Although the general public often uses the terms careless driving and reckless driving interchangeably, these are two different offenses under Florida law. Understanding the specifics of the charge against you is essential to building an effective defense.
Careless Driving Charges in Florida
Careless driving is a civil traffic offense. Florida Statute §316.1925 states, “Any person operating a vehicle upon the streets or highways within the state shall drive the same in a careful and prudent manner, having regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and all other attendant circumstances, so as not to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. Failure to drive in such manner shall constitute careless driving and a violation of this section.”
Because it can encompass a wide range of behaviors, a citation for careless driving is often made when the officer at the scene can’t find any specific traffic violation that seems to fit the circumstances. In many cases, errors due to distraction or inexperience result in careless driving charges.
Careless driving is most often cited after a rear-end collision. The driver who struck the vehicle in front of them is likely to be charged with careless driving if the officer didn’t witness the accident, and the occupants of the vehicle that was rear-ended don’t know why it occurred.
The penalty for careless driving is a fine of between $160 and $500. Four points will be added to your driver’s license.
Reckless Driving Charges in Florida
Reckless driving is a more serious charge than careless driving. It is considered a criminal traffic offense. Florida Statute §316.192 states, “Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”
The intent to put others at risk is the key difference between careless driving and reckless driving charges. A conviction for reckless driving requires the driver to have engaged in intentional, knowing, and purposeful conduct that shows a conscious or intentional indifference towards the safety of others on the road. Common examples of situations that warrant a reckless driving charge include drag racing, fleeing law enforcement in a vehicle, or speeding while weaving in and out of traffic.
As a second-degree misdemeanor, the punishment for a reckless driving conviction includes up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, and six months of probation. If there is significant property damage or non-serious injuries, it becomes a first-degree misdemeanor with up to 12 months of jail time, a fine of up to $1,000, and 12 months probation. If someone is seriously injured, reckless driving becomes a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in jail, fines of up to $5,000, and five years of probation.
Drivers will have either four or six points added to their license, depending on the specifics of the charge.
Wet Reckless Driving Charges in Florida
A driver who is thought to be impaired by alcohol or any type of drug—even legally prescribed medication—may be charged with what is known as wet reckless driving. For drivers who have been drinking, a wet reckless charge only requires a 0.05% BAC. For substances other than alcohol, the charge is applied at the discretion of the arresting officer.
In some cases, a Florida driver who has initially been charged with a DUI may be able to have the offense reduced to wet reckless driving. While this is still a serious charge, it does not carry the same stigma as a DUI conviction. The fines are lower, there is no mandatory jail time, it is easier to obtain a hardship license, and employers are less likely to penalize workers for a wet reckless conviction.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help
If you have been charged with reckless driving, a specialized lawyer for traffic law matters in Fort Lauderdale can often help you build a defense that will get the charge reduced to the lesser offense of careless driving. This helps you avoid the possibility of jail time and the stigma of a criminal record that can come with a conviction for reckless driving.
Call George Reres Law at (954) 523-3811 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation. We’re here to listen to your side of the story, explain your options, and help you determine the best way to move forward.