How Long Does Reckless Driving Stay on Your Record?

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As if gig hunting isn't stressful enough, prepare for the possibility that employers could conduct a motor vehicle record check after conditionally offering you a job. Reckless driving is legally considered a major moving traffic violation. For many companies, potential employees are deemed unacceptable if that record shows a reckless driving charge within the past 24 months. And that's to say nothing of the effects of the words "reckless driving" on your auto insurance policy (hint: they are not fun effects). In any case, it pays to know how clean your record is, what's on it, how long that reckless driving charge might linger, and perhaps most important, what you can do about it.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Rules vary by state laws, but generally, a reckless driving charge can stay on your record for up to 11 years or, in some cases, until you successfully petition for its removal.

What Is Reckless Driving?

When you get a citation for a traffic offense, it's because you're in violation of the rules of the road and, more often than not, the violation is considered an infraction worthy of a ticket and an associated fine. Reckless driving, however, ramps those charges up quite a bit. It's the offense of driving with a willful, deliberate or wanton disregard for safety or consequences while operating a motor vehicle. Willful is the key word here; reckless driving typically involves knowing that you are putting people or property at risk. While minor traffic offenses don't usually cause property damage or accidents, those factors often serve as a threshold for defining what is or isn't reckless driving in the eyes of the law. In some states, the violation is known as dangerous driving, driving to endanger or negligent driving.

While many minor traffic offenses, from speeding tickets to busted side mirrors, are cited as infractions, reckless driving is commonly charged as a misdemeanor. The legal system determines whether or not someone is guilty of reckless driving, and a variety of factors come in to play. The court will often consider variables like weather conditions, the time of day, the presence or vicinity of other people and whether or not the driver's actions were more than just plain negligence.

You've probably heard the average person use the terms interchangeably, but reckless driving and reckless endangerment are not actually the same thing. As a general rule, the charge of reckless endangerment casts a wider net. It does not have to be associated with a vehicle at all – it's simply defined as the intentional disregard of the safety of another person. Reckless endangerment may include consciously disregarding safety rules at a construction or job site, leaving children unattended in such a way as to put them in bodily danger or exercising intentional, patient-endangering malpractice at a hospital, just to name a few examples. Although the nature of the offenses often differs, reckless driving charges may overlap with reckless endangerment charges.

Examples of Reckless Driving

The legal definition of reckless driving naturally varies by state laws in effect across the country, but in some states, certain offenses are automatically considered reckless driving. These may include, but aren't limited to, violations such as:

  • Driving 25 mph or more over the posted speed limit.
  • Racing or engaging in speed contests with another vehicle.
  • Intentionally evading a police officer with your vehicle.
  • Passing another vehicle without full visibility of oncoming traffic on a two-lane highway.

Other actions that may qualify as reckless driving, depending on the circumstances, but that aren't always automatically dubbed as such are:

  • Tailgating.
  • Passing another car improperly (such as passing on a curve or passing in the opposing lane).
  • Weaving through traffic.
  • Willfully driving a vehicle with bad brakes or other knowingly dangerous mechanical faults.
  • Texting while driving.
  • Committing a hit-and-run traffic accident.
  • Refusal to submit to a breath test when arrested on suspicion of impaired driving.

Legally, reckless driving can occur on freeways, public roads, parking spaces, driveways and even on private property. Many states also have a milder form of a DUI conviction known as "wet" reckless driving, which is legal slang for a reckless driving charge that involves alcohol. Similarly, it's not uncommon for difficult-to-prove drunk driving charges to be commuted into reckless driving charges, as the latter requires less proof in court.

Reckless Driving and Your Record

Most states in the U.S. use a points system for traffic offenses. Under this type of demerit system, your local department of motor vehicles, secretary of state or similar licensing agency assigns a certain number of points to various traffic violations and convictions, keeps track of how many points are on your driving record and issues disciplinary measures to drivers who have accrued a certain number of points. If you haven't guessed it by now, reckless driving can absolutely add points to your driver's record. These charges will appear on background checks if they are considered a misdemeanor or worse.

