California law states that reckless driving occurs when a driver operates their vehicle on a highway with an intentional disregard for the safety and property of others. Reckless drivers in Northern California and throughout the state face hefty fines, jail time, and other consequences for their actions. Reckless driving is criminal behavior, not just a simple moving violation. Convicted reckless drivers have a misdemeanor on their record.
Law enforcement issues hundreds of citations each day throughout Redding, Chico, Eureka, and other areas of Northern California, some of which are reckless driving tickets. Although the local police or California Highway Patrol (CHP) might issue a reckless driving citation by itself, reckless drivers typically receive multiple tickets at once.
A reckless driving citation might accompany a speeding ticket, a DUI, or an inattentive driving ticket, especially if the driver caused an accident that led to property damage, bodily harm, or death.
If you have suffered injuries in a reckless driving accident in Northern California, consult with an experienced accident injury lawyer as soon as possible to determine your eligibility to recover damages for your injuries and losses.
Until you have the chance to meet with a lawyer, the following introductory information will give you a better understanding of the consequences of reckless driving, recovering compensation for your injuries, and how to preserve the value of your reckless driving accident claim.
Several Driving Behaviors Fall Under the Umbrella of Reckless Driving
California law does not explicitly state which driving behaviors qualify as reckless driving. Instead, law enforcement has the discretion to choose when they issue a reckless driving citation.
Examples of behaviors that commonly lead to a reckless driving citation and sometimes accidents include:
- Excessively speeding or driving too fast for road, weather, or traffic conditions
- Driving through restricted areas blocked for road construction or other reasons
- Swerving into oncoming traffic or crossing the centerline
- Swerving into other lanes on multilane highways
- Violating one or more traffic laws while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Drag racing
If a reckless driver caused you bodily harm, it’s likely they also received a citation from law enforcement. Taking legal action to recover damages refers to filing a civil lawsuit against the reckless driver. This lawsuit is independent of any criminal proceedings associated with the reckless driver’s citation.
California Reckless Drivers Face Jail Time and Fines
If reckless drivers avoid a collision, they might avoid severe penalties if law enforcement fails to pull them over. However, reckless drivers who cause an accident typically receive one or more citations, especially if anyone suffers fatal or severe injuries.
In California, a reckless driving conviction is a criminal misdemeanor that stays on a driver’s permanent record. The fines, jail time, and drivers’ license penalties vary based on the circumstances. Penalties are typically higher when a driver has a previous reckless driving conviction or other criminal traffic violations.
Fines for Reckless Driving in California
First-time reckless driving offenders face a minimum fine of $145 if convicted, as long as they did not cause an accident. If a reckless driver causes bodily injury, they must pay a minimum $220 fine. In either situation, convicted reckless drivers can face a $1,000 fine.
Jail Time for Reckless Driving in California
A reckless driving conviction in California without bodily harm to others carries a minimum of five days but not more than 90 days in jail. A reckless driving conviction that led to bodily harm to someone other than the driver carries a minimum jail sentence of 30 days, but not more than six months.
Drivers License Penalties for California Reckless Drivers
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has a point system for driver’s licenses called the Negligent Operator Treatment System (NOTS). Anytime law enforcement finds a driver responsible for a collision, the driver could receive up to three points against their license. It’s common for reckless drivers to receive two points against their license if convicted. Reckless drivers face license suspension if they accumulate four points in 12 months, six in 24 months, or eight in 36 months. At lower point levels, drivers receive warning letters and a notice of the intention to suspend when they are within one point of the suspension threshold.
Reckless Drivers Have Varied Motivations
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) dedicates ample time and resources to studying reckless driving because it leads to severe and fatal accidents. The NHTSA refers to reckless driving as aggressive driving and defines it as the operation of a motor vehicle that jeopardizes the safety of others who share the road, including other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
NHTSA research has not led to specific causes of reckless driving, but one of their major studies has revealed that reckless drivers share common motivations. The study involved talking to police officers throughout the nation and showed that drivers make poor choices behind the wheel because of one or more of the following motivations:
#1. Traffic Congestion
Northern California is not as famous for its heavy traffic as Los Angeles and San Diego, but drivers still face traffic congestion, especially during rush hour. Heavy traffic causes delays that sometimes motivate drivers to speed, weave through traffic, and engage in other dangerous driving behaviors to get around traffic and make up for the lost time. Bad weather, traffic accidents, road work, and funeral processions can worsen traffic congestion on the interstate and close to cities.
#2. Running Behind/Rushed
Many people have full, busy lives that require them to balance the demands of work, family, and other obligations. People feel pressure to be on time when running from one appointment or obligation to the other. Drivers who feel rushed or are running behind sometimes make poor choices behind the wheel that can lead to a reckless driving accident.
