Is Reckless Driving A Criminal Offense?

Reckless driving is, as the name suggests, incredibly dangerous. No matter the reason, driving with reckless abandon and no care for your own safety and the safety of others can have irreversible consequences.

This is why reckless driving is illegal. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor criminal offense, the penalty of which could be a fine but it can also involve jail time. Depending on the judge’s decision, the result could be a fine between $50 to $1,000 or more. Or potentially up to 90 days in prison. 

Is Reckless Driving a Criminal Offense

But, as with any crime, there are caveats that will determine the legal consequences of reckless driving. This can differ depending on which state you are in.

So, we’re going to provide you with a complete guide to the legal consequences of reckless driving.

Definition of Reckless Driving 

The definition of reckless driving will differ slightly depending on the state in which the crime is committed. The laws regarding reckless driving are, rightly, quite long and nuanced. So it’s really important that you double-check the laws of the state you are driving in. 

Generally speaking, reckless driving is defined as driving in a way that endangers others. An important caveat of this definition is that most states require the person to have intentionally endangered others. 

Other states will have laws that require the driver to know that their driving will endanger others.

Some states also include a specific speed at which driving becomes reckless. For example, in some states, anyone driving over 85mph in any area can be charged with reckless driving. 

Potential Penalties

So, now you know the main definitions of reckless driving, here are the potential penalties that can be given out.


If you are convicted of relatively low-level reckless driving, the most common penalty is a fine. The value of the fine will differ depending on the state in which you’re convicted.

It will also vary depending on the severity of the reckless driving.  The fine can vary from $50 to several thousand dollars.

Jail Time

As mentioned above, reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense. This means that it can be punished with up to a year in jail.

But, as with the fine, this will vary depending on the severity of the reckless driving. If it is especially dangerous, reckless driving can be charged as a felony. This means that jail time can be longer, up to several years.

This is especially true if you caused criminal damage or injured someone due to reckless driving.

Suspended License

This is not a surprising consequence of reckless driving. As with other penalties, the length of the suspension will vary depending on the state and the severity of the reckless driving. 

Suspending a license is also one of the most sensible penalties for reckless driving. Stopping someone from driving is an important way of stopping them from offending again. This is especially true if the only other penalty is a fine. 

For some people, a $50 fine will be a huge amount. For others, even thousands of dollars will be an easy amount to pay. A suspended license is a way of ensuring all people have a similar level of penalty for everyone. 

Examples of Reckless Driving

Endangering Others

Although the exact definition of reckless driving varies greatly, the general definition covers any driving that can potentially endanger another person. This can be a person in the car with the driver, a pedestrian, or a driver in another vehicle. 

Endangering others is a key reason for reckless driving being illegal. Potentially causing damage to property is another reason. And you will likely be charged with criminal damage if you damage someone else’s property as the result of your reckless driving. But ultimately, the potential to cause injury to others is the primary reason.

Even if you feel completely in control of your vehicle while weaving in and out of traffic or driving 100mph, that doesn’t mean that you can’t potentially hurt someone.

Driving in a reckless manner is especially dangerous when in a heavily populated area or on a busy road. Most other people will be driving carefully and so will not be expecting you to come flying around the corner. 

Reckless driving is, at its core, a way of driving without regard to the safety of others. This is the primary reason for its illegality. 


As mentioned above, some states have sections within their reckless driving that refer to specific speeds. This is a reasonable and not unexpected inclusion. Especially when you consider specific roads and highways have specific speed limits.

The important thing to remember is that there will be a difference between being fined for speeding and fined for reaching a speed that is considered reckless.

Speeding is itself dangerous and reckless. But if you, for example, go 35mph in a 30mph area, it’s unlikely that you will be charged with reckless driving. But, if you go 90mph in any area, then you will very likely be charged with reckless driving. 

This is because 85mph is the maximum speed limit in the USA. This is already a pretty high speed. So anything faster than this will almost definitely endanger others.


As has already been mentioned, and displayed throughout this article, reckless driving is a very serious offense. Minor examples of reckless driving can be penalized with a fine. But even the most minor examples of reckless driving are incredibly serious.

This is because reckless driving is defined as someone driving in a way that can endanger others. Whether this is through driving erratically, driving at a high speed, or driving a poorly maintained car.

As mentioned above, the illegality of reckless driving is primarily due to the fact that it is an action that willfully endangers the safety and lives of others. There are a huge number of laws regarding driving that are in place to keep people safe. This is the primary reason why reckless driving is a criminal offense.