While the specifics vary by state, reckless driving charges often result in high point values, though wet reckless driving charges are normally less damaging to your record than DUI charges. Points commonly range in value from 1 to about 6, with reckless driving often on the 4-plus end of the scale, sometimes even netting the full, dreaded 6-point value. Points can increase further if the reckless driver is under 18 years of age or holds a commercial driver's license.

Customarily, these demerit points – whether doled out for reckless driving or other charges – will stay on your record until a predefined period of time has passed. In some states, however, certain severe reckless driving charges can stay on your record permanently.

While the length of time that a reckless driving conviction may stay on your record varies by state, expect it to be on the high end of the spectrum. To provide a little context, in the state of Virginia, drivers below the legal drinking age who get busted for drinking and driving live with that conviction on their record for three years, and those who exceed the speed limit by 20 mph or more have that on their record for five years. Moving way on up the scale, if you get convicted of reckless driving in Virginia, you bear the mark on your record for 11 full years. In most states, however, the maximum amount of time an offense can remain on your driving record is 10 years.

To widen the scope even further, let's look at driving records in California. According to DUI and DWI attorney Darryl Wayne Genis of San Luis Opispo, via Avvo: "A reckless driving conviction can be either a nonalcohol related, or dry reckless, which would stay on your driving record as 2 points for three years, or it could be an alcohol-related, or wet reckless, in which case the points will stay on your record for three years. But the offense will stay on your record as a chargeable prior alcohol conviction for 10 years (and that length of time could be changed to a longer time without your consent by a change in law, as has happened several times in the past."

To add a little uniformity to the points system, it's common for offenses to remain on your driving record for specific three, five, seven or 10-year periods; expect the longer term for serious reckless driving crimes. If you're hit with a criminal reckless driving charge, it'll take up permanent residence on your record.

Driving Record Expungement

It may be a funny word that sounds a bit like a dangerous mold in your bathroom, but expungement can be your driving record's best friend. In some states, a driving record will automatically be expunged at certain intervals, meaning that entries from offenses and the associated points will be removed. For instance, if your license has never been revoked or suspended for safety reasons, your record may be expunged after three years; if your license has been suspended just once, it may be expunged after five years; if your license was revoked, and you have multiple safety offenses, it may be expunged after 10 years. This is an automatic process.

In some cases, though, you won't be eligible for expungement. Fatal accidents and driving under the influence – both of which can overlap with reckless driving charges – are common examples of no-gos when it comes to expunging your record. Likewise, licenses with active or pending suspensions or revocations are not eligible for expungement, nor are people with pending criminal proceedings. To manually petition for a change on your driver's record due to an error, contact the adjudication division or expungement unit of your local department of motor vehicles, department of transportation or equivalent administration.

Some states also offer options for reducing the number of points on your driver's record in exchange for completing certain disciplinary measures or just plain good behavior. These measures may include completing a driving improvement or traffic safety course, successfully avoiding putting any more points on your record during a pre-defined period of time or even simply paying your citation's fine on or before the due date. Getting your driver's license reinstated after having it suspended can also act as a sort of reset button for points.

Other Consequences of Reckless Driving

The consequences of reckless driving don't end at points on a license or charges hanging out on your driving record for years at a time. Depending on the state and the specific charge, reckless driving may be classified as a misdemeanor traffic offense or a misdemeanor criminal offense. In some states, reckless driving is known as a "wobbler," which means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. Oftentimes, the charge is escalated to a felony when it causes the injury or death of another person. Additionally, the violation may overlap with other charges for the same incident, for example, driving under the influence.

If you've been charged with reckless driving, chances are you're in some pretty serious legal hot water. Common punishments for the charge include hefty fines, the loss of your driving privileges or even incarceration. Alternatively, you may face probation or fines of up to $10,000, depending on your state's laws. Reckless driving can also result in having your vehicle impounded.

In California, for instance, misdemeanor reckless driving charges are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000, with five days in jail and a $500 fine representing the low end of misdemeanor penalties. When the driver's reckless act causes injury to others, the punishment increases to county jail time ranging from 30 days to six months and/or fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. When compared to a DUI, though, wet reckless driving penalties are typically less severe.

On top of legal consequences, having a reckless driving charge on your record normally leads to increases in your car insurance premiums.

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About the Author

As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.