Updated on August 23, 2022
When you get behind the wheel, you accept the immense responsibility of driving safely and of allowing the safe passage of other motorists who share the road with you, but it is not unusual to become irritated by the foibles of other drivers.
There is not a driver out there who has logged more than a mile or two who hasn’t been driven to fits of anger by another driver’s negligence, incompetence, or just plain rudeness. Welcome to driving in the modern world.
If this anger, however, gets the better of you and morphs into aggressive or otherwise reckless driving, you could find yourself facing a reckless driving charge, which comes with significant penalties and fines—not to mention a social stigma that can harm your job prospects and more.
Better understanding the charge of reckless driving can help protect your rights moving forward. For more information about your rights and responsibilities on the road, contact a Killeen criminal defense lawyer.
Reckless Driving Defined
While fiddling with the radio, eating or drinking, fussing with your hair, or doing anything else behind the wheel that is unrelated to driving safely is less than ideal, it does not rise to the level of reckless driving. In the State of Texas, reckless driving refers to motorists who display a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others on the road while behind the wheel.
As drivers, we all owe everyone else on the road a duty of care that includes following the rules of the road and accommodating everyone’s safe passage, and any failure to do so can lead to both civil and criminal charges.
If your driving in any given instance is interpreted to display a desire to cause harm—or if it appears that you simply do not care if you cause serious harm—you can face a reckless driving charge. You do not have to be on a public road to be hit with the charge. Reckless driving can also apply in private spaces, such as in parking lots and parking structures.
If you are charged with reckless driving in Texas, it is a misdemeanor that can lead to fines and actual jail time. The severity of the charge will be based on the degree of recklessness involved.
Common Practices That Are Often Deemed Reckless Driving
There are a variety of dangerous driving practices that are commonly deemed reckless driving, including the following behaviors:
Ignoring traffic signs, lights, or signals
Driving in a manner that fails to maintain reasonable or appropriate control of the vehicle
Speeding past a school bus that has its stop sign out
Refusing to yield the right-of-way to other drivers or to pedestrians
Attempting to engage in or incite street racing
Passing over the double yellow lines on a two-lane highway
Engaging in any of these activities can lead the authorities to assume that you exhibited utter disregard for the safety of others—or that you actually intended to cause harm—and to slap you with a reckless driving charge in the process. These charges can be very serious, so it is important to call an experienced Killeen criminal defense lawyer right away.
Speeding is so closely associated with reckless driving that it pays to take a closer look. The fact is that excess speed makes traffic accidents more likely and increases the risk that these accidents will be deadly.
NHTSA’s Findings about Speeding in 2019
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shared a variety of sobering statistics related to excess speed, including the following facts:
Excess speed has played a major role in about a third of all fatal traffic accidents for more than the last 20 years.
In 2019 alone, speeding was a contributing factor in 26% of all traffic deaths.
In 2019, excess speed took the lives of 9,478 people.
The consequences of driving too fast include all the following problems:
You experience a greater potential for losing control of your vehicle.
Your stopping distance (upon perceiving a danger ahead) is increased.
The effectiveness of your occupant protection equipment, such as airbags and seatbelts, is reduced.
The seriousness of any ensuing accident is increased.
The State of Texas takes speeding very seriously. If your speed is so excessive that it demonstrates the intention to cause harm or a blatant disregard for the safety of others, it can elevate the charge to reckless driving.
Statistics about Reckless Driving
Aggressive or reckless driving played a role in more than half of all fatal crashes from 2003 to 2007, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III), which cited a comprehensive, long-term study put out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Additionally, excessive speed was the number one indicator in these accidents.
To put things in better perspective, speeding was also the primary factor in fatal car accidents in 2019 (playing a pivotal role in more than 17% of all fatal accidents that year). Consider the following statistics for reckless driving practices that contributed to fatal car accidents in 2019:
Driving either in excess of the speed limit or too fast for the road’s condition was a leading cause for 17.2% of all fatal accidents.
Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs accounted for 10.1% of all fatal accidents.
Failing to yield the right-of-way accounted for 7.3% of all fatal accidents.
Failing to stay in the proper lane accounted for 6.6% of all fatal accidents.
Operating a vehicle carelessly accounted for 6.5% of all fatal accidents.
Driving while distracted accounted for 5.9% of all fatal accidents.
Failing to obey posted traffic signs, signals, or lights (or an officer’s instructions) accounted for 4.0% of all fatal accidents.
Operating a vehicle in a generally reckless manner accounted for 3.7% of all fatal accidents.
The condition that is cited most often as prompting reckless driving is heavy traffic, which means that many drivers are inclined to allow the stress of congested traffic to push them outside the boundaries of safe driving—thus compounding the dangers associated with heavy traffic in the first place.
A Reckless Driving Conviction and Its Consequences
A charge of reckless driving is something of a hybrid misdemeanor charge in Texas—not being classified as either a Class B or a Class C misdemeanor. The consequences of a conviction, however, can be serious and can seriously disrupt your life. Consider the following consequences of reckless driving convictions:
If you are convicted of reckless driving, it becomes a permanent blight on your criminal record.
