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Careless vs. Reckless Driving

You’ve probably heard the terms “reckless driving,” “careless driving,” and “aggressive driving” plenty of times, and you’ve likely used them interchangeably yourself.

But suppose you've been cited for one of these offenses in St. Petersburg, FL. In that case, it's essential that you understand the difference between careless vs. reckless driving, as the legal implications and penalties can differ. These offenses can be severe, and you may often have to appear in traffic court.

Knowing how careless and reckless driving differ under Florida traffic statutes can help you understand your citation better. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer with experience handling severe traffic offenses can help you defend your rights in court and possibly reduce the severity of your charge and punishment.

If you’ve been cited for careless or reckless driving, contact The Denson Firm today for a free consultation about your traffic citation.

What Is the Difference Between Careless and Reckless Driving?

Careless and reckless driving are considered traffic violations, but under the law, they are not quite the same. What is the difference between wild and reckless driving? The primary difference between the two types of offenses is the motivation behind each.

Careless driving is considered hazardous and falls into the category of negligence. If you're involved in an accident because you were driving carelessly, then you would be regarded as negligent and potentially liable for the other party's injuries.

People who drive carelessly operate their vehicles in a manner that could cause damage to property or harm another person. However, careless driving citations aren’t as serious as reckless driving offenses.

Some common examples of careless driving include:

  • Improper lane change or failure to signal before changing lanes
  • Holding a cell phone while driving
  • Falling asleep or nodding off while driving
  • Going over the speed limit
  • Disobeying posted traffic signs
  • Failing to signal intentions

On the other hand, a driver cited for reckless driving is fully aware of how dangerous they are driving.

Reckless driving happens when the driver knows the potential for the harm their actions have but continues to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner, whether it's greatly exceeding the speed limit, using their phone instead of paying attention to the road, or getting behind the wheel after they've been drinking or using drugs.

Common examples of reckless driving include:

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Driving more than 30mph over the posted speed limit
  • Weaving in and out of traffic without signaling
  • Street racing
  • Crossing a double yellow line on a roadway
  • Driving the wrong way down a street
  • Failing to stop for a stopped school bus with students disembarking

The state of Florida considers this type of vehicle operation — whether the driver is operating a motorcycle, passenger car, or commercial vehicle — wanton disregard for the safety of others on the road. If you are cited for reckless driving, it is a serious traffic violation, and you'll likely find yourself before a judge.

The critical difference between careless vs. reckless driving is intention. Reckless driving offenses happen when drivers know their actions could cause harm and continue anyway.

The penalties for each citation differ, but neither can be settled by simply sending in a check to pay a small fine. Hiring a criminal defense lawyer to represent you in traffic court can help your case and mitigate your punishment.

What Does “Wanton” Mean in Law?

Wanton disregard for the safety of others is similar to the legal concept of negligence. Both of these involve a degree of miss-care for the personal safety or property of others.

If you are involved in a car accident, for example, and you are found to have been driving carelessly or recklessly, then the law considers you negligent. Your actions can carry both criminal consequences (if someone is hurt or killed in the collision) and civil ones, as the driver you hit could sue you.

Florida courts consider a person's actions to be "wanton" when the individual's unsafe actions seem deliberate. That is, they should have known that how they were driving could cause harm to another person, and they continued their actions. For the court to decide that your actions are wanton, it will have to prove that you acted with intention.

For example, if you drift into another lane because you just finished a 12-hour shift and are tired, your actions could be considered unsafe but not wanton. However, if you drift into another lane because you are intoxicated and decide to drive, this action would be regarded as wanton.

A person who can recognize that their actions could cause impending danger but fails to take reasonable steps to avoid it is considered to exhibit wanton disregard. In our examples, the drunk driver could have taken other actions to prevent the dangerous situation of intoxicated behind the wheel.

If you are charged with reckless driving and willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others, the prosecutor will likely argue that you:

  • I knew that your actions were wrong
  • Continued the actions anyway
  • Could have harmed another person

Reckless driving can be a serious offense even if you don’t get into an accident. The prosecutor will view your potential to have harmed others as part of their reason for strict punishment.

