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Reckless Driving

June 2nd, 2011
By Shea Denning

Reckless driving is among the most commonly charged, and most broadly defined, motor vehicle offenses. Three types of reckless driving, all Class 2 misdemeanors, are defined in G.S. 20-140. First, a person who drives a vehicle on a highway or public vehicular area carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others is guilty of reckless driving. G.S. 20-140(a). The second type of reckless driving, which is, by far, the most frequently charged, prohibits driving a vehicle upon a highway or public vehicular area without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property. G.S. 20-140(b). A person who violates both G.S. 20-140(a) and (b) in one continuous operation of a vehicle is guilty of but one offense of reckless driving. See State v. Lewis, 256 N.C. 430 (1962). The third type of reckless driving is limited to commercial motor vehicles carrying oversize or overweight loads. A person who drives such a vehicle carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others or without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property commits the offense of reckless driving as defined in G.S. 20-140(f).

Because reckless driving is defined in terms that equate to the common law concept of culpable negligence, the analysis required to determine when negligent driving rises to the level of reckless driving is the same utilized in determining when actionable negligence becomes culpable, or criminal, negligence. The state supreme court employed this parallel analysis in State v. Cope, 204 N.C. 28 (1933), ordering a new trial on manslaughter charges based on the trial court’s erroneous instruction to the jury that “‘if one violates any of the laws that were passed for the protection of the traveling public on the highways, and that violation of the law on his part causes the death of another, he will be guilty of manslaughter at least whether he intended to do so or not.’” Id. at 29. In distinguishing civil negligence based upon violation of a safety statute from the culpable negligence required to support a conviction for manslaughter, Cope noted a similar distinction in the definition of reckless driving:  “Under this definition, the simple violation of a traffic regulation, which does not involve actual danger to life, limb, or property, while importing civil liability if damage or injury ensue . . . would not perforce constitute the criminal offense of reckless driving.” Id. at 31.

Beyond the Cope principle that proof of a simple traffic violation, standing alone, is insufficient to establish reckless driving, see, e.g. State v. Dupree, 264 N.C. 463 (1965) (“mere fact that defendant’s automobile was on the left of the center line . . . . when the collision occurred, without any evidence that it was being operated at a dangerous speed or in a perilous manner” insufficient to establish reckless driving), the courts have developed no other generalities about the kind of driving that qualifies as reckless. Given the statute’s broad language, it is not surprising that efforts to define it in more concrete terms have been unsuccessful. See, e.g., State v. Teel, 180 N.C. App. 446 (2006) (“[T]o send a charge of reckless driving to the jury ‘the State must introduce sufficient evidence as to ‘whether [defendant’s] speed, or his manner of driving, endangered or was likely to endanger any person or property including himself, his passenger, his property or the person or property of others[.]’” (quoting State v. Floyd, 15 N.C. App. 438, 440 (1972)).

Thus, reckless driving may best be understood by reviewing factual scenarios in which the courts have evaluated the sufficiency of the State’s evidence. Consider the following illustrative cases:

  • State v. Davis, 163 N.C. App. 587 (2004) (evidence that defendant drove “well over the posted speed limit,” swerved into the opposing lane of traffic, and subsequently “braked his vehicle sharply and slid for approximately twenty feet near an occupied residence” sufficient to establish reckless driving)
  • State v. Smith, 178 N.C. App. 134 (2006) (sufficient evidence of reckless driving when during a high speed chase on a rainy day, defendant “came extremely close to hitting an oil tanker at speeds in excess of sixty miles per hour,” and crossed double yellow lines)
  • State v. Teel, 180 N.C. App. 446 (2006) (evidence that defendant drove a motorcycle at 90 mph in a 45 mph zone, followed an unmarked police car two to three feet from the rear end of the officer’s vehicle, attempted to pass the officer on the left across a double yellow line in a curve (crossing the double yellow line two or three times) and later to pass the officer on the shoulder of the road (touching the white line two or three times) sufficient to establish reckless driving under G.S. 20-140(b)).
  • State v. Coffey, 189 N.C. App. 382 (2008) (evidence that defendant drove while impaired and traveled 92 mph in a 45 mph zone sufficient to establish reckless driving to endanger in violation of G.S. 20-140(b))
  • State v. Jackson, ___ N.C. App. ___ (May 17, 2011) (evidence that defendant drove 82 mph in a 55 mph zone, maneuvered from one lane to another to go around slower vehicles and crossed double yellow lines sufficient to establish reckless driving)

