Millions of car accidents happen every year in the United States, many of them resulting in fatalities and serious injuries. Although crashes have numerous causes, many of the most harmful accidents result from reckless driving.
Reckless driving consists of a wide variety of dangerous driving behaviors. In this blog post, we explore what constitutes reckless driving, what makes it so dangerous, and how a lawyer can help when a reckless driver harms you or a loved one.
What Constitutes Reckless Driving?
Reckless driving happens whenever someone drives a vehicle in a manner that exhibits a clear disregard for the safety of other persons or their property.
Common examples of reckless driving include:
- Excessive speeding
- Racing other vehicles on public roads
- Leading police on a high-speed chase
- Driving on a road shoulder
- Lane splitting
- Aggressive tailgating, passing, and other clearly dangerous behaviors
- Texting and driving
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
This is not a complete list, of course. Virtually any irresponsible behavior behind the wheel of a vehicle can constitute reckless driving if it obviously and unreasonably puts others in danger.
How Common Is Reckless Driving?
The rates of reckless driving can be difficult to pin down, but we know it’s a troublingly common, and deadly, phenomenon. Take, for instance, data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) on fatal speeding-related crashes in the United States. In a recent year, NHTSA counted more than 9,300 speeding-related traffic fatalities, which accounted for about 26 percent of all traffic fatalities in the country that year. NHTSA also logged 12,389 deaths in alcohol-related crashes, making alcohol a factor in 34 percent of all fatal accidents.
The fatalities from those (and, surely other) reckless driving accidents were unevenly distributed across the United States. Speeding played a role in 43 percent of all fatal accidents in South Carolina that year, for example, while accounting for just 18 percent of accidents in neighboring Georgia. Similarly, alcohol use varied widely as the contributing factor in crashes nationwide, ranging from playing a role in more than 40 percent of fatal crashes in just two states (Montana and Texas) to around 25 percent of fatal crashes in numerous other states (including South Carolina and Georgia).
The variation in location and types of reckless driving can make it difficult to predict, but the data does reflect some scenarios in which drivers should exercise extra caution and be on the lookout for reckless motorists. Reckless driving accidents (at least those involving speeding and/or alcohol use) happen more often at night, especially between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. Fatal speeding-related accidents also frequently happen when roads are wet or icy. Speeding and alcohol consumption also go hand-in-hand. Forty-two percent of drivers in speeding-related fatal accidents had alcohol in their system one a recent year, according to NHTSA.
How Does Reckless Driving Differ from Careless Driving?
Careless driving and reckless driving can cause the same types of harm (accidents, mostly), but the law nevertheless views them differently. Generally speaking, a careless driver engages in dangerous driving behaviors without recognizing or intending to cause any danger. Careless driving is usually a mistake, in other words.
In contrast, a reckless driver knows (or reasonably should know) his driving behaviors put others in danger, but engages in those behaviors anyway. Reckless driving isn’t a mistake. Rather, it’s a choice to do something dangerous, even if the reckless driver does not intend to hurt anyone.
Not all states draw the line between reckless driving and careless driving in the same place. For example, some states’ laws may treat looking at your phone while driving as a careless act, whereas others might deem it reckless. Similarly, some states might consider it reckless to drive with alcohol in your system, even if you’re not legally intoxicated, whereas others might treat it only as careless.
The distinction between careless driving and reckless driving matters for the driver accused of engaging in either of them, because it affects the criminal punishment (if any) the driver might face. It often matters less, however, for victims of a driver who causes a crash. They can sustain injuries in an accident caused by either behavior, and typically have legal rights to receive compensation from the driver no matter whether the law classifies his driving as careless or reckless.
What Makes Reckless Driving so Dangerous?
Still, if you had to choose, you would much rather share the road with a careless driver than a reckless one. Reckless driving involves a far higher risk of causing harmful accidents than mere carelessness. In fact, the Insurance Institute of America reports that reckless (or “aggressive”) driving played a role in causing 56 percent of fatal motor vehicle collisions over a recent five-year period.
High speeds, in particular, constitute a common factor in many reckless driving crashes. As drivers push a vehicle faster and faster, they make it more and more difficult for themselves to react safely to a road hazard. A speeding vehicle also becomes more difficult to control, and more unstable during a sharp turn, evasive maneuver, or uneven road surface. Finally, higher speeds lead to greater risks of injury and fatality, according to researchers.
Why Does Reckless Driving Occur?
Most drivers understand the dangers of aggressive driving, but many still engage in it. Why? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), several factors frequently fuel reckless driving behaviors (such as speeding).
People frequently drive recklessly in heavy traffic, which at first blush seems strange, since a crowded road already poses a higher accident risk than an empty one. You might think that drivers would drive more carefully in dense traffic, but instead, the stress of sharing a road packed with other vehicles leads to frustration, anger, and poor decision-making. Common reckless driving in heavy traffic includes driving on a road shoulder to get around a jam, driving between lanes of cars on a motorcycle, and extreme tailgating.
