What is the difference between reckless and careless driving?

We have all heard the terms reckless and careless driving. The terms mean the same, right? While they may sound synonymous, each word is legally different under Pennsylvania law and carries its own unique penalties. Let us explain.

Reckless Driving Defined

Pennsylvania law defines "reckless driving" as driving a vehicle "in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of person or property." A violation occurs when a person’s driving is so unsafe that a chance of an accident occurring is exceptionally high and that person blatantly disregards the high-risk behavior. Examples include driving at dangerously high speeds while distracted, street racing, or knowingly driving an unsafe vehicle.

Reckless driving is usually a misdemeanor offense. Penalties typically include fines, points on your license, possible license suspension or loss, and up to three months (90 days) in prison. But, if a driver causes serious bodily harm or injury to another person while driving recklessly, they can be convicted of aggravated assault by vehicle. Aggravated assault by vehicle is considered a third-degree felony; penalties include up to seven years in prison, a maximum of $15,000 in fines and a one-year license suspension.

Careless Driving Defined

Careless driving is an offense defined as driving "in careless disregard for the safety of persons or property." Careless driving is a "lesser-included offense" of reckless driving. Careless driving differs from reckless driving because it does not require proof that the driver purposely drove haphazardly. In addition, careless driving is a summary offense; reckless driving is typically a misdemeanor. Examples of careless driving include swerving in and out of lanes, speeding, and unsafely passing another motorist. Penalties for a summary violation can consist of up to three months (90 days) in prison, a fine of up to $300, points on your license, and/or a possible license suspension.

How Can We Help?

Lepley, Engelman, Yaw, and Wilk, LLC’s experienced car accident and personal injury lawyers in Pennsylvania have fought for thousands of injured victims and their families, helping them recover compensation for medical bills, lost pay, and pain and suffering. Doug Engelman, Gary Black, and David Wilk have decades of experience in personal injury and have won substantial settlements for our clients.

If you or a loved one have been a reckless or careless driving victim, give us a call to schedule a free consultation. Results from speaking with us can be invaluable. Contact Lepley, Engelman, Yaw, and Wilk, LLC today.


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