Some criminal violations have complicated names that make an ordinary person scratch their head. But the offense of "reckless" driving is not one of them. It always involves some type of conduct behind the wheel of a motor vehicle that fits into that state's definition of reckless – driving that doesn't take into account the potential harm to others that may result. Each state defines reckless driving offenses somewhat differently. Indiana offers very precise descriptions of infractions that can get a driver a reckless driving conviction.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Reckless driving in Indiana includes any of the reckless actions set out in the statutes, including driving too fast, driving too slowly, passing in an unsafe manner and not stopping when students are getting on or off a school bus.
What Is Reckless Driving?
Each person likely has their own definition of reckless driving. It might include any action that seems dangerous, any type of driving conduct that puts the driver, their passengers or other people at risk of harm. But that blanket condemnation of dangerous driving conduct is not used in all states' criminal laws. Rather, some states enumerate the specific conduct that can be prosecuted as a reckless driving charge in that state.
Indiana is one of the states that provides a list of specific reckless actions. These are thought to happen only when a driver has no regard for the safety of other drivers or the property of others. Indiana's reckless driving conduct list includes when a driver:
- Drives too fast on Indiana roads.
- Drives too slowly on Indiana roads.
- Causes their vehicle to pass another vehicle in an unsafe manner.
- Weaves their vehicle in and out of a line of traffic.
- Fails to stop their vehicle when a school bus driver has extended the arm signal device that tells drivers a student is exiting or entering the bus.
Generally, an act is considered to have been done recklessly if the driver knew or should have known that the conduct is risky but decides to do it anyway.
Driving at Reckless Speeds
The different iterations of potential reckless driving conduct are set out in Indiana Code 9-21-8-52. Section 52(a) provides that it is a reckless offense if a driver "operates a vehicle and recklessly drives at such an unreasonably high rate of speed or at such an unreasonably low rate of speed under the circumstances as to endanger the safety or the property of others or block the proper flow of traffic."
There is no specific velocity given for unreasonably high or unreasonably low rates of speed. In order to be charged, the driver must have driven so fast as to put others or their property in danger or so slowly that they block traffic flow. A police officer uses discretion to stop very fast and very slow drivers and issue traffic violation tickets for reckless driving.
Passing Other Vehicles Recklessly
Indiana also recognizes several ways that a driver may commit reckless driving when attempting to pass another vehicle or when another vehicle is attempting to pass them. First, Indiana law makes it illegal for a driver to attempt to pass another vehicle if they cannot see at least 500 feet ahead. The code specifies that this can include passing on a curve or along a slope.
It can also be reckless driving when a driver tries to prevent another vehicle from passing. That is, if the driver speeds up their vehicle to prevent someone from passing or blocks the driver from passing by refusing to yield half of the roadway to the overtaking vehicle, it constitutes reckless driving.
Failure to Stop for School Bus
In most states, drivers are obligated to stop behind a school bus when the bus driver extends the arm signal device. This signal is used to indicate that children are getting on or off the bus. Other vehicles are obligated to stop to protect the children who are running across the road to board the bus or who are getting off and crossing the road toward their homes. In Indiana, failure to stop in this situation can result in a charge of reckless driving.
Reckless Driving Penalties
The severity of the penalties in Indiana for reckless driving depend on whether the conduct injured another person or property. When reckless driving does not cause personal injury or property damage, the conduct is generally a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail. However, passing a school bus recklessly is a class B misdemeanor, and convicted drivers can be fined up to $1,000 and face six months in jail.
If the reckless driving conduct resulted in property damage, it is a class B misdemeanor, with a possible jail term of 180 days and up to $1,000 in fines. In addition, the judge can suspend the person's driving license for up to a year. If the reckless driving causes bodily injury to another person, the reckless driving is a class A misdemeanor.
The consequences of a conviction include up to one year in jail or on probation, a maximum $5,000 in fines, and a driver's license suspension of no more than one year. The probation period can be up to two years if abuse of drugs, alcohol or other substances contributed to the offense.
Aggressive Driving in the State of Indiana
In some states, aggressive driving and reckless driving are the same thing. Any driver shown to have engaged in aggressive conduct can be prosecuted under reckless driving laws. This is not the case in Indiana, where aggressive driving has its own criminal code section and is punished more harshly than reckless driving. Aggressive driving in Indiana is a Class A misdemeanor and can be punished by up to one year of jail time and a $5,000 fine.
The statute provides a list of aggressive driving conduct. In order to be charged with aggressive driving, a driver must have committed at least three of these behaviors in one driving event:
- Following a vehicle too closely.
- Operating a vehicle unsafely.
- Overtaking another vehicle on the right side by driving off the roadway.
- Stopping or slowing a vehicle unsafely.
- Sounding the horn unnecessarily.
- Failing to yield.
- Failing to obey a traffic control device.
- Driving at an unsafe speed.
- Flashing the vehicle’s headlights repeatedly.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. 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 M.A. and an M.F.A in creative 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.