Colorado’s Reckless and Careless Driving Laws and Penalties

Read about Colorado’s reckless and careless driving laws and the consequences of a conviction.

“Reckless driving” is a class 2 traffic misdemeanor in Colorado. A motorist can be convicted of reckless driving for driving a motor vehicle, bike, or scooter with “a wanton or a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The statute uses the term “willful” to refer to conduct that’s intentional or purposeful. And a “wanton” disregard basically means the person understood the conduct was risky but chose to do it anyway. (Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 42-4-1401(1) (2017).)

Reckless Driving Penalties

The consequences of a reckless driving conviction depend on the circumstances. But the possible penalties are:

  • First offense. Motorists convicted of a first reckless driving offense face ten to 90 days in jail and/or $150 to $300 in fines.
  • Repeat offense. For a second of subsequent reckless driving conviction, the motorist is looking at ten days to six months jail time and/or $50 to $1,000 in fines.

A reckless driving conviction will also add eight “points” to the motorist’s driving record and could lead to insurance rate increases and license suspension, depending on how many points the driver already has. (Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 18-1.3-50, 42-2-127, 42-4-1701 (2017).)

Careless Driving

Colorado has another offense called “careless driving.” Careless driving—which is a “lesser included offense” of reckless driving—is defined as driving a vehicle “in a careless and imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances.”

The difference between careless and reckless driving is a matter of degree, and the dividing line isn’t always clear. But generally, “reckless driving” involves operation that’s obviously dangerous whereas “careless driving” is closer to negligence.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 42-4-1402 (2017).) 

Careless Driving Penalties

Generally, a careless driving conviction is a class 2 traffic misdemeanor. The penalties are the same as those for a first reckless driving conviction, except a careless driving conviction adds only four points to the motorist’s driving record. No points are assessed for offenses involving careless operation of a bicycle or electrically assisted bicycle.

Careless driving offenses that involve injuries or death to another person are class 1 traffic misdemeanors. Convicted motorists face ten days to one year in jail and/or $300 to $1,000 in fines.

(Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 42-2-127, 42-4-1402 (2017).)

Reckless Driving and DUI Charges (“Wet Reckless”)

In Colorado, it’s possible for a driver who’s charged with driving under the influence (DUI) to “plea bargain” for a lesser charge. When a DUI is plea bargained down to a reckless driving charge, it’s sometimes called a “wet reckless.”

(Read more about plea bargaining in Colorado DUI cases and the limitations.)

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Generally speaking, sentencing law is complex and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including the severity of the damage at issue, credits for good in-custody behavior, and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to an Attorney

The consequences of a reckless or careless driving conviction in Colorado can be serious. If you’ve been arrested for or charged with reckless driving, get in contact with an experienced defense attorney. A qualified attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on how best to handle your situation.

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