What is the difference between careless driving and reckless driving? How did the universe begin? One of these questions we're going to attempt to answer below, the other question will keep philosophers busy for years to come.
For starters, careless driving is not a crime, it's a mere traffic infraction (fines, driving school). Reckless driving is a criminal offense, subjecting a driver to arrest and a possible jail sentence. Typically, reckless driving is a misdemeanor, but it can be upgraded to a felony if the driving caused serious bodily injury.
Most reckless driving arrests include a traffic citation, but the problem with these citations is that they rarely provide enough detail to let the driver know what driving behavior constituted "reckless driving".
The definition of reckless driving seems fairly simple: driving with a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. How is this different than careless driving? Careless driving is defined as not driving in a careful or prudent manner such that another person's life, limb, or property is endangered. They sound pretty similar, don't they?
Typically, law enforcement arrives at an accident scene and just presumes the "at fault" driver was "reckless" due to the nature of the accident. For example, in the case of Smith v. State, the driver lost control of his car, swerved a couple of lanes over, jumping onto a sidewalk, ran into a bicyclist, and caused serious bodily injury in the process. 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 6531 (Fla. 2nd DCA 2017). Smith was found guilty of felony reckless driving (the serious bodily injury upgraded this to a felony), but the conviction was overturned because there was no evidence that Smith did this intentionally, or drove onto the sidewalk with an intentional indifference to the consequences. If you're interested in this particular angle on reckless driving, check out my article "Your Driving Is So Bad, Its a Crime", as the article highlights numerous reckless driving convictions which have been thrown out for insufficient evidence.
Doesn't the crime of "reckless driving" seem a bit vague? Well, our Florida Supreme Court thinks so. In it's landmark decision of Robinson v. State, 152 So.2d 717 (Fla. 1934), the court reasoned that reckless driving is a vague and indefinite crime. As such, in order to convict a driver, the citation issued by law enforcement must contain specific information detailing exactly what behavior was considered "reckless". The Florida Supreme Court further noted that from such vague citations, it is "impossible for the defendant to know what act or circumstance constituted the alleged infraction of the law....A defendant has the right to know from the language of the charge against him what conduct on his part is the basis of that charge" Id. at 717.
Often times, it's difficult to predict when a combination of a few simple traffic infractions transform into a criminal charge of reckless driving. Combining a simple traffic infraction like speeding, with aggravating factors such as poor weather conditions, heavy traffic, or lack of control of the vehicle all contribute to a valid reckless driving charge. See Miller v. State, 636 So. 2d 144 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994) (Excessive speed on a four–lane highway in dry weather and slight–to–moderate traffic does not constitute reckless driving) State v. Orozco, 607 So.2d 464, 465 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992) (abrupt U–turn and speeding could amount to reckless driving); Gasset v. State, 490 So.2d 97, 98 (Fla. 3d DCA 1986) (erratic turn and speeding could amount to reckless driving). For a more detailed analysis of the transformation traffic tickets take to become a criminal reckless driving charge, take a look at my article entitled "When Does Bad Driving Become Criminal?"
Often, a reckless driving charge arises out of an accident investigation. A common law enforcement tool to determine whether or not a driver was "reckless" involves the police looking thru the phone logs and texting logs of a driver to determine if the driver was texting/talking at the time of the accident. Such evidence can cause an officer to file criminal reckless driving charges in a case. For further information on these phone issues, check out my article "Your Cell Phone May Testify Against You".
Yes, something as seemingly simple as reckless driving can be confusing. It's a legal maze out there, so please give criminal defense attorney John Guidry a call for a free consultation. Why not, it's free!