Montana’s Reckless and Careless Driving Laws and Penalties

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

In Montana, “reckless driving” is a crime. The offense is defined as driving “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The term “willful” refers to conduct that is intentional or purposeful. And “wanton” generally means the person understood but disregarded the consequences of the conduct.

(Mont. Code Ann. §§ 61-8-301(1), 61-8-711 (2017).)

Reckless Driving Penalties

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor in Montana. The possible penalties of a conviction are:

  • First offense. A first reckless driving conviction carries up to 90 days in jail and/or $25 to $300 in fines.
  • Repeat offense. For a second or subsequent reckless driving violation, the motorist is looking at ten days to six months in jail and/or $50 to $500 in fines. And for a third conviction within a 12-month period, there’s a one-year license suspension.
  • Offenses involving death or injuries. A reckless driving offender who causes death or “serious bodily injury” to another person faces up to a year in jail and/or a maximum $10,000 in fines.

A reckless driving conviction will add five points to the motorist’s driving record. Accumulating 15 or more points within a 36-month period can lead to license suspension.

(Mont. Code Ann. §§ 61-5-205, 61-8-711, 61-8-715 (2017); Mont. Admin. R. 23.3.202 (2017).)

Careless Driving

Montana has another law that prohibits “careless driving.” The law requires all motorists to drive “in a careful and prudent manner that does not unduly or unreasonably endanger the life, limb, property, or other rights of a person.”

The difference between reckless and careless driving might be subtle in some cases. But generally, the distinction has to do with the driver’s level of culpability. Unlike with reckless driving—which requires proof that the driver intentionally or knowingly did something risky behind the wheel—a motorist can be convicted of careless driving without realizing the dangerousness of the driving.

Careless driving is a misdemeanor, but the consequences are less serious than those for reckless driving. The possible penalties of a careless driving conviction are:

  • First offense. For a first careless driving violation, there’s a $10 to $100 fine.
  • Second offense. For a second careless driving conviction within a year, the driver is looking at fines of $25 to $200.
  • Third offense. For a third or subsequent offense within a year, the driver is facing $50 to $500 in fines.
  • Offenses involving death or injuries. A careless driving offender who causes death or “serious bodily injury” to another person faces up to six months in jail and/or a maximum $5,000 in fines.

A careless driving conviction adds four points to the motorist’s driving record.

(Mont. Code Ann. §§ 61-8-302, 61-8-711, 61-8-716 (2017); Mont. Admin. R. 23.3.202 (2017).)

Reckless Driving and DUI Charges (“Wet Reckless”)

In some states, 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.”

Montana law doesn’t prohibit plea bargaining in DUI cases. So, for someone who’s accused of driving under the influence in Montana, plea bargaining for a reckless driving charge is a possibility. 

(Read more about plea bargaining in Montana DUI cases.)

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 facts of every case are different. If you’ve been arrested for or charged with reckless or careless 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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