When most people hear the term “reckless driving,” they think of speeding, deliberate moving violations, and cutting others off in traffic. This is a relatively subjective term that’s open to interpretation, but reckless driving is a defined traffic offense in California. Many different behaviors can constitute reckless driving. If you have recently experienced a car accident caused by another driver, their behavior may qualify as reckless driving under California state law.
It is not always easy to determine fault for a car accident, but when an accident happens because of a driver’s reckless and intentional disregard for the safety of others, they can face both civil liability for victims’ damages and criminal prosecution. An experienced attorney can help you determine your best options for legal recourse if you believe that reckless driving was the cause of your recent car accident.
Common Examples of Reckless Driving
The laws of California do not provide a strictly defined list of examples of reckless driving. The term is relatively open to interpretation, and most California courts would consider any wanton and willful disregard for the safety of others and the traffic laws to qualify as reckless driving. Some common examples of behaviors that can qualify as reckless driving include:
- Speeding. It is hazardous for any driver to exceed posted speed limits. Speeding significantly reduces the time and distance a driver has to slow down and stop to avoid a collision.
- Failure to yield the right of way. “Yielding the right of way” means allowing traffic to pass when necessary, and traffic patterns require it. When drivers disregard their obligation to yield the right of way to other drivers, they can easily cause accidents.
- Illegal turns, lane changes, and U-turns. Drivers who make sudden illegal turns can easily startle other drivers nearby or collide with drivers in their path.
- Illegal passing. It is legal to pass slower-moving vehicles in certain situations, but drivers must pay close attention to their surroundings and road markings when doing so. For example, it is almost always illegal to cross a double-yellow line in the road. However, if the line is broken on one side, this means the drivers on the side with the broken line have the right to pass slower-moving vehicles ahead of them as long as the way is clear for them to do so safely.
- Running red lights and stop signs. Some drivers may attempt to pass through intersections at the last moments of a yellow light or even just as the light turns red. However, drivers are expected to slow down to a stop if the light ahead of them turns yellow, and they are not immediately approaching the intersection.
There are many ways for a driver’s behavior to qualify as reckless, and when a driver causes an accident due to reckless driving, they face a wide range of civil and criminal penalties.
Potential Punishments for Reckless Driving in California
Reckless driving is usually a misdemeanor offense in California. If a driver is convicted of reckless driving, the offense will go on their permanent criminal record. The penalties for this offense typically include a 90-day jail sentence, two points on the driver’s license, a $1,000 fine, and a six-month suspension of the driver’s license. If a driver qualifies for felony prosecution for reckless driving, the penalties increase to fines up to $10,000 and a three-year sentence in state prison. They will also face driver’s license suspension and penalty assessments, and the judge may require additional penalties such as mandatory driver school at the defendant’s own expense.
If a driver causes an accident due to reckless driving, they will face not only criminal prosecution for their actions but also civil liability for any damages they cause to others. If a reckless driver injured you or a loved one, you have the right to pursue compensation for your damages with an insurance claim against their auto insurance policy, a personal injury claim, or both. An experienced attorney can help you determine your best options for legal recourse after an accident caused by reckless driving.
Q: What Counts as Reckless Driving in California?
A: The police report of an incident of reckless driving will typically include the responding officer’s interpretation of the at-fault driver’s behavior. Reckless behavior can include anything from speeding to moving violations. The determining factor is that the driver was intentional in their actions and willfully disregarded the safety of others.
Q: Is 20 mph Over the Speed Limit Reckless Driving in California?
A: While speeding is typically considered a traffic violation, exceeding a posted speed limit by a significant speed qualifies as a criminal offense in California. Exceeding the posted speed limit by 30 mph or more on a freeway qualifies for prosecution. On a highway or road, 20 mph is the threshold for speeding to qualify as reckless driving.
Q: How Do I Sue a Driver for Reckless Driving?
A: If a reckless driver hits you, an experienced attorney can assist you in holding them accountable. The at-fault driver will likely face criminal charges, and the police report from the incident will be a crucial component of both the state’s criminal case against them and your civil case. A reckless driving claim will unfold in civil court, but you may need to play some role as a witness in the state’s criminal case against the reckless driver.
Q: Can I File an Insurance Claim for Reckless Driving?
A: California enforces a fault system for resolving car accidents. If another driver hits you while driving recklessly, you have the right to file a claim against their auto insurance policy to seek compensation for your damages. Navigating insurance claims can be difficult, so it’s best to work with an experienced attorney if you intend to take legal action for a reckless driving accident in California.
The attorneys at Chris and Frank have years of experience representing California clients in a wide range of car accident claims. If you or a loved one recently sustained injuries in an accident caused by a reckless driver, our team can help you ensure their accountability for your damages. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced legal team.