Definition of Reckless Driving
The crime of Reckless Driving is defined under Section 316.192, Florida Statutes. Under the statute, Reckless Driving consists of two factual elements:
- The defendant drove a motor vehicle, and
- The defendant did so with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
- See Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim) 28.5.
Willful or Wanton Conduct Required
The term ‘willful’ means intentionally, knowingly, and purposely. ‘Wanton’ means that the accused drove the vehicle with a conscious and intentional indifference to consequences and with knowledge that damage was likely to be done to persons or property. Fleeing a law enforcement officer in a motor vehicle is reckless driving per se. See Fla. Std. Jury Instr. (Crim) 28.5.
Negligence is Insufficient
As indicated in the statute, neither carelessness nor ordinary negligence in the operation of a vehicle are sufficient to support a conviction for reckless driving. See State v. Lebron, 954 So. 2d 52 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007); D.E. v. State, 904 So. 2d 558 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005).
The defendant’s actions must be knowing and purposeful, or carried out with a conscious and intentional indifference to consequences and while knowing that harm was likely to be done to persons or property. W.E.B. v. State, 553 So.2d 323, 325-26 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989).
Determining whether a defendant’s actions amount to recklessness is a fact intensive, ad hoc inquiry. D.E. v. State, 904 So. 2d 558, 562 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005). The analysis is on the defendant’s actions, the surrounding circumstances, and the foreseeability that death, bodily harm, or property damage could result. Id.
Penalties for Reckless Driving
The penalties available for reckless driving in Florida will depend on the number of prior offenses and the existence of property damage or personal injury.
A first offense in Florida (no bodily injury or property damage) is classified as a second degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 90 days in jail or 6 months of probation, and a $500 fine. A second or subsequent offense for reckless driving is also a second degree misdemeanor, but carries a maximum penalty of up to 6 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Reckless driving penalties increase substantially where there is property damage or bodily injury. If the incident causes property damage or non-serious injury, the offense is defined as a first degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 1 year in jail or 12 months of probation, and a $1,000 fine.
If there is serious bodily injury, Florida law upgrades the offense to a third degree felony, with penalties of up to 5 years in prison or 5 years probation, and a $5,000 fine.
Defenses to Reckless Driving
There are many defenses available to contest a Reckless Driving charge in Florida. Some of the more common defenses include the following:
- Was the accused the actual driver?
- Did the accused drive the vehicle with the requisite degree of culpability (willful or wanton disregard), or did the accused merely act in a careless or negligent manner?
- Was the driving pattern exhibited by the accused intentional, knowing, and purposeful, or were there extenuating circumstances at play?
- Were there persons or property nearby to endanger?
- Are the witnesses relied upon by the prosecution reliable? If a police officer is making the allegations, are the allegations supported by the in-car video (if one is available)?
- Are there other witnesses to contradict the accusations made by the prosecution?
- Is the charge based exclusively on an allegation of excessive speed?
Speed Alone is Insufficient
A conviction for Reckless Driving generally cannot be based on evidence of excessive speed alone. See Luzardo v. State, No. 3D13-1678, October 1, 2014 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014); Hamilton v. State, 439 So. 2d 238 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983). Thus, where testimony at trial merely establishes that a defendant was travelling 60 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour speed zone, and then slammed on his brakes before striking another vehicle, the prosecution fails to establish reckless driving. House v. State, 831 So. 2d 1230 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002).
A conviction will be upheld, however, where speed is coupled with other factors indicating a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others.
Traveling in the middle of the road, driving through a crowded residential area, improper passing, failing to reduce speed prior to impact, disregarding the presence of children, ignoring traffic control devices, failing to look for pedestrians, and consuming intoxicants are all factors, in addition to excessive speed, that may support a reckless driving conviction. See Hamilton v. State, 439 So. 2d 238 (Fla. 2d DCA 1983); State v. Gensler, 929 So.2d 27 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006).