Reckless driving also is an element of more serious traffic offenses. Certain types of reckless driving, when combined with speeding, constitute aggressive driving, a Class 1 misdemeanor. G.S. 20-141.6.  In addition, “[r]eckless driving as proscribed by G.S. 20-140” is among the factors that can elevate speeding to elude arrest to a felony offense. G.S. 20-141.5. And reckless driving can provide the culpable negligence required for the crimes of involuntary manslaughter or assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury when someone is killed or seriously injured as a result of the defendant’s reckless driving. See State v. Wade, 161 N.C. App. 686 (2003).

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19 Responses to “Reckless Driving”

  1. Dennis says:

    Does North Carolina include an RD charge (general) with DUI? Failure to properly control or one’s inability to control a motor vehicle due to impairment is also considered RD.

  2. Shea Denning says:

    Impaired driving and reckless driving are not as closely linked as they once were under North Carolina law. Before enactment of the Safe Roads Act of 1983, reckless driving was a lesser included offense of DWI. That is no longer the case. In In re Martin, 333 N.C. 242 (1993), a judge was censured for the improper practice of convicting defendants of reckless driving when they were charged with impaired driving.

  3. Amy Platt says:

    Recently a registered sex offender was involved in an automobile collision which resulted in the death of my 16 year old daughter, a passenger in the car he hit head on. His over sized 4×4 truck smashed the front of his ex-girlfriends car on the passengers side where my daughter was sitting it then flipped over and landed on top of her car in the same direction of travel and then the truck caught on fire. He was charged with misdemeanor death by vehicle. He was never charged with probation violation and no one ever really investigated the fact that he had been stalking and harassing the driver of the car . He told the police he swirved to miss a cat but there were no skid marks and her car was completely mangled. The Highway Patrol said he did not put that in his report because he did not believe there was ever a cat in the road. Now my husband and I have to figure out to pay 200,000.00 dollars in hospital bills because he is 20 yrs old and had minimal insurance and can’t keep a job . We were told he would probably get community service and may be loose his license for a year. I continuously receive emails from people telling me this guy is a ” MONSTER” he has harassed there daughters and they are sorry for our lose, they cannot understand why such a minimal charge.

  4. Nick says:

    I was accused of reckless driving the other day. I was driving in the straight lane at 35mph and when the turning lane light turned green traffic began to go forward. One vehicle was not paying attention, so the vehicles ahead drove ahead leaving a substantial gap. I then put my turn signal on and changed lanes into the turning lane and then continued into the far left turning lane, which there was no vehicles around. I had my 8 month pregnant wife in the vehicle and she was also able to look at the lanes and see that no vehicles were at an unsafe distance. After I got into the far left lane, I went throught the light and the cop pulled me over. The officer stated that he was in the straight lane and through his rearview saw me change lanes causing vehicles in the left lane to slam on brakes and almost hitting a vehicle in the far left lane. I told the officer that I had enough time to put on my turn signal and look for any traffic before switching lanes and that there was no way anyone had slam their brake due to the fact that I was doing the speed limit and the other vehicles had just begun to go forward and did not have to apply my brake until I was pulled over. I asked him how he Could of seen all of this through his rearview mirror and I asked to explain the charges. He got defensive and state that in his opinion it was reckless driving and im lucky to not have cause an accident, if I had a a problem to take it up in court. Ive talked to all the supervisers after the citation and they said it was out of there hands and there was nothing they could. It was the officers word against mine. I feel that I obeyed every law and see no reason to pay hundreds of dollars for nothing. any suggestions?

