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What You Need to Know About Reckless Driving in Texas

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Reckless driving is a serious crime in the state of Texas. An individual commits the offense of reckless driving by operating a motor vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of another person or property. Reckless driving refers to an individual’s indifference to others’ safety.

Under Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 5405.401 (2016), a driver can be charged with reckless driving even if he or she isn’t on a public thoroughfare. The law applies to drivers on some private properties that are open to members of the general public, such as a parking lot in a public shopping center.

What is Reckless Driving?

When a driver ignores the safety of others on the road, law enforcement officers may consider that he or she demonstrates reckless, careless, or dangerous driving. A driver shows reckless disregard or negligent behavior that may be considered reckless driving when he or she:

  • Operates a motor vehicle at an excessive or dangerous speed
  • Places other drivers at danger by running stop signs or red lights
  • Fails to yield the right-of-way (intentionally) to other drivers and pedestrians
  • Drives under the influence (DUI) or drives while intoxicated (DWI) (Note: it’s possible to be charged and convicted of a DUI/DWI as well as reckless driving)
  • Races with other motor vehicles
  • Evades law enforcement
  • Passes over a double yellow line on a two-lane highway
  • Texts and drives
  • Talks on a mobile device and drives
  • Passes a stopped school bus
  • Fails to provide electronic or hand signals
  • Drives in such a way that he or she fails to maintain reasonable or proper control of the vehicle. (Note: if the driver operates the vehicle with mere negligence—i.e., without “willful” disregard for the consequences of others—he or she can argue against reckless driving)

What Penalties Are Associated with a Reckless Driving Charge in Texas?

Reckless driving is considered a hybrid offense in the state of Texas. It’s neither a Class B or a Class C misdemeanor. Under Tex. Transp. Code Ann. § 545.401(b) (2016), a driver charged with reckless driving faces a misdemeanor charge with a maximum $200 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail.

A reckless driving conviction is maintained on the individual’s permanent criminal record. Other consequences of a reckless driving charge may include driver’s license suspension, revocation (if the defendant has other traffic violations or suspensions), driving record points, community service, restitution to victim(s), increased motor vehicle insurance rates, job loss (if the defendant is required to drive as part of his or her occupation), or denial of security clearance. A second or additional reckless driving offense can result in harsher punishments.

For this reason, a reckless driving conviction is much more than an inconvenient traffic ticket for most Texans.

Have you been charged with reckless driving?
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Consequences of DUI and Reckless Driving Charges (‘Wet Reckless’)

A driver facing dual charges of driving under the influence (DUI/DWI) and reckless driving may enter a wet reckless plea bargain in which the DUI/DWI is reduced to a lesser reckless driving charge.

Discuss the circumstances of your case with a knowledgeable Texas criminal defense attorney before entering any plea or plea bargain arrangement.

Reckless Driving and Jail Time

A defendant accused of reckless driving—or a defendant entering a wet reckless plea bargain—may have questions about jail time.

The judge hearing the case considers many factors, including 1) severity of damages, 2) first offense and 3) jail-alternative programs.

If the defendant is sentenced to jail, he or she may be eligible for in-custody behavior credits.

It may be possible to avoid conviction and/or jail time. If you or someone you love faces criminal charges, reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney to evaluate your case now.

Reckless Driving and Traffic School

Depending on the circumstances of the case, the judge may allow the driver to attend a defensive driving course to offset demerit points from the driving record. This action can help the driver avoid skyrocketing insurance premiums unless excessive speed, DUI, a hit-and-run accident, or reckless driving resulting in property damage or injury is involved.

Reckless Driving: A Legal Conclusion

A law enforcement officer initially charges the driver with reckless driving. However, deliberation of the court is required to reach a legal conclusion that reckless driving occurred.

For this reason, a reckless driving charge may be viewed as a subjective assessment of the police officer. Police officers may couple a reckless driving charge with one or more other charges to increase the defendant’s potential penalties. If the defendant has prior traffic convictions, an open container in the vehicle, or has a blood alcohol content (BAC) above the legal threshold of 0.08 percent at the time an accident involving injury or property damage occurs, it’s relatively common for the officer to do so.

Reckless driving involves much more than the driver operating his or her vehicle at 20-plus miles over the posted speed limit, however. An experienced criminal defense attorney will require the state to prove the defendant demonstrated conscious, willful, or “wanton” lack of concern for the safety of others (or the property of others).

If you were involved in an accident and charged with reckless driving, or if you were charged with a DUI/DWI when the accident happened, engage a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Reckless Driving Spectrum

As noted earlier, reckless driving is a hybrid charge. On the minor end of the spectrum, perhaps you failed to signal and, quite unintentionally, cut a driver off. Perhaps you drove too close to the vehicle in front of yours and unknowingly created the risk of a potential collision.

On the other end of the reckless driving spectrum, perhaps you were in a rush to get to your destination and a police officer said you were driving at least 30 miles per hour over the posted speed limit. Although you didn’t hit the passenger vehicle that pulled out in front of you, the officer says he witnessed a close call.

Whatever your conduct, the laws of Texas very seriously consider a charge of reckless driving. If you’ve been charged with reckless driving, and you don’t believe you’re guilty of the charge, it’s in your best interest to choose an experienced, aggressive defense attorney who will fight on your behalf. He will argue that your conduct doesn’t reflect the legal definition of reckless driving in Texas.

Each case is unique and, depending on your circumstances, it may be a wise decision to negotiate a lesser charge with the prosecutor. Negotiation can yield a faster result and fewer court appearances.

Contact an Experienced Reckless Driving Lawyer in Houston TX

Reckless driving is broadly defined under Texas law, but it’s a much more serious charge than most speeding tickets. Consult with an experienced reckless driving attorney as soon as possible after you’ve been charged.

Brett Podolsky, a former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the state of Texas, is also Board Certified in Criminal Law. Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky to schedule an initial case evaluation now.

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