“Reckless driving” is a familiar phrase, but like many phrases that appear in the law, people don’t always understand its exact legal definition. While you probably believe you would be able to identify reckless driving if you witnessed it, you might not know how to identify it in a legally actionable way. For a police officer or prosecutor to take action against a reckless driver, certain criteria must be met so that the legal standard of reckless driving, as an enforceable crime, is met in a way that can be proven with evidence. In this way, reckless driving is much the same as most other crimes.
Legal Definitions of Reckless Driving
In our great state of Texas, reckless driving is covered under Texas Transportation Code § 545.401. Here, a reckless driving offense is defined as driving a vehicle with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” In Texas, such motor vehicle operation represents a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $200 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail.
That may sound surprisingly light to some, considering the potentially dire consequences of reckless driving. Be aware, however, that punishment and restitution for a reckless joyride can increase steeply when reckless driving is linked to other prosecutable crimes such as the destruction of property, driving while intoxicated, child endangerment, or vehicular manslaughter.
Most reckless driving statutes elsewhere are fairly in line with the Texas definition. The reckless driving laws in Michigan and California, for example, both include the phrase “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” in their legal definitions of reckless driving… sound familiar?
Other jurisdictions may establish more specific criteria for legally proving the crime of reckless driving. In Australia, for example, where reckless driving is also called “hoon driving,” driving more than 45 kilometers per hour over the posted speed limit or driving in excess of 155 kilometers per hour on any public roadway are two of the specific activities that qualify as reckless driving.
The law, as defined in the Texas Transportation Code, is at least to some extent, open to interpretation in court. This can work either for or against you in a reckless driving case, depending on a long list of factors, including the judge’s disposition, the circumstances of the case, the quality of your legal representation, and whether you are the party being charged with reckless driving or someone suing a reckless driver for damages.
Specific Examples of Reckless Driving in Texas
Because Texas law leaves some room for judges and prosecutors to evaluate reckless driving charges on a case-by-case basis, there is no definitive list of exactly which behaviors will lead to a reckless driving charge. Some situations that commonly qualify as reckless driving include (but are not limited to):
- Excessive speeding
- Driving inappropriately in wet or wintry conditions
- Unpredictable or reckless changing of lanes, or driving in the wrong lane
- Driving while distracted or impaired
- Street racing
- Failing to stop when signaled to do so by police
- Driving in a way that damages property
- Driving in any way that threatens someone else’s life
Reckless Driving FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: What Qualifies as Reckless Driving in Texas?
A: Texas Transportation Code § 545.401 defines reckless driving for Texas motorists. According to this code, a reckless driving offense has been committed when someone operates a vehicle with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The code goes on to include a few more specifics, such as the fact that this behavior must occur under certain circumstances, e.g., on a public highway or in a parking garage. This means “reckless driving” would not apply to someone’s driving on a privately owned motorsports track that is closed to the public, for example.
Q: How Much Is a Ticket for Reckless Driving in Texas?
A: In Texas, reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a $200 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail. Be wary of thinking this means reckless drivers get off easy, however. By its very nature, reckless driving is often wrapped up with other offenses like speeding, DUI, endangerment, and destruction of property. When additional charges are involved in a reckless driving case, more severe sentencing is to be expected.
Q: How Long Does Reckless Driving Stay on Your Record in Texas?
A: Unlike more common traffic offenses, a reckless driving misdemeanor is considered a criminal charge. This means it will not merely result in “points” on your license that fall off three or four years after conviction. A reckless driving conviction, especially one combined with other charges or resulting in a felony, can be a stain on your life, reputation, ability to find work and housing, and your official criminal record for the rest of your life. At this point, the best way to mitigate the effects of a reckless driving conviction would be to contact a qualified attorney to discuss potential legal strategies.
Q: What Class of Misdemeanor Is Reckless Driving in Texas?
A: In the state of Texas, a reckless driving charge alone typically represents a simple misdemeanor charge which carries a moderate punishment of, at most, $200 and 30 days in jail. Often the sentence for first-time or minor offenses will be even less. The extent of the punishment will depend on the particular circumstances of your reckless driving charge, however. For example, if you elude the police in the course of reckless driving, the combination of the two charges automatically constitutes a Class A misdemeanor, which can be punished by up to $4,000 and a year in jail.
What to Do When You’ve Been Injured in a Reckless Driving Accident
If you are located in the Houston, TX area and have been injured or had your property damaged in a reckless driving incident, Stevenson & Murray Attorneys at Law are standing by to help. When cars and trucks are involved, someone else’s bad decisions can change your life in an instant. When the worst happens, you have the legal right to seek recompense for the damages and turmoil that you and your family have suffered. Contact our offices today for a compassionate and confidential review of your case.