    • Gwendolyn Carr says:

      Sorry, but you just need to stop talking and pay the fine!  You switched lanes at the wrong darn time; conviencing yourself, which almost caused a pile-up!  ..Then, you actually argued with and challenged the Police Officer!  Now, you’re throwing in your far-gone pregnant wife’s “could-be” observations (like, what else would she say, duh)!  In other words, you made an improper move; like all of us sometimes do.  Just stop whining, stop arguing with Police Officers, stop soliciting others’ opinions to match yours. Just scrape up the money, pay the fine, and try to drive more responsibly from now on!  I’m sorry, but, I’ve been there too.. It was my mother who told me to “shut up lying and making up stuff!  And don’t you ever sass out not nay-nutha cop.  Go pay that Ticket, then put your Driver License on my dresser!”. I didn’t get my D.L. Back for a whole month; I was 17, and I’ve never forgotten!  Okay, your reaction probably isn’t as bad as mine was, but, still, think about it!  Pay that Fine, then let it go!

  5. Rich says:

    A NC State trooper pulled up to me in Goldsboro when i was going 30 mph coming up to stop light. He said I was going 80mph in a 55 zone. I asked where I was speeding , he said “You were speeding way back in New Bern. That was 62 miles away from where he puled me over?????? I got a court date tomorow for speeding and reckless dring since I apparently was going over 79 mph?
    Can he do that? If I am reclessly endangering the public, isnt the officer liable for letting to continue to do so for 62 miles?

  6. AnOp says:

    Three days back, I have been issued a citation for driving my car on a highway @84mph in 65mph zone G.S.20-141 in Charlotte and have a court date in about 3 weeks.

    I have a clean driving record and have NC driving license.

    What are the options available to me for minimizing my possibly resultant difficulties?

    Please advise. Thanks.

  7. Anne says:

    Hi, One of my friend got (G.S.20-140(A)) and NO SPEEDING what could be the worst consequences, please suggest as soon as possible.

    • Clinton says:

      I was driving a school bus and turn into a sub-divison and struck a bush. the cat-eye mirror was broken at the bracket on the bus. The damage was small to say the least. I was cited for reckless driving. What should I do.

  8. JayM says:

    Can an ordinary citizen file a criminal complaint against a law enforcement officer (NCHP) for his clear violation of reckless/aggressive driving statutes by engaging in so-called “hot pursuit” of a traffic violator which endangers others on the highway? Under what circumstances?

    • Alex Jones says:

      This is always hard to prove the best way to go about this is when you see it get the patrol car # and call 911 and report them if they have no lights or sirens on it’s easier to bust them but if they do have them on they should still be held responsible for there reckless driving they can still be reported to there supervising officer which will determine whether the maneuvering was necessary or negligent

  9. linda says:

    I was coming home today and a semi ws topped at red light and I was also to take a left he to take a right. there was no traffice in my lane behind me nor on the road next to me (empty strret) I jestured let me take left and you can have the whole street.. so he pulls up in front of my car .. rudley to make me back up .. hence causing all traffice to start to fill up and making himself struggle .. as i had delayed in backing up thinking he was trying to get his truck straightened out to make the turn .. plate /tag LR5692 .. needs safety class’s or get off the road ..

  10. Jason Witt says:

    What are your thoughts on officers and ADA’s who believe that traveling more than 15 mph over the speed limit is automatically reckless driving? Seems to me that if no other cars are around it can’t be reckless driving.

