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What is the Difference Between Negligent Driving and Recklessness?

Tarun Sridharan Legal Editor & Attorney Contributor Read Time: 9 minutes

What is the Difference Between Negligent Driving and Recklessness?

Motor vehicle accidents are unfortunately common occurrences, often resulting in personal injuries and property damage. Negligent and reckless driving are two legal concepts that often come up in personal injury cases. While they may seem similar, there are important differences between them that can have significant legal consequences. In this blog post, we’ll explore the definitions of reckless and negligent driving, whether they are criminal offenses, and the differences between the two.

There are a number of unique issues in car accident disputes involving either negligent or reckless driving. For guidance on how to proceed, it’s worth connecting to an experienced car accident attorney. Call 1-800-THE-LAW2 for a free consultation today.

Reckless Driving

What Is Reckless Driving’s Definition?

Reckless driving is defined as operating a motor vehicle in a manner that exhibits a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. Reckless driving often involves intentionally driving in a manner that puts others on the road in danger, such as excessive speeding or aggressive driving.

Is Reckless Driving a Criminal Offense?

In California, reckless driving is considered a criminal offense and can result in fines, license suspension, and even imprisonment in some cases. Reckless driving can also result in personal injury lawsuits and liability for damages.

Is Reckless Driving a Felony?

Reckless driving is not always considered a felony. In some cases, such as in California, reckless driving can be charged as a misdemeanor. However, in certain circumstances, such as when reckless driving results in serious injury or death, it can be charged as a felony. 

Additionally, some states may have specific laws that classify certain types of reckless driving, such as reckless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as a felony offense. It’s important to note that the consequences of a reckless driving charge can vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case and the laws of the state in which the offense occurred.

What Are Examples of Recklessness?

Examples of Reckless Driving Include:

  • Driving well above the speed limit
  • Not using turn signals when turning or changing lanes
  • Driving under the influence
  • Texting or talking on the phone
  • Refusing to stop at Stop signs and/or red lights
  • Failing to turn on lights while driving at night or in rainy conditions
  • Racing on public roads or illegal street racing
  • Knowingly operating a vehicle while intoxicated

What’s the Difference Between Careless Driving vs. Reckless Driving?

Careless and reckless driving are both terms used to describe dangerous driving behaviors, but there are important differences between them. Careless driving involves a failure to exercise reasonable care while driving, such as failing to signal when changing lanes or not checking blind spots.

Reckless driving, on the other hand, involves intentionally disregarding the safety of others on the road, such as excessive speeding or driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. While both types of driving can result in accidents and injuries, reckless driving is generally considered more serious and can result in criminal charges in many cases.

Negligent Driving

What is Negligent Driving?

Negligent driving involves failing to exercise ordinary care while operating a motor vehicle. This can include a failure to follow traffic laws, driving while distracted, or driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Unlike reckless driving, negligence often involves an unintentional failure to exercise reasonable care while driving.

How Do You Define Negligence?

Negligence occurs when drivers fail to use reasonable care while operating a vehicle, which could lead to personal injuries and damages to one or more vehicles. Drivers have a legal obligation to act in a certain manner that is dictated by law. When they proceed to breach that duty by acting in a particular manner, or failing to act at all, they are being negligent.

Is Negligent Driving a Criminal Offense?

Negligent driving is considered a criminal offense in some states, such as Washington, where there are two degrees of negligent driving. Negligent driving in the first degree involves exhibiting the effects of having consumed liquor or drugs while operating a motor vehicle, while negligent driving in the second degree involves driving in a manner that endangers any person or property.

In California, there is no differentiation between negligent driving 1st degree and negligent driving 2nd degree, as there is in some other states, such as Washington State. 

Recklessness vs Negligence

The main difference between negligent driving vs reckless driving is intent. Reckless driving involves intentionally disregarding the safety of others on the road, while negligence involves a failure to exercise reasonable care while driving. 

In personal injury cases, recklessness may be used to support claims for punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant for their wanton disregard for the safety of others.

