Reckless drivers often cause as much pain and destruction as violent criminals. In fact, reckless drivers are actually dangerous criminals themselves, although we do not necessarily think of them that way.
And maybe that needs to change. To protect yourself, you should learn what makes a driver reckless, how to spot and avoid reckless drivers, and the consequences these drivers face for their irresponsible actions.
What Makes a Driver Reckless?
To understand what makes a driver reckless, it is helpful to consider the legal definition of reckless driving and circumstances that frequently lead to reckless driving.
Reckless Driving Defined
Reckless driving is a crime punishable by jail time in most U.S. jurisdictions. Many states that do not appear to penalize reckless driving harshly have other laws with heavier penalties for actions that constitute “aggressive driving” or similar driving offenses.
The precise definition of the criminal offense of reckless driving varies according to the statute. In Florida, for instance, someone who drives with “willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” is considered a reckless driver. Additionally, anyone using a motor vehicle to escape the police is automatically guilty of reckless driving.
As another example, Virginia defines reckless driving as driving in a way or at a speed that endangers “the life, limb, or property of any person.” The state also has numerous statutes that describe specific situations that constitute reckless driving, such as passing another car while approaching a curve, driving 20 m.p.h. over the speed limit, or even driving with too much stuff in the front seat.
The criminal statutes define situations where a reckless driver may face criminal penalties such as imprisonment. However, in civil cases where accident victims sue reckless drivers for the injuries caused by their behavior, the standard for reckless driving can be different. That means that if a criminal court fails to convict a driver charged with reckless driving, the driver could still be held responsible in civil court for reckless or negligent actions.
Situations that Lead to Reckless Driving
The most obvious factor that could lead a driver to operate without any regard for the safety of others is drug or alcohol use. Even drivers who are not impaired by legal DUI standards can still lose enough sense of judgment to engage in reckless behavior behind the wheel.
Drivers who are not under the influence of alcohol or drugs often drive poorly when they are in a hurry or emotionally distraught. Some drivers get into bad habits and drive recklessly just because they become used to dangerous practices and think of them as normal.
Examples of conduct that could constitute reckless driving include:
- Passing vehicles under unsafe conditions
- Racing against other vehicles
- Driving too fast for conditions
- Ignoring traffic signals and signs
- Texting while driving
- Driving with an obstructed view
- Passing a stopped school bus
- Failing to use turn signals
- Pulling out into traffic in front of other vehicles (failure to yield)
Reckless driving from one driver can have a ripple effect, causing other drivers to take evasive action. This increases the likelihood that reckless driving will result in an accident.
How to Spot and Avoid Reckless Drivers Before They Can Cause Harm to You
A reckless driver who speeds past everyone while shifting lanes every ten feet is easy to spot, although not very easy to avoid. Many careless drivers, however, can be avoided if you recognize them in time.
For instance, someone who is driving much slower than others could be timid but could also have their sense of speed impaired by alcohol or drugs. Someone driving slowly or irregularly could also be distracted by their cell phone or trying to accomplish a complicated task while driving, such as eating or changing a music playlist.
Drivers who violate traffic laws, such as blowing off stop signs, should be avoided. But more subtle behavior can also indicate that a driver is reckless. For instance, drivers who speed through yellow lights, turn abruptly without using signals, or follow others too closely are also exhibiting reckless behavior behind the wheel. Steer clear if at all possible.
Consequences of Reckless Driving
Reckless drivers often need a wake-up call to change their behavior. When they are observed by police, they could be charged with a criminal violation. For a first offense, the fine may not be more than $1,000, and a judge may not impose jail time even if it is permitted by law. However, if a driver is stopped for subsequent offenses, the pattern of behavior could lead to more severe penalties. Reckless drivers may also have their licenses suspended or revoked.
While reckless driving is often prosecuted as a misdemeanor, in many jurisdictions, it can be a felony if alcohol or drugs are involved, if the conduct is severe, or if serious injuries result.
Drivers who are reckless face additional financial consequences beyond criminal fines. When their reckless driving causes car or truck accidents with serious injuries, they can be held liable in civil court and required to compensate victims for medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, and other impacts from the accident. Reckless drivers may also lose their jobs if their employer has a policy about reckless driving or they lose their licenses.
Reckless Drivers Can Be as Dangerous as Criminals Who Act with Intent
While someone who acts recklessly does not deliberately intend to cause harm, their blatant disregard for the wellbeing of others makes them as dangerous as if they were deliberate. Many criminal statutes punish reckless acts with penalties almost as severe as those imposed for intentional wrongdoing.
Reckless driving is a behavior that poses too great of a danger to be ignored. When you call attention to a reckless driver by alerting the police or filing a lawsuit after a traffic accident, you can help make the roads safer for others. Your action could not only potentially get that driver off the road but might also encourage others to learn from their costly example.
This is something to keep in mind the next time you see someone run a red light or weave their way through high-speed traffic.