Panama City Criminal Defense Attorney
A Defense Attorney You Can Trust We're Committed to Protecting Your Constitutional Rights

What is the difference between Reckless Driving and Careless Driving?

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.