In California, a conviction for reckless driving is considered a misdemeanor traffic violation. However, you could still face severe consequences. This infraction has serious penalties, including points on your license and jail time.
Even a first offense could negatively impact your life. However, previous convictions or an injury could make the punishment exponentially worse. Learn more about the penalties for reckless driving in California and what you should do next.
What Constitutes Reckless Driving in California?
According to California Vehicle Code 23103, reckless driving in California occurs when someone drives a vehicle either on a highway or in parking facilities off the street with intentional or wanton disregard for the well-being of:
- Other people
California considers the highway to be any publicly maintained area where the public can travel in motor vehicles. This includes streets of varying sizes and private property. Parking facilities off the street include any area for parking that is open to public use.
Drivers demonstrate wanton disregard when they know that their actions come with a risk of harm that is substantial and not justifiable and they ignore that risk.
Behaviors Leading to a Reckless Driving Charge
Be aware that getting a speeding ticket in California does not necessarily equal reckless driving. The court will look at your circumstances at the time you were charged when deciding if you drove recklessly or not. Some common examples of actions seen as reckless driving include:
- Passing illegally
- Driving on the sidewalk
- Swerving across lanes repeatedly
- Engaging in daredevil behaviors
- Driving on a road going the wrong way
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Penalties for Reckless Driving
A reckless driving conviction can carry serious consequences. If you are convicted of reckless driving in California, you may get points on your driver’s license and increased auto insurance rates. Additional penalties include:
- Five to 90 days in county jail
- $145 to $1,000 in fines
- Up to two years probation
You may face higher charges if you have previous convictions for reckless driving, or if someone is injured due to your actions. These charges may also be increased if you are charged with driving recklessly in a way that will likely lead to bodily injury. This may lead to an assault with a deadly weapon charge, which can carry two to four years of time spent in a state prison.
Additionally, if you are charged with alcohol-related reckless driving or reckless driving involving alcohol, you could face an additional one to two years of probation and mandatory completion of a substance abuse or alcohol education program.
Can You Lose Your License for Reckless Driving?
Your license may be suspended even if the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) chooses not to take such a step. The court system in California can suspend your license for the following lengths of time:
- 1st reckless driving conviction: Up to 30 days
- 2nd reckless driving conviction: Up to 60 days
- 3rd reckless driving conviction: Up to six months
Driving on a suspended license is illegal in California and can lead to additional repercussions. If your license is suspended for reckless driving and you drive anyway, you may spend up to six months in jail. You could also be required to pay a fine of up to $1,000.
These penalties depend on the judgment of the court and can vary based on your sentence. In addition to the actions of the court, you may have to face a hearing with the DMV if charged with reckless driving.
The California Point System
Reckless driving carries a base penalty of two points on your license. The DMV automatically takes away the driving privileges of negligent Class C drivers who reach certain point levels of their license.
Your privileges may be revoked if you get:
- Four points in a period of 12 months
- Six points in a period of 24 months
- Eight points in a period of 36 months
The DMV can also revoke your driving privileges completely for some cases of unsafe driving. Getting an experienced lawyer to assist your case may help minimize your chance of losing
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Can You Be Arrested for Reckless Driving?
You can be arrested for reckless driving in California. If you are speeding 15 mph over the posted limit, a police officer may pull you over and issue you a moving citation or arrest you for reckless driving. If you are racing or doing anything obviously dangerous, you are more likely to be arrested.
If your arrest does not result in a conviction, Penal Code section 851.91 may allow you to seal your case. An experienced reckless driving lawyer can assist you in that endeavor.
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Can the Court Impound Your Car?
Your car may be impounded by the police if they arrest you for reckless driving. Your vehicle may be held for no more than 30 days in this situation. In addition to losing your method of transportation, you will also have to pay any fees related to your vehicle being impounded.
How Long Does Reckless Driving Stay on Your Record?
How long a reckless driving conviction remains on your record will depend on the number of points you are assigned. It may take as long as 10 years for the points from a reckless driving conviction to be removed from your driving record.
You may have the opportunity to avoid points entirely by attending an approved traffic school. However, if you have a criminal conviction, it will remain on your criminal record. This is an important consideration if you are thinking about pleading guilty for reckless driving.
Can You Avoid Jail Time for Reckless Driving?
A reckless driving conviction can result in 90 days behind bars. That doesn’t mean that jail time is mandatory. You may be able to avoid jail time for reckless driving with:
- Traffic school
- Community service
You are more likely to avoid jail time if no one was hurt and you didn’t cause any property damage. Your charges may be reduced or dismissed with the help of a lawyer.
How Should You Handle a Reckless Driving Charge?
You may defend yourself against reckless driving charges in court by proving your actions were necessary in your circumstances. This requires you to show that you believed there was an emergency that you did not cause. You must also show that this emergency was a threat to you or another individual.
Some individuals also use the defense that they were not driving at the time of the charge. This requires the prosecutor to prove that you were in the driver’s seat, something that may be difficult if you have an experienced attorney on your side. Getting in touch with a skilled Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as soon as possible may help improve your chances in court.