"Reckless" is a term that different people would define differently. If you witness reckless driving that you believe presents a danger to the public or creates a risk to life or limb, call 911.
Reckless Driving Defined
Should you report reckless driving to the police? The stock response by police departments around the country is yes, call 911 to report reckless driving. But this response is usually qualified by a phrase like "but only call if you feel it's a truly dangerous situation."
By some definitions, driving that is reckless is always dangerous and always presents a potential danger to human life. Cornell Law School defines the term "reckless" as meaning "behavior that is so careless that it is considered an extreme departure from the care a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances." Black's Law Dictionary says that it implies an indifference to the welfare of other people. When you act with reckless disregard, according to Webster's New World Law Dictionary, you proceed to do something with a conscious awareness of danger while ignoring any potential consequences.
But obviously you can't call 911 every time the driver next to you at a red light starts texting. Where to draw the line?
Read More: How Long Does Reckless Driving Stay on Your Record?
Examples of Dangerous Reckless Driving
Various websites offer examples of when to call 911 and when not to. The Alaska Highway Patrol, for example, says you should call 911 if you see signs of dangerous driving like:
- weaving in and out of lanes
- driving with windows rolled down in cold weather
- passing on curves and double yellow lines
- straddling the center line
- making wide or high speed turns out of assigned lanes
- driving so slowly as to impede other traffic under current conditions, and
Road and Track website lists:
- excessive speeding
- weaving in and out of traffic
- following too closely or tailgating
- passing on the right
- accelerating and braking suddenly
- disobeying traffic signs
- road rage
- distracted driving
In short, you'll have to use your own discretion. It's a little like Supreme Court Justice Stewart's definition of pornography: "I know it when I see it."
Report reckless driving to 911 if you feel that it puts other drivers and pedestrians in danger. If possible, get the color, make and license plate number of the vehicle, as well as the place, time and direction the car was heading.
How to Report Erratic Driving
If you don't feel that someone's bad driving behavior represents a danger to others, you can still report it. Call the police non-emergency number and give them the information.
Or report it to a national database at a website like ReportDangerousDrivers.com. That website collects and files incident reports from people who give anonymous reports including license plate numbers and descriptions of reckless drivers..
- Cornell University Law School: Reckless
- Black's Law Dictionary: Reckless
- Your Dictionary: Reckless Disregard
- Alaska Department of Transportation: Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately (REDDI)
- Consumer Reports: Should I call 911 to report a reckless driver?
- Spivey Law Firm: How to Recognize and Report Reckless Driving
- Have a passenger call the police station to report reckless or pull over to do it yourself as it is illegal in many states to use a cell phone when driving.
- Never try to pursue the vehicle or confront the driver of the vehicle. Get as much of the plate number and vehicle detail as possible without putting yourself or others in danger.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.