If you are convicted of reckless driving, you face fines of up to $200 and jail time of up to 30 days.
If you are convicted of reckless driving, your driver’s license can be suspended or even revoked (if you have other traffic violations or suspensions on your record).
If you are convicted of reckless driving, you will rack up points on your driver’s license.
If you are convicted of reckless driving, you may be required to perform community service or to pay restitution to anyone who was harmed by your reckless driving.
If you are convicted of reckless driving, you will very likely experience an increase in your car insurance rates.
If you drive for a living, a conviction of reckless driving can cost you your job.
If you are convicted of reckless driving, it can preclude you from obtaining a security clearance.
With more than one conviction on your record, the consequences of reckless driving become more serious.
Having a misdemeanor conviction on your record can also have serious and often unanticipated social consequences that can affect your ability to rent a house or apartment, change jobs, maintain your professional licensure, and more. Remember, you have legal rights and they are worth protecting—reach out to a dedicated Killeen criminal defense lawyer today.
Basic Defense Strategies
If you are facing a reckless driving charge, bringing your strongest defense is paramount, and there are a variety of basic defense strategies.
Mistake of Fact
A mistake of fact defense means that the officer is simply wrong in his or her assessment. For example, if you were not driving the car in question, it is a mistake of fact to charge you with reckless driving.
Another example of a mistake of fact defense is that you were not driving recklessly, to begin with, and that the officer simply made a mistake. If there is video evidence or if an eyewitness saw the incident transpire, this kind of mistake of fact is less difficult to prove.
Just because an officer claims to have seen you driving recklessly does not make it so, and you have the legal right to defend yourself. Things are not always as they seem, and, if there is a mistake of fact involved in your reckless driving charge, it should be explored in terms of your legal defense.
Defense of necessity does not deny that you may have been driving recklessly. Instead, it claims that you were doing so out of necessity.
For example, if you were responding to an emergency with your family, your driving may have been less than safe, but your intention was not to put anyone else in danger. You did not disregard the safety of others but instead were focused on your family emergency.
Additionally, if you were attempting to remove yourself from a dangerous situation—such as getting away from an aggressive driver who was targeting you—the defense of necessity may apply.
Lack of Intent
Another defense against a reckless driving charge is that, yes, you were driving negligently, but there was no intention to harm others involved, and you did not harbor a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Maybe you zoned out or otherwise lost sight of your responsibility to drive safely, but the element of intent simply was not there.
Ignorance of the Law
While you have likely heard that ignorance of the law is no excuse (and this is true in the eyes of the law), being ignorant of the illegality of whatever driving practice that led to your reckless driving charge makes it difficult to prove your intention. Without intention or a reckless disregard for the safety of others, the reckless part of the charge may be dropped.
Every charge of reckless driving is unique to the situation at hand, and building your strongest defense involves addressing the unique circumstances involved and moving forward from that vantage point.
Causes of Reckless Driving
Aggressive or reckless driving can be motivated by a variety of factors. Be sure to remain calm and collected in all of the following situations in order to avoid reckless driving and stay safe:
As mentioned, heavy traffic, which is dangerous enough without the addition of recklessness, is the most common variable associated with reckless driving. The inconvenience and stress of congested traffic can motivate some drivers to engage in reckless driving practices, including speeding dangerously.
In a Rush
We have all got places we need to be right now, but failing to plan accordingly and attempting to make up for our tardiness by speeding is not a great solution. At any given moment, many of the drivers on the road are likely in a rush—to one degree or another—to get where they are going, and this fact makes our roads that much more dangerous.
The Feeling of Anonymity
Some motorists revel in the anonymity of getting lost in traffic. The attitude seems to be, “Why bother doing the right thing and carefully adhering to the rules of the road when I am never going to see these people again, and I am unlikely to get caught?” For some, getting behind the wheel is equivalent to being cloaked in secrecy.
Lack of Concern
Speeding excessively and other forms of aggressive driving can signal a lack of concern for the law and for the safety of others, This attitude is the source of reckless driving charges.
Staying Safe on the Road
NHTSA recommends all the following practices when it comes to protecting yourself from reckless drivers who speed dangerously:
If someone wants to zip past you and you are in the left lane, move to the right and let them pass.
Adjust your own driving in response to the reckless driving of others, even if that means exiting the road. It is better to be safe than sorry.
It is always a good idea to give drivers who speed excessively as much room as possible. They are more likely to lose control of their vehicles and cause serious accidents.
If you believe a reckless driver is putting others in danger, alert the authorities by calling 911. If you are involved in an accident with a reckless driver, contact a personal injury lawyer right away.
An Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Lawyer Is Standing by to Help
If you are facing a reckless driving charge—or any other criminal charge—Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a criminal defense lawyer with a wealth of experience successfully defending the legal rights of his valued clients. He is always in skilled pursuit of his clients’ best possible case resolutions.