Understanding Reckless Driving in Florida

Reckless driving in Florida is considered one of the worst moving violations that a person can be charged with in Florida. It is a serious offense that can come with harsh penalties, with various levels of charges, depending on the circumstances. Whether you are a young driver or an experienced driver, getting convicted can impose severe long-term consequences.

What is Reckless Driving in Florida?

According to Statute 316.192, reckless driving in Florida is “Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

The specific actions are important here. When someone is “willful,” that means they drove in this manner purposefully and intentionally. When someone is “wanton,” that means that they drove recklessly without care or with intentional indifference to the consequences of their actions.

Additionally, under the same statute, “Fleeing a law enforcement officer in a motor vehicle” is also considered reckless driving in Florida.

As you can see, the driver must be proven to have knowingly and purposefully taken these actions, without regard for likely causing harm to other people or property, to be convicted of reckless driving. It considers the driver’s state of mind at the time and is not simple negligence or carelessness.

Reckless Driving vs. Careless Driving: What’s the Difference?

Another type of moving violation in Florida is careless driving. There is a big difference between reckless driving and careless driving.

Careless driving can include such actions as following too closely, speeding, weaving through traffic, or even causing an accident. But the big difference is that in careless driving, the driver is doing it unintentionally, making a mistake, or failing to pay attention. Even though what they are doing may be dangerous, the “willful or wanton disregard” element is not present.

If an individual faces careless driving charges, they may be able to get the charges dismissed by completing a DHSMV-approved Florida traffic school course.

Penalties for Reckless Driving in Florida

Is reckless driving a misdemeanor or a felony in Florida?”

The short answer is — it depends.

The penalties for reckless driving in Florida will vary contingent upon whether there is any property damage (and the amount of property damage), if there were personal injuries (and the level of injuries), and whether or not it is your first offense.

  • No property damage or bodily injury & first offense — up to 90 days in jail, or 6 months of probation, and a $500 fine; second-degree misdemeanor
  • No property damage or bodily injury & second or subsequent offense — up to 6 months in jail and up to $1000 fine; second-degree misdemeanor
  • Property damage or injury — up to 1 year in jail or 12 months of probation, and a $1000 fine; first-degree misdemeanor
  • Serious bodily injury — up to 5 years in prison or 5 years of probation and a $5,000 fine; third-degree felony

Whether you get charged with a misdemeanor or felony, if the charges end in a conviction, you could face life-changing penalties and will have the charge of reckless driving on your criminal record.

What to Do If You’ve Been Charged with Reckless Driving

You need to take action. Due to the potentially severe penalties, it is critical to get legal assistance from a criminal defense attorney. When you work with an attorney, they will thoroughly review and analyze the details of your case to develop a strong and appropriate defense.

There are many different types of defenses that could be utilized related to a charge of reckless driving in Florida. Depending on the specific details of your case, an experienced criminal defense attorney may use one of these common defenses:

  • Was the accused driving in a willful and wanton manner? Or were they just careless and/or negligent?
  • Was it the accused that was driving the vehicle?
  • Were there any property or persons nearby that could be endangered?
  • Are there witnesses that can contradict the charges of reckless driving?
  • Is excessive speed the only element of the charge?
  • Was the driving by the accused actually purposeful and intentional? Or was something else occurring at the time that could be considered extenuating circumstances?
  • Are the witnesses that the prosecution has reliable?

These are not wholly inclusive of all of the defenses that could be considered. The complexity of reckless driving charges can be difficult to prove. With an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side, you will have a critical resource to develop the strongest defense for your particular case.

Additionally, if you are currently facing a DUI charge, your attorney may be able to get it reduced to a reckless driving charge. DUI charges often come with even more serious penalties than reckless driving. Then, your attorney will work diligently to get the best outcome possible.

How Long Does Reckless Driving Stay on Your Record in Florida?

A reckless driving charge in Florida stays on your record for 75 years – basically a lifetime – unless it gets expunged or sealed, which can be done with an attorney, going through the courts, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

You will also get 4 points on your license if you get convicted of reckless driving, which can impede your ability to drive if you already have accumulated some points.

It is not recommended to “go it alone” due to potential jail time, high fines, probation, and points on your license that can keep you out of the driver’s seat. You have the right to a lawyer and should seek legal advice.

When to Contact an Attorney

Contact an attorney as soon as possible after your charges. If you’ve been arrested in Pinellas County, FL, for reckless driving, a Clearwater criminal defense attorney can begin the development of a strong defense to get the best outcome possible in your case. When your freedom and your future are at stake, you need a legal professional.

Call 727-785-2700 for a free consultation.