What Are Examples of Negligence?

Negligent Driving Examples Include:

  • Unintentionally failing to provide a safe environment for other drivers and pedestrians
  • Incidents where the term “accidental” may be used to describe the event
  • Driving on private property without the owner’s consent
  • Driving under the influence of non-prescribed drugs or alcohol

Suing A Defendant For Negligent vs Reckless Driving

How Do You Win a Negligent Driving Case?

If you’ve been seriously injured in a car accident, then you may be entitled to damages under the law. Though many plaintiffs aren’t aware, the potential compensation, and the legal strategy you pursue, could be influenced by the defendant’s actions.

What Is a Car Accident Case Example of Negligence?

Suppose a defendant was street racing when they collided with your vehicle. The car accident lawsuit will be different than if the defendant was driving at a reasonable speed but distracted. The street racing defendant would be considered a “reckless” driver, making it easier for you to hold them liable. Bonus punitive damages might also be available, depending on the circumstances.

Damages May Be Different

As a general rule, it’s easier to “scale up” the damages claim in a reckless driving case, as opposed to a negligent driving case. The driver that injured you not only is more likely to have caused serious injury, but also engaged in behavior for which a jury may feel like “punishing” them through a large damages award. Additionally, reckless driving cases may also provide ample opportunity for a punitive damages recovery.

What Is an Example of Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are bonus damages that multiply the baseline damages. For example, if your accident case is worth $50,000, then the punitive damages amount may be up to $350,000, for a $400,000 total recovery.

Who Gets Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages are only available at the discretion of the court, however, and that too, only when you can show that the defendant-driver engaged in malicious or egregious misconduct that recklessly disregarded the safety of others.

Given the possibility of maximizing the damages award, it’s critical that you pursue punitive damages where it might be potentially available. Doing so requires the assistance of a skilled car accident attorney who has experience securing such damages for clients.

A speedometer showing the car going 160mph

Consequences for Reckless Driving and Driver Negligence

What Is the Penalty for Negligent Driving?

Penalties for negligent and reckless driving differ by state and on the severity of the accident. Given the more serious nature of reckless driving, the consequences associated are greater than negligent driving. Negligent driving penalties may include:

  • Suspension of one’s driver’s license
  • Fines
  • And even imprisonment

Safe Driving Tips

Avoid reckless and negligent driving to keep yourself, fellow motorists, and pedestrians safe by following these tips for safe driving:

  • Allow plenty of time to get to your final destination. This will help you avoid speeding, changing lanes quickly without signaling, and overall aggressive driving.
  • Wear glasses and/or contact lenses when driving to see clearly, especially at night.
  • Avoid distracted driving such as texting, talking on the phone, eating, and playing with the radio. When engaged in any of these activities, it’s easy to go too fast, swerve into other lanes, and run traffic lights/signs.
  • Don’t drive under the influence. Always assign a designated driver, keep a local taxi number handy, or stay at a friend’s place. A conviction related to DUI can lead to license suspension and jail time.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney for a Free Consultation

Understanding the difference between reckless and negligent driving is important for drivers to exercise caution while on the road. Reckless driving involves intentional disregard for the safety of others, while negligence involves a failure to exercise reasonable care. 

If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident as a result of someone else’s recklessness or negligence, it’s important to seek the advice of an experienced personal injury attorney for a free consultation. An attorney can help you understand your legal options and work to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve for your injuries and damages.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, then you may have a right of action against the defendant. Of course, depending on whether the defendant-driver was acting negligently or recklessly, the legal strategy, and damages, involved may change. It’s important to work with an attorney near you who understands how to navigate these challenges. We’re here to help you secure the compensation you deserve.

At 1-800-THE-LAW2, we maintain a network of experienced car accident lawyers who are standing by to provide a free consultation. Our agents will connect you to an attorney who can guide you through the litigation process after evaluating your case. Don’t delay. Call 1-800-THE-LAW2 to get connected today.

Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so we can assist you no matter when your accident occurs.

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