  11. Brent says:

    Traveling s on hwy 17 from Wilmington to nmb I came up on a cop that was in the left lane as I came from behind I could notice some slight swerves from the cop. I get into the right hand lane to see what the swerving is being caused by. I notice that the cop is on his computer with one hand and driving with the other. After trailing the cop for a couple miles I decide to slowly pass him in the right hand lane so I can get by him without him swerving into me. As most ppl know not to pass cops on the road as I am aware of I felt like I was in danger to him swerving. As I get beside the cop I see that he is still on his computer while driving so I slowly go to pass him and when iget a foot in front of his car he hits his brakes and gets behind me with his lights on. I was going 61 in a 55 at most when I try to go around him. As he gets behind me with lights flashing I signal to the left lane so he can go around me. As I switch lanes he trails right behind me. I thought he was trying to get around me so I slow down enough for him to safely pass and he gets back behind me. As I’m still driving in the left lane not knowing what to do the cop pulls in front of me and hits his brakes. He’s waving his arm to the right as if he was fist pumping. I then get into the right hand lane and begin to pull over. I pulled over at the next turn in and pull into the construction site of a hospital on the right hand side and pull into the biggest muddiest puddle there was. The cop then gets out of his vehicle and comes up to my truck and asks me ” what’s your problem.” he then reaches into my truck and turns down my music and repeats himself, ” what is your problem.” I then look at him and hand him my dls. After 10 min he returns with a speeding ticket for going 62 in a 55 and reckless driving. He then says “you will show up to court for this.” I go to court and it gets postponed. I show up the next time and supposibly I have missed my court date so I have to get it rescheduled. This happened back in February and I just got something in the mail saying my lic. Is getting suspended. I now live in Ky 8 hrs away from where this incident took place. My question is what is the maximum amount of time I will serve in jail to get time served. I will not pay a dime to get this erased. Even if that means doing away with my drivers license. I would be willing to pay a speeding ticket but for the reckless driving charge I felt like it was put on there because of the cops attitude. He did it because he was angry. I did not break any laws other than speeding. I’ve been to jail before and if they want to feed bath and give me a place to sleep for a few months because of this then sign me up. It’s hott out right now and some good a/c for free to get my license back is a good deal to me. No homo. It will cost them more time and money to put me in jail for this than its worth with no positive outcome for them. I have all the time in the world and family that has money. Why would I pay this off when I could sit in cold a/c, eat for free and sleep as long as I want. As well as playing cards or watching tv. They ain’t getting no money from me. Catch me if you can piggy!!!

  12. Brent says:

    It would take me 4 to 6 months to pay for a lawyer to get this expunged. Why not just do the time and not pay a dime. Jail ain’t nothing but criminal school anyway so I would probably just add time to my crime schooling. Maybe leave with a diploma of some sort. Ha! Peace

  13. Rick says:

    How do you fight a reckless driving ticket for getting at most two feet out of you driving lane while driving at the reckless speed of 15 mph to go around a car that suddenly and without using a trun signal that makes a left turn and then stops leaving two feet of his car in my lane? This was in a 25 mph speed zone with no other traffic or parked cars around. I could have stopped, I could have stayed in my lane, but I wanted have a more than safe distance between my car and the idiot I was following. This in some small way may have been an illeagle pass, but there was absolutly nothing dangerous, careless or reckless about my actions. Then to and insult to injury, While getting my ticket neither the officer nor his “back-up” did a thing about locals driving 25-30 mph in a 10 mph zone driving to a park where children were playing.

  14. Sara Barberia says:

    I don’t understand if reckless driving is considered a misdemeanor or an infraction. I am applying for expungement of my criminal record. I am not sure if I can put the reckless driving on. It was dismissed.

  15. Mel says:

    Yesterday I was pulled over in Montgomery County, in North Carolina. The officer stated that I was going 81 mph in a 65 mph zone. I recently moved to North Carolina for a job… I am beyond scared that my license will be suspended. I wasn’t thinking… my fiancee, baby and I were driving to S Carolina to attend a funeral Saturday morning.
    I have a minor traffic violation on my record from 4 years ago- turning right on a red light where turning was prohibited. Should I hire an attorney? How likely is it that they’ll be able to reduce the charges so I won’t have a misdemeanor or points on my record?

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