Michigan’s Reckless Driving Laws
Read about Michigan’s reckless driving laws and the consequences of a conviction.
In Michigan, a person can be convicted of “reckless driving” for driving a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Generally, the term “willful” refers to conduct that is purposeful or intentional, rather than accidental. And “wanton disregard” basically means the person understood the conduct was risky but decided to do it anyway.
(Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 257.626 (2016); People v. Goecke, 457 Mich. 442 (1998).)
Reckless Driving Penalties
The consequences of a reckless driving conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:
- Standard reckless driving. Generally, reckless driving is a misdemeanor in Michigan. Convicted motorists typically face up to 93 days in jail and/or a maximum $500 fine.
- Reckless driving involving serious injuries. A reckless driving offender who causes “serious impairment of a body function” to another is guilty of a felony. The conviction carries up to five years in prison and/or $1,000 to $5,000 in fines. The judge must also order that the motorist’s vehicle be immobilized for up to 180 days or forfeited altogether.
- Reckless driving involving death. A reckless driving offender who causes death to another person is guilty of a felony. The conviction carries up to 15 years in prison and/or $2,500 to $10,000 in fines. The judge must also order that the motorist’s vehicle be immobilized for up to 180 days or forfeited altogether.
A reckless driving conviction also results in a 90-day license suspension and six points going on the motorist’s driving record—likely meaning increased insurance rate.
(Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. §§ 257.319(3), 257.320a, 257.625n(1), 257.626, 257.904d(1)(a) (2016).)
Michigan has another offense called “careless driving.” The offense is defined as driving “in a careless or negligent manner likely to endanger any person or property, but without wantonness or recklessness.” (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 257.626b (2016).)
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” tends to cover less conspicuous instances of bad driving.
Unlike reckless driving, careless driving isn’t a crime—it’s a civil infraction. Motorists who are convicted of careless driving face a fine and three points on their driving record. (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 257.320a.)
Reckless Driving and OWI Charges (“Wet Reckless”)
In Michigan, it’s possible for a driver who’s charged with operating while intoxicated (OWI) 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.”
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 driving conviction in Michigan can be serious, especially when the offense involved injuries. 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.