If you've been charged with reckless driving, you can't just pay a fine and be done. The repercussions can affect your life and your future. This is why hiring a criminal defense lawyer who understands Florida traffic rules and has experience defending people in your situation is essential.

Sometimes, even if you didn't cause harm to another person, the courts may find your reckless driving to be wanton if it can be proved that you acted with disregard for your safety. Whether the harm could have been to you or others, wanton behaviors are taken much more seriously than careless ones.

Common examples of wanton and willful misconduct when driving include:

  • Driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) greater than .08%
  • Driving after consuming illicit drugs
  • A commercial trucker failing to put out safety lights if their truck breaks down at night
  • Street racing with another driver or engaging in competitive driving on a public highway
  • “Road rage,” or aggressive driving with intent to intimidate another driver
  • Tailgating, or following too closely to another driver
  • Passing on the shoulder of the road

These are just some driving actions that can be considered wanton and willful recklessness. Whether your behavior behind the wheel will be classified as careless vs. reckless driving often depends on whether someone gets hurt and the opinion of the officer that observed your behavior.

Careless vs. Reckless Driving: The Penalties

Are careless and reckless driving the same when it comes to penalties? While the consequence of a collision with a reckless or negligent driver can have the same outcome, in the eyes of the law, the intent and knowledge behind reckless driving actions mean that this charge carries a stiffer penalty than a careless driving citation.

What Is the Penalty for Careless Driving?

A careless driving ticket in Florida can often be handled by paying the fine, and you will have 30 days from the date of the citation to do so.

People often ask, “Is careless driving a misdemeanor in Florida?” It isn’t, but the penalties include fines ranging from $160 to $500. However, you won’t have jail time or probation with a careless driving charge as you might with a reckless driving conviction.

If you aren't required to go to traffic court for your careless driving ticket, then the amount of the fine and instructions on how to pay it should be printed on your ticket. You may opt for a formal hearing instead of paying the ticket if you and your criminal defense attorney believe that extenuating circumstances could help reduce the penalty or have it dismissed entirely.

If you pay the ticket, you will get points on your driver’s license, and if you accumulate 12 points in 12 months, your license will be suspended.

If you choose to go to traffic court and are found guilty of the careless driving charge, then the traffic court judge or hearing officer can impose a fine of up to $500, and you will still have the points on your license. If you hire a lawyer, your chances of having a better outcome in the hearing are increased.

What Is the Penalty for Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor criminal offense, and you can get arrested for it. However, the officer citing you will often issue you a Notice to Appear before a traffic court judge instead of charging you.

It’s important to know that a reckless driving citation is a criminal traffic charge, and the Notice to Appear in court isn’t an option — it’s a mandatory appearance. You may face further consequences if you don’t show up.

The penalties for reckless driving in Florida are:

  • First Offense: Up to 90 days in jail, up to 6 months of probation, and up to a $500 fine
  • Second Offense Onward: Up to 6 months in prison, up to 12 months of probation, or up to a $1,000 fine
  • If You Caused Personal or Property Damage: Up to 12 months in jail or probation and up to a $1,000 fine
  • If You Caused Serious Bodily Harm to Another: Third-degree felony charge, up to 5 years in prison or five years felony probation, and up to $5,000 in fines

You will probably be required to go before a judge to settle your reckless driving citation. Suppose you caused property or personal harm to another. In that case, you have the right to a trial, in which case it's essential to seek representation from a criminal defense lawyer who understands how reckless driving felony charges in Florida work.

Unfortunately, many people think that a reckless driving citation is "just a traffic ticket" and don't take it seriously enough. Don't make that mistake. You could lose your license, hundreds of dollars of hard-earned money, or even your freedom.

When to Consult with a Lawyer

Suppose you have been cited for careless or reckless driving. In that case, it's always best to consult a criminal defense attorney who understands Florida traffic statutes and penalties for these driving charges.

Reckless driving, especially, is a severe charge, and if you are convicted, the penalties can be life-changing - including going to jail or, if you've been in a wreck, prison.

Don't risk your future by handling a careless or reckless driving charge yourself. Work with an experienced criminal defense attorney, like those at The Denson Firm, to defend your rights after a reckless or careless driving charge. We offer a free consultation for your case, so don't wait - call today!

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