Many drivers are hazy about what constitutes ‘reckless driving.’ The term, for many, seems to infer that someone has been taking chances while driving and could be unsafe. Reckless driving, in fact, is regarded as a more serious offense than that. It is not simply a traffic offense, like speeding, in many states, but is a criminal offense, punishable, if convicted, by a fine and potential jail time.
Reckless and careless or negligent driving compared
One of the reasons why reckless driving is not regarded so seriously, is that it is often confused with the term ‘careless driving.’ In some states there are two separate offenses, careless driving and reckless driving, whereas in others the term ‘careless driving’ is used colloquially but is not an actual traffic offense, even if there is a reckless driving offense. Basically, the difference between ‘careless’ and ‘reckless’ driving is that reckless driving involves an intention to take risks with the knowledge that it could lead to an accident and endanger people’s lives. A careless driver does not set out deliberately to drive dangerously. In Alaska, the equivalent of careless driving as an infraction rather than a crime is the traffic offense called ‘negligent driving.’
There is quite a gray area between negligent, or careless, driving and reckless driving and it is possible that you could be arrested on a reckless driving charge when realistically your driving was negligent, not reckless. The difference in interpretation may be due to the subjective opinion of a single police officer, yet the penalties are substantially different.
Examples of what could be regarded as reckless driving in Alaska include:
- excessive speeding whatever the conditions;
- road rage;
- ignoring stop signs or traffic lights;
- passing a school bus when school children are getting on or off;
- aggressively tailgating;
- any other kind of ‘wanton disregard’ for traffic rules.
Penalties for reckless driving in Alaska
Reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense and may result in a fine of anything from hundreds of dollars up to a maximum of 1,000 dollars. There may be a jail sentence imposed of up to a year. Convicted drivers will lose their license for three months on the first offense, up to 12 months for a second offense and three years for a further offense.
Drivers will also gain 10 demerit points on their license. If 12 demerit points are gained within a 12 month period or 18 or more demerit points within a 24 month period, then they may lose their license anyway.
A negligent driving charge may also be punished with a fine of up to $300 and 6 demerit points on the license. However, the biggest difference is the fact that it is not regarded as a criminal offense. Having a criminal conviction has long term implications for your job, your career, prospects of promotion, your family and your financial situation. Losing your license for a long time can also be more than just an inconvenience as a license can be an absolute necessity in somewhere like Alaska.
The charge of ‘wet reckless’ in Alaska
In some states, it is possible to plea bargain someone who has been charged with an OUI offense down to what is called a ‘wet reckless’ charge. The penalties are then less than they are for an OUI conviction. Not all states allow plea bargaining of this type, but it is allowed in Alaska.
If you have been charged with reckless driving in Alaska, you are entitled to be defended against an unjustified or incorrect charge, or penalties that are too harsh. A common error is for someone to be charged with reckless driving rather than the lesser offense of negligent driving. Considering the significant difference between the penalties and the fact that a reckless driving conviction is a criminal offense, you are strongly advised to get an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you. In Anchorage, contact the Law Offices of Dattan Scott Dattan at 907-276-8008.