In the state of California, reckless driving is legally defined as the following (in California Vehicle Code 23103):
(a) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.
(b) A person who drives a vehicle in an offstreet parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.
(c) Except as otherwise provided in Section 40008, persons convicted of the offense of reckless driving shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days nor more than 90 days or by a fine of not less than one hundred forty-five dollars ($145) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 23104 or 23105.
The critical aspect of this definition is the “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
In other words, you must know that what you’re doing is putting others at risk, and must choose to disregard that danger to others in a willful/wanton manner. This may be the case even if you are not aiming to cause harm; just by consciously taking the risk and being noted as doing so, you are considered to be engaging in reckless driving.
Examples of Reckless Driving
Any driving done with reckless disregard for the safety of people or property falls into this category. For example:
- Disregarding stop signs and traffic lights
- Driving the wrong way down a road
- Racing other cars
- Driving through a crowd or on a sidewalk
- Swerving across lanes
Consequences of reckless driving in California
The consequences of reckless driving are considerably more severe than for a speeding ticket. They do, however, depend on the seriousness of the effects of your reckless driving.
If no one is injured (other than you, the driver), the punishment will be:
- Five to 90 days in county jail
- A fine from $145 to $1,000
This changes if there is a minor injury to a third party. Naturally, if your actions cause harm to someone other than yourself, the consequences will be more severe. According to California Vehicle Code 23104, in most cases,
Whenever reckless driving of a vehicle proximately causes bodily injury to a person other than the driver, the person driving the vehicle shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not less than 30 days nor more than six months or by a fine of not less than two hundred twenty dollars ($220) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.
And if there is a serious injury to someone other than the driver, reckless driving is a “wobbler,” meaning it can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the judgment of the prosecutor. As a felony, the penalties include:
- As much as three years in jail
- A fine of as much as $10,000
Is reckless driving a felony or misdemeanor in California?
Reckless driving can cause you to be charged with a misdemeanor in the state of California. This means that it will be found in background checks and will stay on your permanent record. If you cause serious bodily harm with your reckless driving, the charge can become more serious, defined as a felony assault with a deadly weapon.
How long does reckless driving stay on your record in California?
It depends. According to Santa Barbara-based attorney Darryl Wayne Genis, if it’s a non-alcohol related reckless driving offense, it is typically two points on your record for three years. If it’s an alcohol-related reckless driving offense, these points will also remain on your record for three years, and there will be a prior alcohol conviction on your record for a decade. Note, also, that traffic school cannot hide reckless driving offenses from your record (this is also true for DUIs and tailgating).