Believe it or not, there is a significant difference between Reckless Driving
and Careless Driving, as one is an actual criminal offense while the other
is a civil citation. Reckless Driving is defined as driving a vehicle
in Florida with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons
or property. In other words, it means one is driving like an idiot, with
no concern for others in the community. Or, to be more specific, wanton
is legally defined as having a conscious and intentional indifference
to the consequences, with knowledge that damage is likely to be done to
people or property.
Reckless Driving is a Misdemeanor Criminal offense, which means if convicted
then it will be on your Criminal history. You can actually be arrested
for Reckless Driving, though often law enforcement officers will issue
a Notice to Appear in Court with the Criminal traffic citation. A first
offense of Reckless Driving is punishable with up to 90-days in jail or
up to six months of county probation, and up to a $500 fine. A second
or subsequent offense is punishable up to six months in jail or up to
12 months of county probation, and up to $1,000 in fines. If a person
causes damage to person or property, then Reckless Driving is punishable
up to 12 months in jail or up to 12 months of probation, and up to $1,000
in fines. If you cause serious bodily injury to another, then Reckless
Driving becomes a 3rd Degree Felony, punishable up to five years in prison or five years of
felony probation and up to $5,000 in fines.
Naturally, you have a right to a jury or bench trial, whereby the State
must prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt. If you choose to resolve
the matter without a trial, then you can negotiate a plea with the Office
of the State Attorney, or enter an open-plea, also referred to as a straight-up
plea, with no guarantee of the outcome, other than nothing more than the
statutory maximum. With this being a Criminal offense, it is always a
good idea to hire a lawyer. Sadly, too many people mistakenly treat it
as a civil traffic citation, not realizing it is Criminal in nature until
it is too late and a new job or college has already discovered it by running
a background check. Of course, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor
Vehicles will assess points to your driver’s license in the event
you are adjudicated guilty of Reckless Driving. Thus, it is the worst
of both worlds, as you have a Criminal offense yet also have points assessed
to your driver’s license if convicted.
Careless Driving, on the other hand, is a civil traffic citation. The statute
for Careless Driving requires drivers in Florida to drive in a careful
and prudent manner, having regard for width, grade, curves, corners, traffic,
and all other circumstances so as to not endanger the life, limb or property
of any person. If you are issued a civil Careless Driving citation, you
have 30-days to pay the ticket, or to request a formal traffic hearing.
If you choose to simply pay the ticket, there is normally a monetary fine
listed on the citation itself. Note, however, that simply paying the ticket
will result in points on one’s license. It is best to speak to a
lawyer before paying the ticket, as there are ways to possibly avoid points
being placed onto your license. Of course, if a formal traffic hearing
is requested, it will be presided over by a Judge or designated Traffic
Hearing Officer. There is no right to a jury trial with this civil traffic citation.
Despite being a civil citation, the Rules of Traffic Court still require
the State to prove the Careless Driving civil citation beyond all reasonable
doubt. Once you request a formal traffic hearing, and the hearing commences,
the fine amount on your citation is no longer valid, as the Judge or Traffic
Hearing Officer can impose up to a $500 fine if you are found guilty of
Careless Driving. Likewise, if convicted, the Department of Highway Safety
and Motor Vehicles will assess points to your driver’s license.
Hiring an attorney allows you to have an advocate who can argue to the
Court why points should be withheld, or advocate during your bench trial
should you choose to have such.
Remember that Reckless Driving is a Criminal offense, not simply a traffic
offense, and could result in incarceration or probation, and will be on
your criminal history. Both Reckless Driving and Careless Driving can
result in points being placed onto your driving history. If you, or someone
you know, has been charged with Reckless Driving or Careless Driving,
call my office immediately.