The definition of reckless driving varies among states. Typically, a state classifies a reckless driving charge as a misdemeanor, a criminal offense with a penalty of less than one year of jail time. A reckless driving charge will be added to a person’s criminal record, as well as to their driving record.
Statutory Definition of Reckless Driving
California Vehicle Code Section 23103 defines reckless driving as driving a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. One example of driving in such a manner would be to drive a motor vehicle in gross excess of the posted speed limit, particularly on dangerous roads, in bad weather or under adverse conditions, such as when a slick substance has been spilled on the road. The statute further provides that a person who drives a vehicle in an off-street parking facility like a parking garage in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.
Other states use similar language to define reckless driving. Wyoming Statutes Section 31-5-229 defines reckless driving as driving a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
Nevada Revised Statutes Section 484B.653 defines reckless driving as driving a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property on a highway or premises to which the public has access. Nevada also categorizes driving a vehicle in an unauthorized speed contest on a highway or premises to which the public has access as reckless driving. Further, Nevada defines driving a vehicle in an unauthorized trick driving display on a public highway as reckless driving.
Penalties for Reckless Driving
Reckless driving in California is punishable by imprisonment of a period between five and 90 days and a fine between $145 and $1,000. The court may suspend the driver's license of an individual who is convicted of reckless driving for up to 30 days for a first conviction, up to 60 days for a second conviction and up to six months for a third or subsequent conviction. The exception to the court’s discretion regarding a license suspension is that the California Vehicle Code may sometimes mandate a revocation rather than a suspension.
Reckless driving in Wyoming is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine up to $750. The court may suspend the driver's license of an individual convicted of reckless driving for up to 90 days for a first conviction, within five years of any prior incident; six months for a second conviction; and one year for a third or subsequent conviction. Reckless driving in Nevada is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine between $250 and $1,000 for a first offense; up to six months in jail and a fine between $1,000 and $1,500 for a second offense; and up to six months in jail and a fine between $1,500 and $2,000 for a third or subsequent offense.
Nevada Demerit Point System for Traffic Violations
The way that Nevada causes an individual to suffer a driver's license suspension for reckless driving is a bit unique. Nevada operates a demerit point system for certain criminal convictions. Reckless driving counts for eight demerit points. An individual can lose their driver's license for one year if they accumulate 12 or more demerit points against their license in a 12-month period.
Typically a reckless driving conviction can cause the individual to suffer a driver's license suspension of between six months and two years. The length of a driver's license suspension depends on the number of prior convictions for this offense and the period in which the person committed them.
Dry Reckless Vs. Wet Reckless
Some states, including California, categorize a reckless driving charge as a “dry reckless” or a “wet reckless.” A dry reckless charge is typically for a person whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was under 0.08 percent at the time of the incident. A person may be eligible for a dry reckless charge if they have no prior wet reckless charges or prior charges for driving under the influence (DUI). A state will consider a prior out-of-state reckless driving charge as a prior “wet reckless” if the charge involves driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, and the person was driving with a BAC of 0.08 percent or above.
A person gets a wet reckless charge if they were charged with DUI, but they plead guilty or no contest as part of the plea agreement. A wet reckless charge carries a note on the person’s criminal record that the offense involved alcohol and/or drug use. A wet reckless charge can be considered a prior offense for an increased penalty for a later DUI charge. A dry reckless charge cannot be considered a prior offense.
If a person is convicted of a DUI, and the offense occurred within 10 years of a separate violation of a wet reckless that resulted in a conviction, that person will be punished by between 90 days to one year in jail and a fine between $390 and $1,000. The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will suspend the person’s driving privilege, and the court will require the person to surrender their driver’s license to the court.
Deferred Judgment and Reckless Driving Cases
Deferred prosecution is also known as deferred adjudication or deferred judgment. It involves pleading to a criminal charge such as careless driving and being required to complete tasks such as substance abuse treatment, community service hours, payment to the court and not getting a new charge for a set period of time. A person can violate a deferred judgment agreement by testing positive for drugs or alcohol.
If they complete a deferred judgment successfully, they may have their charge dismissed and their record sealed. A person is more likely to be offered a deferred judgment for a reckless driving charge if they are being charged with a dry reckless and have no criminal record.
Reinstating a Driver’s License
In California, after a person has had their driver’s license suspended or revoked for reckless driving, they cannot drive again until the suspension or revocation is lifted. They must also take the appropriate steps to reinstate their license. A person convicted of reckless driving will see their driver’s license returned to them at the end of the suspension after they pay a $125 reissue fee to the California DMV and file form SR-22 for proof of financial responsibility.
Wyoming and Nevada also require that a person pay the appropriate reinstatement fee and file form SR-22. Wyoming's fee for reinstatement is $50, while Nevada's fee for reinstatement for a non-DUI offense is $75.
Getting a Restricted License
For long periods of license suspension, a person may be able to get a restricted license that allows them to drive to a limited number of places. A restricted license typically allows an individual to attend a substance abuse treatment program, go to work and to school. They will still need to serve a specific mandatory period of license suspension. In California, a person who qualifies for a restricted license must pay a $125 reissue fee for the restricted license.
In Wyoming, the correct term for a license for a person who has their driver's license suspended or revoked is a probationary license. A hardship license or restricted license is a different type of license for teenagers. Wyoming's initial fee for a record review to see if a person is eligible for a probationary license is $15; if they are approved, there is an additional issuance fee of $55.
The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles uses the term restricted license. Nevada requires the payment of reinstatement fee of $75 to get a restricted license. A person is not eligible to get a restricted license in Nevada if they have certain driving record convictions within the past five years or a third demerit point suspension within the past five years.
Reckless Driving and Background Checks
A reckless driving charge is a criminal offense that shows up on a criminal background check. A person may be able to expunge a reckless driving conviction under certain circumstances. To expunge a misdemeanor conviction, a person must have no new cases pending and not be on probation or parole in any case.
A person who is still on probation must ask for early termination. There is no statewide form for this request, and defendant may write their own request and file it with the court. The court may grant the petition to dismiss a conviction for a person who has satisfied the terms and conditions of their probation or was granted early termination of probation.
An individual may attach supporting documents to their petition to convince the court that granting their petition to dismiss the conviction would be in the interests of justice. A person who was not granted probation in the case must wait at least one year from the date of conviction to file the petition. When the court grants a petition to dismiss the conviction, this does not automatically reinstate the person’s driving privileges or driver’s license. The person must pay the reinstatement fee and follow all appropriate steps with the California DMV to reinstate their license.
- California Vehicle Code: Section 23103, Driving Offenses
- California Vehicle Code: Section 23152, Offenses Involving Alcohol and Drugs
- California Vehicle Code: Section 13200, Suspension or Revocation by Court
- Superior Court of California, Alameda County: General Information on Suspended Drivers License
- California Vehicle Code: Section 23540, Penalties for a Violation of Section 23152
- California Courts: Clean Your Record
- California Courts: Record Cleaning, Misdemeanors
- Wyoming Statutes: Section 31-5-229, Reckless Driving
- Nevada Revised Statutes: Section 484B.653, Reckless Driving
- Wyoming Statutes: Title 6, Crimes and Offenses
- Wyoming Department of Transportation: Driver License Manual 2021
- Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles: Demerit Point System
- Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles: License Suspensions & Revocations
- Wyoming Department of Transportation: Reinstatement
- Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles: Driver License & ID Card Fees
- Wyoming Department of Transportation: Probationary Licenses
- Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles: Restricted License Information
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.