What Exactly Is Reckless Driving?

Intuitively, you might guess that reckless driving is any kind of driving that neglects the rules of the road or puts other people at risk. In other words, driving in a reckless way. But what exactly is it and how can you avoid doing it?

The High-Level of Reckless Driving

Different areas of the world may have different laws regarding reckless driving or different terms referring to the same type of behavior. But in the United States, reckless driving is considered a major moving traffic violation in which one driver operates a vehicle with intentional or unintentional disregard for other people and other property.

Each state approaches reckless driving somewhat differently. There are competing definitions for what constitutes “reckless” driving; for example, in some states, if you’re driving a specific speed over the speed limit, you can be charged with reckless driving. The penalties and repercussions for reckless driving are also different per each state.

Regardless of these disparities in definitions, reckless driving is highly dangerous. Driving recklessly necessarily increases your risk of an accident and the potential severity of the accident that occurs, especially if you’re speeding. Reckless driving often results in accidents that cause injury – or even death.

Elements of Reckless Driving

While the exact line where “reckless” driving begins is somewhat subjective, these are some of the most common hallmarks of reckless driving.

  • Excessive speeding. Most of us speed from time to time, whether we realize it or not. But if you’re caught doing 67 mph in a 65 mph zone, you’re probably not going to be charged with reckless driving (and you probably won’t even get pulled over). Once you start climbing past 15 mph over the speed limit, you’ll approach “reckless” territory; 50 mph in a 35 mph zone can be downright deadly. The higher your speed, the less time you’ll have to react to changes in your environment, and the more damage you’ll do on impact. It’s important to obey all posted speed limits because of this.
  • Swerving. You can be found guilty of reckless driving if you swerve excessively, regardless of the reason for your swerving. If you veer into the opposing lane, you’ll be putting a line of other drivers at risk of a head-on collision. It’s also an egregious violation of common driving regulations.
  • Driving where cars aren’t allowed. The same is true if you’re caught driving in or on an area that isn’t meant for cars. For example, if you drive on a sidewalk, even if there aren’t any people on it, you could be found guilty of reckless driving. The same is true if you’re driving on a bike path, in someone’s yard, or into a building.
  • Tailgating. You may not realize it, but tailgating is highly dangerous. The responsible choice is to maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you – at least one car length for every 10 mph of speed you’re traveling. If you’re too close to the car in front of you, you won’t have enough time to hit the brakes if they suddenly decide to stop. Tailgating therefore puts you at risk, the driver in front of you at risk, and everyone else on the road at risk.
  • Dangerous passing. The proper way to pass is to pass only in designated areas, use your turn signal, watch for oncoming cars, and completely pass as smoothly and quickly as possible. If you pass in no-pass zones or if you do so without a turn signal, it’s reckless driving.
  • Running stop signs and stoplights. All traffic laws matter, but those enforcing stop signs and traffic lights are especially important. If you’re required to come to a complete stop, it’s to prevent the possibility of a destructive accident. Blowing through the stop sign is a clear example of reckless driving.
  • Drunk driving. In most areas, driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances will earn you a separate charge. However, you can also be found guilty of reckless driving.
  • Distracted driving. The act of glancing at your phone to read a text message may not seem like a big deal, but it takes your eyes off the road for a few seconds – which is extremely dangerous for the people around you. That’s why distracted driving is so often considered an example of reckless driving.

In some ways, the definition of reckless driving only truly matters in a legal setting. In practice, any deviation you make from the law or from prioritizing the health and safety of the people and things around you should be considered reckless.

It’s your responsibility to drive as safely as possible; if you do, you’ll never be found guilty of reckless driving, and your risk of an accident involving injury or death will substantially fall.