At least two appellate courts in Florida have further suggested that “grossly excessive” speeds may alone be sufficient for a conviction. See Rubinger v. State, 98 So.3d 659, 662 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) (reserving future cases for consideration where speed is ‘grossly excessive’); Luzardo v. State, No. 3D13-1678, October 1, 2014 (Fla. 3d DCA 2014) (stating that a speed of 120 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone might alone be sufficient for Reckless Driving).
Careless Driving or Negligence is Insufficient
Evidence indicating mere careless or negligent driving is insufficient to sustain a reckless driving conviction. McCreary v. State, 371 So.2d 1024 (Fla., 1979). The actions of the defendant must be willful or wanton in nature.
In State v. Del Rio, 854 So. 2d 692 (Fla. 2d DCA 2003), a defendant made a left-hand turn at an intersection and, after completing the turn, failed to see a mother pushing a stroller forty-seven feet in front of his vehicle. The court found insufficient evidence of willfulness or wantonness, and held that the State failed to prove the elements of reckless driving.
In Berube v. State, 6 So. 3d 624 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008), a defendant pulled into an intersection and attempted to make a left-hand turn on red, after his passengers warned that a dump truck was approaching rapidly from the rear. In a panic, the defendant made the illegal turn and caused a fatal car collision. On these facts, the court held that the defendant’s actions did not amount to reckless driving, stating:
What is missing from the State’s proof is evidence that Berube, in an intentional, knowing, and purposeful manner, made an improper left turn with a conscious and intentional indifference to consequences and with knowledge that damage is likely to be done to persons or property. Id. at 626.
Numerous other Florida appellate decisions illustrate the distinction between reckless and careless or negligent driving. See Miller v. State, 636 So. 2d 144 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994) (finding evidence where defendant, who rive 15 to 20 mph above the posted speed limit, had control of his vehicle and slowed as he approached the intersection); W.E.B. v. State, 553 So. 2d 323 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989) (finding evidence of reckless driving insufficient where the defendant had drank alcohol, was speeding, and went off of the road as a result of overcorrecting his turn).
Examples of Reckless Driving
The following cases illustrate the type of conduct that Florida appellate courts have found to constitute Reckless Driving:
- Santisteban v. State, 72 So. 3d 187 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011) (driving a gasoline truck, filled with 9,000 gallons of fuel, at highway speeds around a curving highway ramp, while weaving around other drivers);
- State v. Knight, 622 So. 2d 188 (Fla. 1st DCA 1993) (not possessing a valid driver’s license, driving 65-70 mph in a 35-mph residential area, and operating a damaged vehicle without the consent of the owner;
- Martinez v. State, 692 So. 2d 199 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997) (driving 40 miles per hour over the speed limit, and speeding on a curved section of road while passing another vehicle in a no-passing zone);
- Savoia v. State, 389 So. 2d 294 (Fla. 3d DCA 1980) (driving on a wet road at 90 mph while intoxicated, and slamming into a parked truck with no attempt to apply the brakes);
- State v. Lebron, 954 So. 2d 52 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007) (speeding and attempting to pass a slower-driving vehicle from the right hand lane, in the middle of traffic);
- Lewek v. State, 702 So. 2d 527 (Fla. 4th DCA 1997) (driving with worn down tire tread and a missing lug nut, while speeding and ignoring a yellow and red light);
- Wright v. State, 573 So. 2d 998 (Fla. 1st DCA 1991) (drinking alcohol, exceeding the speed limit by 20 miles per hour, making dangerous pass attempts, and failing to take evasive maneuvers to avoid an impact);
- Byrd v. State, 531 So. 2d 1004 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988) (driving at two times over the speed limit in heavy traffic, and making no attempt to avoid a collision with a stopped car until approximately 6 feet prior to impact.
Contact an Attorney
Reckless driving is a serious criminal charge that can result in jail, fines, higher insurance premiums, and negative effects on your driving and criminal record.
If you have been arrested or cited for Reckless Driving, contact attorney Steven Sessa for a free consultation. Attorney Steven Sessa handles cases throughout Southeast and Central Florida.