Feelings of running behind schedule also frequently lead to reckless driving behaviors, especially speeding. Lateness makes drivers feel stressed, which can prompt them to make rash, ill-considered decisions behind the wheel. Those bad choices, in turn, cause dangerous reckless driving accidents.
A Sense of Anonymity
Feeling anonymous while inside a car can also lead to reckless driving. A vehicle cabin can isolate a driver from his or her surroundings, making the driver feel like an observer of, rather than a participant in, the traffic around them. Drivers who feel unaccountable for their actions may engage in reckless behaviors.
Consequences for Reckless Drivers
Reckless drivers face serious consequences for their actions. Here are some of the most common setbacks and sanctions for reckless driving.
Higher Insurance Rates and Non-Renewal
Reckless driving can significantly affect a driver’s insurance rates. Insurance companies take driving history into account when deciding how much to charge their customers for auto insurance. According to the insurance price comparison website Insurance Panda, on average, a reckless driver can expect to see an increase of over 50 percent in rates and premiums when his or her policy comes up for renewal. Those costs may go up by 100 percent if the driver is under the age of 25. And, sometimes, the insurance company may decide not to renew the driver’s insurance policy at all.
Driver’s License Points and Suspensions
Reckless driving can also impact a driver’s license privileges. Lots of states have a demerit or “points” system that penalizes drivers for moving violations. Drivers who accumulate a sufficient number of points against their license may face license suspension, fines, or other penalties. Repeat offenders may see longer suspensions, and in extreme cases may lose their licenses altogether.
Most states outlaw reckless driving and impose criminal penalties on reckless drivers. Under South Carolina law, for example, reckless drivers can receive fines from $25 to $200, or 30 days in jail. Similarly, under Georgia law, a reckless driver faces a fine of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 12 months. In both states (and most others), repeat convictions for reckless driving, and causing an accident that injures innocent victims can lead to stiffer penalties.
Reckless drivers also face potential civil liability for their actions. All drivers have a duty not to operate their vehicles in an unreasonably dangerous manner. A reckless driver, by definition, violates that duty, and will generally owe money damages to anyone injured in a crash caused by that behavior.
The damages a victim of a reckless driving accident may seek to recover from the reckless driver and/or anyone else answerable for the driver’s conduct can include payment for:
- Medical expenses related to treating reckless driving accident-related injuries.
- Other out-of-pocket expenses resulting from the reckless driving accident, like the cost of repairing or replacing damaged property, or of hiring someone to help with day-to-day chores while the victim recovers from injuries.
- Lost wages and income due to injuries keeping the victim out of work temporarily or permanently.
- The victim’s pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life due to the reckless driving accident.
In cases involving especially severe reckless driving behaviors, a lawyer for a crash victim may also have the ability to secure an award of punitive damages, which aim to punish the reckless driver and deter others from engaging in similar conduct.
Injured in a Reckless Driving Accident? You May Have Valuable Rights to Compensation.
If you suffered injuries in an accident caused by a drunk driver, speeding, or engaging in any other reckless driving behavior, you may recover significant financial compensation.
The damages you might receive from the driver or anyone else who must answer for the driver’s conduct tend to vary based on:
- The severity of your injuries and their impact on your life, which affects your medical expenses and lost income, and (generally speaking) the degree of pain and suffering you suffer.
- The strength of the case a skilled car accident injury attorney can build on your behalf from the evidence available.
- The financial resources available to pay damages to you, especially the amount of insurance coverage carried by the reckless driver and anyone else who may owe you compensation for your injuries and losses.
To secure the compensation you deserve, turn to a skilled, experienced car accident injury lawyer for help. An attorney who represents reckless driving accident victims like you can:
- Review the crash, identify all parties who might owe you compensation (it’s not always just the reckless driver),
- Calculate the compensation you deserve
- Get to work securing that money for you by taking legal action on your behalf.
Do not make the mistake of thinking you can handle a claim for damages on your own. Insurance companies and defense lawyers will not take your claim seriously. In virtually any case, a skilled lawyer can secure far more compensation for you than you could ever hope to obtain by going it alone.
Contact a Skilled Car Accident Lawyer Today
No one can anticipate when or under what circumstances they may suffer injuries because of the actions of a reckless driver. When the unexpected happens, however, it helps to know where to turn for advice and guidance.
After a reckless driving accident, your top priority should be your health and wellbeing, not worrying about your legal and financial rights. To protect yourself, contact an experienced car accident injury lawyer as soon as possible. By acting quickly, you can give yourself the best possible chance of holding a reckless driver accountable for the harm you suffered.