Reckless Driving

California Reckless Driving Laws

Reckless driving in California is defined by the Vehicle Code, Division 11: Rules of the Road, Chapter 12: Public Offenses, Article 1: Driving Offenses, Section 23103. California Vehicle Code defines reckless driving as the following:

(a)  A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

(b)  A person who drives a vehicle in an offstreet parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

(c) Except as otherwise provided in Section 40008, persons convicted of the offense of reckless driving shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days nor more than 90 days or by a fine of not less than one hundred forty-five dollars ($145) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 23104 or 23105.

Reckless driving penalties

Reckless driving is a much more serious offense than a simple speeding ticket. Under the Vehicle Code 23103 quoted above, you can be charged with a misdemeanor (goes into your permanent record and shows up on background checks). In addition, you can also face anywhere from 5 to 90 days in county jail, and/or a $145 to $1,000 fine.

These penalties can increase in case you have a previous similar conviction on your record. You will also get two points on your driver’s license, potentially increasing your car insurance rates.

Reckless driving charge can even increase to a felony assault with a deadly weapon (in this case, vehicle) in cases of potential serious bodily harm.

Proving reckless driving

To make your reckless driving charge stick, a prosecutor must prove you intentionally drove with a “wanton disregard for safety” of persons or property. Even if you do not intend to cause damage, if you are aware your actions present a substantial or unjustifiable risk of harm and you intentionally ignore that risk, that could constitute as a willful disregard for safety.

How to avoid reckless driving charges

In order to be charged with reckless driving, the prosecution must prove your intent as detailed above. There are some situations that may get you out of a reckless driving charge, for example in case of an emergency. It’s recommended to contact an experienced California lawyer for this.

Speeding by itself does not count as driving with a wanton disregard for safety. Speeding is considered an infraction as opposed to reckless driving which is a misdemeanor. We highly recommend contacting a competent attorney to learn if you can get your charges brought down to speeding.

Related charges

In addition to reckless driving and depending on the circumstances, you may face additional charges against you, including:

Each charge can carry additional penalties which can amount to significant fees and jail time.

This article about California Reckless Driving Laws was last updated in 2024. If any of our information is incomplete or outdated please let us know. Thank you!