What Is Considered Reckless Driving?

What Is Considered Reckless Driving?

One of the reasons why the car accident fatality rate has soared since the beginning of the pandemic is that people are driving recklessly far more often. When there were fewer cars on the road and less police enforcement of traffic laws, drivers got used to doing what they wanted when they wanted it.

When motorists returned to the roads when the lockdowns ended, they retained the dangerous habits they had acquired. The result is that car accidents are often more serious because they occur at higher speeds and with less chance of taking evasive action.

Not every traffic offense is considered reckless driving. There is a difference between a garden variety violation of a traffic law and a reckless driving offense. Reckless driving may even be charged criminally and can result in jail time. It can also lead to a driver’s license suspension. A skilled car accident lawyer can help you navigate the legal process and work to mitigate the charges against you.

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Reckless Driving Is an Extreme Disregard for Safety

Reckless driving is even worse than gross negligence. When someone commits gross negligence, they have departed from the standard of care in an extreme manner. They may still have acted unintentionally, but they were more than just a little careless. There is an added degree of wrongfulness involved in reckless driving. Even when someone is not acting intentionally, they can still face serious consequences.

With reckless driving, the motorist operates the vehicle with a conscious disregard for the safety of others. Although they have not intentionally tried to injure someone else, they have acted with blatant disregard for safety and norms. The driver is doing something that shows they do not care about the consequences. They care only about themselves and what they want to do in a particular situation.

What is considered reckless driving depends on the statute in a particular state. Each state may have its own definition of the act. The common thread is that reckless driving usually involves some type of willful or wanton disregard for the safety or property of others. 

Common Examples of Reckless Driving

Here are some acts that may be considered reckless driving. Whether an act is reckless depends on where it occurs. For example, if a driver commits a serious traffic offense in a school zone, they may be more likely to be charged with reckless driving.

If the threshold for reckless driving in a jurisdiction is 25 miles per hour over the speed limit on most roads, a driver can face reckless driving charges if they travel less than that through a school zone. In addition, they can face reckless driving charges if they illegally pass a school bus (even if it was not at a high speed or when weaving through traffic).

Excessive Speeding

One of the most common instances of reckless driving is excessive speeding. Each state will have its own measure of what excessive speeding is. Usually, the range is between 15 to 25 miles per hour over the speed limit, depending on the state.

Speeding is already a factor in more than one-third of car accidents. When one speeds excessively, they increase the risk that they will lose control of their car. High speed will also increase the amount of force unleashed in the accident, leading to more serious injuries.

Excessive speeding also reduces a driver’s time to slow down or stop. They are less likely to avoid hazards on the roads. Driving at high speeds often leads to rear-end car crashes.

Weaving in and out of Lanes

Some drivers continuously change lanes (often at high speeds) to get around other motorists traveling more slowly. Dangerous lane changes at high speeds put other drivers in danger. Many drivers who weave do not take the time to properly check their blindspots before making lane changes. If they do not sideswipe a car in the adjacent lane, they may cut off another driver, forcing them to lose control or suddenly jam the brakes in traffic.

Weaving is an example of aggressive driving that is often charged as reckless driving, especially when the driver is speeding at the time. In addition, many drivers who weave do not properly engage their turn signal, giving other drivers no notice of their intentions. 


Drivers must allow a proper following distance between them and the driver in front of them. The usual safe distance is one car length for every ten miles per hour. A safe following distance allows the rear car driver the ability to stop in time to avoid an accident. Otherwise, they may cause a rear-end accident when the driver slows down in front of them.

Tailgating is unnecessary and dangerous. It is a factor in many rear-end car accidents, which is the most common form of crash. When combined with distracted driving, it can be even more reckless and unsafe.

Failure to Yield the Right of Way

Car Accident lawyer in Chicago, Illinois area

Running stop signs or red lights is not always considered reckless driving. Sometimes, a driver is careless and does not see that they need to yield to other drivers. When drivers intentionally run a red light or stop sign, they place others in serious danger. They act without regard for the safety of others, which is the hallmark of reckless driving.

Running stop signs and red lights can cause a broadside car accident (also known as a t-bone crash). This is a very dangerous type of car accident because one car is struck on the broad side (where there is less impact protection), and the other driver is involved in a head-on accident. 

Drunk Driving

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is also a form of reckless driving. Even if one does not intend to cause an accident when they drive drunk, they are certainly indifferent to the consequences that their actions may cause for others. Drunk driving regularly results in criminal charges when the police arrive at the scene.