Drivers might have work meetings, medical appointments, and other places to be. Parents also run behind when driving kids to and from school and extracurricular activities. Some people run errands during lunch and rush to return to their job on time. Rushed drivers often sacrifice safe driving for the chance to save time.
#3. Feelings of Anonymity
Drivers in the vehicle alone often have feelings of anonymity that contribute to reckless driving. If they feel anonymous and do not have an attachment to others on the road, they do not worry about reckless driving behaviors. They do not feel the pressure to conform to the social norms of safe driving because they know it’s doubtful they will ever see the people on the road with them again. All drivers have feelings of anonymity but don’t all make poor choices, such as excessive speed, tailgating, or other dangerous maneuvers that put other drivers at risk of accident and injury.
#4. Habitual Offenders
NHTSA research reveals that once a driver operates recklessly, they will likely do so again. The NHTSA admits that motorists occasionally speed or engage in other reckless driving behaviors. However, most reckless drivers are repeat offenders. Habitual aggressive drivers often struggle with mental health or other underlying pathological challenges. Habitual offenders who face heavy traffic, feel rushed, or feel anonymous are far more likely to engage in reckless driving and potentially cause a severe accident.
Seeking Compensation After a Reckless Driving Accident in Northern California
If you suffered injuries in a traffic accident caused by a reckless driver, California law permits you to seek compensation for losses related to your injuries. With the help of an experienced personal injury attorney, you can bring a lawsuit against the reckless driver to recover damages. Each case is different, so the amount and type of damages you might receive will vary greatly. Examples of damages that reckless driving accident victims sometimes recover include:
#1. Medical Treatment
After a severe reckless driving accident, the immense costs of medical treatment begin with an ambulance service to the nearest hospital following your accident. Doctors need to check accident victims for injuries, requiring x-rays, lab tests, and other costly diagnostic tests. Some victims may need surgery. Depending on the extent of the injuries, some injured victims must remain hospitalized for weeks or months. Other medical treatment costs include doctor visits and transportation costs to and from the hospital or doctor. Some victims receive compensation for around-the-clock care in long-term nursing facilities when an accident leads to severe and permanent injuries.
#2. Lost Wages
After a severe reckless driving accident, many victims must take time away from work for hospitalization and rehabilitation. This financial loss impacts the victim’s entire household, especially if they heavily contribute to its income. Medical expenses combined with lost wages create a massive financial burden for some families, forcing them to max out their credit cards and spend any savings.
Even worse, some families face bankruptcy, foreclosure, and vehicle repossession. Reckless driving lawsuits compensate victims for lost wages, but those who suffer permanent injuries sometimes receive compensation for future lost wages because they cannot return to work.
#3. Pain and Suffering
Reckless driving accident victims face physical and emotional pain and suffering because of the accident and their injuries. Victims often receive compensation for their pain and suffering, but the amounts vary by specific circumstance.
As a general rule, those involved in the most severe accidents and who suffer the most severe injuries receive the most compensation. Similarly, those who suffer permanent injuries face more physical and emotional pain than those who make a complete recovery.
#4. Other Damages
Less common damages include modifying homes to make them more accessible. These changes might include building a wheelchair ramp or installing an accessible shower/tub in the bathroom. Additionally, some victims suffer from a diminished quality of life, scarring, disfigurement, or loss of consortium with their spouse. You may include all of these losses in an injury claim.
#5. Punitive Damages
California allows victims of negligence to seek punitive damages in a lawsuit in rare situations. Only cases involving willful harm or wanton disregard for safety result in punitive damages. Reckless drivers disregard safety. That doesn’t guarantee punitive damages, but you might have grounds to ask for them. An experienced lawyer can review your case and advise whether your case may qualify for punitive damages.
Preserving Your California Reckless Driving Claim
Whether you are involved in a reckless driving accident in the future or recently suffered injuries in a Northern California reckless driving accident, you need to take steps to preserve the value of your claim.
The following guidelines will help you and your attorney build the strongest case against the reckless driver and ensure you have the best chance of recovering maximum compensation for your injuries.
- Immediately go to the doctor. You need medical documentation of your injuries to support your insurance claim or lawsuit. This evidence makes it difficult for the other side to claim you had preexisting injuries or argue the accident did not lead to your injuries.
- Gather contact information. If you can, physically get the contact information of the reckless driver who harmed you. However, do not put yourself in danger. Some reckless drivers can be angry or belligerent. If safe, get the driver’s name, phone, and the make and model of the vehicle. You should also collect contact information from any eyewitnesses.
- Take photos. Use your cell phone to take pictures of the accident scene, property damage, and injuries. Also, take pictures of the reckless driver’s license plates if they try to leave the accident scene.
Contact an accident injury lawyer. An experienced lawyer can help you with your insurance claim or file a lawsuit on your behalf to recover damages related to your injuries. Contact a car accident attorney and let them do the heavy lifting to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.