives a vehicle in an off-street parking facility...in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” So whether a driver is recklessly operating a vehicle on the road or in a parking lot or other off-street structure, they can be convicted of reckless driving.

The law goes on to state that persons convicted of a reckless driving offense are to be imprisoned for between five and ninety days, receive a fine between $145 and $1,000, or both. Their intent with the reckless driving incident does not have to be malicious, either—a wanton disregard for safety is defined as a person that is aware that their actions present a risk of harm that is not justifiable and is intentionally ignoring that risk, but that does not mean that they have to exhibit an intent to cause damage.

Examples of Reckless Driving

Because of the wording regarding reckless driving in California, it may seem unclear what is defined as reckless by the courts—however, because the law is worded in a broad way, it means that any driver who is driving with significant amounts of neglect may be able to be convicted of reckless driving. Some common examples of reckless driving include:

  • Running red lights and stop signs

  • Failing to yield or cede the right of way

  • Driving in the wrong lane or failing to stay between the road lines

  • Speeding more than fifteen miles per hour over the posted speed limit

  • Operating a vehicle in an area not intended for cars, such as a driveway

  • Driving in the median or shoulder

  • Weaving, tailgating, or passing in an unsafe manner

Because there are a number of scenarios that can lead to reckless driving, this list is not exhaustive. However, when a driver is recklessly operating their vehicle, it will usually be apparent to everyone in the area that something is severely wrong.

The Consequences of Reckless Driving

While the California law is clear about the jail times and fines that should be imposed for reckless driving, these are not the only consequences that a reckless driver can face. The judge will have the power to sentence reckless drivers to a variety of punishments in addition to fines and imprisonment, such as suspension of their license, impounding their vehicle, and adding points to their driving record. 

Additionally, reckless drivers will often be prevented from working as a commercial driver in the future and get dropped by their insurance or see a significant rate hike. If someone was hurt or killed due to an accident caused by the reckless driver, there can be even more criminal charges brought forth in many cases, especially if drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash. In addition to putting themselves, other drivers, pedestrians, and anyone else nearby at extreme risk, reckless drivers are also potentially derailing their plans for the future.

Pursuing Damages From a Reckless Driving Incident

Because of the way criminal and civil claims are divided in the court of law, pursuing damages from a reckless driving incident can quickly become complicated. If a reckless driver is convicted of a criminal offense regarding the crash, it can become more difficult for victims of a car accident to receive damages from their insurance provider. While there is often no dispute about the fault of the accident, lapses in coverage may provide other concerns.

An insurance liability policy will often include exclusions regarding situations they will not cover. Many will not offer coverage for specific, high-risk scenarios such as street racing, as an accident would be an expected outcome for this type of behavior. That is why reckless driving is often dealt with as an intentional act—but to receive damages for injuries, it is important that your lawyer is able to emphasize the reckless driver’s negligence in the scenario as well.

Additionally, you may have trouble getting adequate coverage if the reckless driver’s insurance is not sufficient to cover the damages caused. In California, every driver is required to have insurance coverage of $15,000 per person, $30,000 per accident, and $5,000 for property damages, but if you have significant damages or medical bills, this may not be enough. This is why having an experienced car accident attorney to help you demand the compensation you deserve is so valuable, especially in cases of reckless driving accidents.

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