Reckless Driving in New York – More Than a Traffic Ticket

August 21, 2019

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

Reckless Driving is more than a mere traffic infraction. It is a misdemeanor offense which, if convicted, may result in you having a criminal record.


What Is the Definition of Reckless Driving?

Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1212 defines Reckless Driving as follows:

Reckless driving shall mean driving or using any motor vehicle … in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of the public highway.

As such, a police officer can charge you with this offense if:

  • You drive in a way that unreasonably interferes with the use of the road, or
  • You drive in a way that endangers users of the road.

New York’s highest court has determined that this means the driver has operated the motor vehicle “under such circumstances as to show a reckless disregard of the consequences.” The prosecution must show more than “mere negligence” to prove that you were driving recklessly. It must show you were driving in a way that risked the safety of others for no good reason (i.e., no emergency), that you knew of that risk, and that you disregarded that risk and what could result from such driving.

Because this is a broad definition, it leaves much discretion to the police who write such tickets and the judges who determine guilt. A close examination of the facts is necessary in any case where a driver is charged with Reckless Driving.


Which Actions Constitute Reckless Driving?

Often times, the actions leading to this charge are cause for litigation. Below are some factual circumstances which have supported a conviction for this offense.

  • Excessive speed, coupled with changing lanes without signaling and following too closely
  • Speeding while traveling in the wrong lane
  • Driving across the median of a road while speeding
  • Running a police barricade
  • Driving off of the road while speeding
  • Speeding and not slowing down for pedestrians
  • Driving the wrong way and not taking the appropriate action to turn around
  • When driving while intoxicated, speeding and driving across the median of a road


What Penalties Apply to a Reckless Driving Conviction?

Reckless Driving is more than a traffic ticket – it is a misdemeanor offense. This means if you’re convicted, you will have a criminal record. And with successive convictions, the penalties only get more serious.

Offense Possible fine Possible jail time
First $100 to $300, plus $88 or $93 surcharge 30 days
Second (within 18 months)  $100 to $525, plus $88 or $93 surcharge 90 days
Third (within 18 months)  $100 to $1,125, plus $88 or $93 surcharge 180 days

With regard to your license, any conviction for Reckless Driving will also incur 5 points. If you accumulate more than 11 points during any 18-month period, your license will be suspended. And if you have 6 or more points during that time, the DMV will assess civil penalties called a Driver Responsibility Assessment.

Further, as discussed in our recent blog, a Reckless Driving conviction may result in a separate hearing at which your license can be suspended or revoked. It is also considered a “serious driving offense” in terms of your lifetime driving record. And commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders may also lose their privilege to drive commercial vehicles with such a conviction. Finally, Reckless Driving will also likely lead to an increase in your car insurance rates.