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Careless vs. Reckless Driving


We are often contacted by new clients who want to know why they got both a Careless Driving ticket and a Reckless Driving ticket in the same stop.  Most people believe them to be the same offense, but they are not.  When it comes to how these tickets will affect your driving records, it’s important to realize that a careless driving offense will add 2 points to your license, while a reckless driving offense will add 5.  If you plead guilty to or are convicted of both offenses, you are facing 7 points on your license!

But why are these two different offenses? 

The most significant difference between careless and reckless driving is intent. Careless driving assumes that the driver had no intention to break a law but was not careful, for instance, you’re singing along with your favorite song, and you drift into the next lane without realizing it.  Reckless driving assumes that the driver is acting on purpose and with intent to drive recklessly.

Unfortunately, New Jersey offers what could be considered perhaps the broadest statutory definition of careless driving of any other state.  Our law offers New Jersey law enforcement a number of opportunities to charge a driver with careless driving.  This law states that a careless driver is a person who drives without due caution and may endanger a person or property, not always with the intent of injury or to destroy property.  You will usually be ticketed with careless driving if you’ve caused an accident, or a police officer may write you up for careless driving, rather than giving you that 5 point speeding ticket, but what it boils down to is the question, “Could you have been more careful?”  A police officer can give you a careless driving ticket if he feels you were not driving as cautiously as you should have been.

Reckless driving, on the other hand, can be better defined with the phrase “wanton disregard,” which places a much higher standard than the term careless.  A reckless driver is a person driving in a manner as to endanger, or be likely to endanger a person or property, someone who purposely and knowingly drives in a way that is not safe.  In order for a person to be successfully convicted, demonstration of the disregard must be provided in the form of testimony from witnesses about the person’s driving. Police officers, for example, can testify about seeing someone engage in a series of reckless acts.  Some examples of recklessness include crossing train tracks in front of an oncoming train, weaving in and out of traffic in order to pass other vehicles, exceeding the speed limit by an unusually high amount, or driving with the intent to elude a police officer.

A person found guilty of reckless driving will get up to 60 days in jail, a fine of $50 up to $200, or both.  In addition, a Judge can suspend a person’s license for up to 90 days.  A second conviction will get you up to 3 months in jail, with a fine of $100 up to $500, or both, and a loss of license up to 180 days.

Have you really considered just how much time we spend in a car?  With people logging so many hours behind the wheel, we have become desensitized to just how dangerous driving is when one is not as careful as you should be.  Think back to that first student driver moment you had – it wasn’t as care free and fun as you thought, was it?  If you’re like most, it was actually very scary having to focus on so many things at once and realizing that you are responsible for not only your safety but the safety of others on the road.  As you spend more and more time driving, it’s natural for you to begin to let your guard down and not drive as cautiously as you once did.  Bad habits and having the mindset of, “I’m a good driver, I always have total control over my car,” lead to the potential for serious injuries and even death.  We would think that this degree of danger would prompt drivers to engage in driving behaviors that are geared towards reducing the risk of an accident,  but unfortunately this is usually not so.

At some point in our driving careers we all are prone to do something unsafe. Gaining a grasp of the true consequences of our own careless behavior will lead to fewer accidents and lower fines for everyone, not to mention higher levels of sanity of the over 200 million drivers on the road.  When there is evidence of either you or another driver’s negligence or recklessness was the cause of the accident then legal action may need to be taken and representation acquired.  The Law office of James A. Abate can help you with either of these.  Email us at Jabatelaw@gmail.com, give us a call at (908) 210-9755, or go to Contact Us above.

Get your questions answered – call me for your free, 20 min phone consultation (908) 210-9755