Drunk driving endangers everyone else on the roadway. Other drivers cannot anticipate the actions of an intoxicated motorist. When someone is under the influence of alcohol, they make poorer choices, and have lower inhibitions. Thus, a driver will likely engage in riskier behavior, such as reckless driving (including excessive speeding).

An average of 32 people across the United States die daily in drunk driving accidents. For every drunk driving accident fatality, numerous additional people suffer a life-changing injury. 

Road Rage

Some drivers will show their hostility on the road through their driving. They may be upset because they think another driver cut them off in traffic or did not let them in when trying to change lanes. Drivers may retaliate by cutting off another driver or dangerously tailgating them to show their rage. Traffic offenses committed intentionally to settle a perceived score with another driver can be reckless driving.

Road rage happens far more often than you think. One survey shows that four out of every five drivers admit to committing an act of road rage in the past year. Road rage is not just outright violence - it can be dangerous actions behind the wheel to get back at other drivers. One does not need to use a gun to cause serious injury in an act of road rage. 

Reckless Driving Depends on the Context and Circumstances

While some things can automatically be reckless driving offenses (such as excessive speeding), a prosecutor will consider the facts and circumstances before deciding whether to proceed with a case. Prosecutors have a considerable amount of discretion in deciding whether to charge someone. 

Reckless Driving Is Often a Criminal Offense

Reckless driving will almost always be at least a misdemeanor charge in practically every state. Some states will up the charge to a felony if serious bodily injury occurs. Some states may also have different degrees of misdemeanor depending on the severity of the reckless driving.

Penalties for reckless driving may include:

  • Driver’s license suspension
  • Imprisonment
  • Monetary fine
  • Points on a driver’s license

The other driver does not need to be convicted of reckless driving for you to receive financial compensation for your injuries. You still only need to prove that they acted unreasonably under the circumstances in a civil lawsuit. In your case, you have a lower burden of proof, needing to prove your facts by a preponderance of the evidence. The prosecutor needs to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

You Need an Attorney When a Reckless Driver Injures You

If you have suffered an injury in an accident with a reckless driver, you need the help of an attorney to get the highest possible financial compensation.

Every motor vehicle accident case passes through two key phases:

  • Demonstrating that someone else’s responsibility for your accident, which requires that you compile the necessary evidence to show what happened
  • Negotiating a settlement agreement or persuading the jury to award you the appropriate damages

You still need evidence to prove a reckless driving claim. Even if it may be easier to meet your burden of proof when the driver’s actions were so far beyond the pale, you should still always hire an experienced car accident lawyer. In these cases, the real fight is with the insurance company to get all the money you deserve. 

Insurance Companies Will Still Make Your Life Difficult

The insurance company may try to use different tactics when their driver’s liability is much more apparent. Then, their aims switch to saving themselves money at your expense. They may try to rush you into a settlement that pays you pennies on the dollar before you know how much your case is worth. Alternatively, they can drag out settlement negotiations by making very low settlement offers and only gradually raising them during negotiations.

There is a large difference in financial outcomes, even where there is little question about what happened to cause the accident. Hiring an attorney can greatly increase the amount you receive, even after you pay your lawyer their part of your settlement. Many people have the misconception that they can save money if they try to handle their cases on their own. On average, you will end up with far less. 

Possible Punitive Damages for Reckless Driving

You may even consider taking your reckless driving case to trial if you cannot get enough money. For that, you will need an attorney who can present your case in court.

You might even receive punitive damages after a reckless driving trial. Punitive damages only apply when the defendant showed egregious conduct that the jury wants to punish. You have a higher chance of receiving them when a driver did something like seriously injure you when they intentionally drove recklessly.

You Do Not Need to Just Take What the Insurance Company Gives You

You have far more leverage than you think when you have suffered an injury in a reckless driving accident. The insurance company does not call the shots, and they are not your boss. You are on an equal footing with them during settlement negotiations.

An experienced and aggressive car accident attorney knows to press your advantage to get you the most possible money—and when the facts, law, and an experienced lawyer are on your side, you do have major advantages.

Gary Annes Attorney for Car Accident Cases near Chicago
 Gary Annes Car Accident Lawyer, in Chicago

The key is for you to call an attorney as soon as possible after the accident, so you can begin the process of taking strong legal action against the reckless driver who injured you. This is not something you should attempt alone. Even when liability is clear and the other driver received a reckless driving conviction, the insurance company can still work to limit your compensation.
Never accept any settlement without legal advice - even if it seems too good to be true. This means it probably is. Seek help from a Chicago personal injury lawyer immediately.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation Today!

Abels & Annes, P.C.

Address: 100 N LaSalle St #1710,
Chicago, IL 60602

Phone: (855) 529-2442

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