New Jersey’s Reckless Driving Laws and Penalties

Read about the reckless driving laws and consequences of a conviction in New Jersey.

In New Jersey, a person can be convicted of “reckless driving” for driving a vehicle “heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”

Basically, New Jersey’s reckless driving law is violated when a motorist operates a vehicle in a grossly improper manner, and in doing so, puts others (or property of others) at risk.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:4-96 (2016); State v. Muniz, 118 N.J. 319 (1990).)

Reckless Driving Penalties

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

  • First offense. For a first conviction, reckless driving carries up to 60 days in jail and/or $50 to $200 in fines.
  • Repeat offense. For a second or subsequent reckless driving offense, a motorist faces up to three months in jail and/or $100 to $500 in fines.

A reckless driving conviction will also add five points to a motorist’s driving record and likely lead to increased insurance rates. And in certain circumstances, a judge or the Motor Vehicles Commission can suspend a driver’s license for a reckless driving violation. (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 39:4-96, 39:5-31 (2016); State v. Moran, 202 N.J. 311 (2010).)

Careless Driving

New Jersey has another offense called “careless driving.” Careless driving is similar to reckless driving, but the possible penalties for a conviction are less severe. Regardless of whether the driver has prior convictions, careless driving involves a maximum 15 days in jail and/or $50 to $200 in fines. A careless driving conviction puts two points on the motorist’s driving record. (N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 39:4-97, 39:4-104 (2016).)

Careless driving—which is a “lesser included offense” of reckless driving—is defined as driving a vehicle “carelessly, or without due caution and circumspection, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.” (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 39:4-97 (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” is closer to negligence.

Assault by Auto

A driver who injures another person while driving recklessly can be convicted of “assault by auto.” Assault by auto is a “disorderly persons offense” if the injuries were minor. Disorderly persons offenses are punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum $500 in fines. If someone was seriously injured, assault by auto is a crime in the fourth degree. Crimes in the fourth degree carry up to 18 months in jail and a maximum $10,000 in fines.

(N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:12-1(c), 2C:43-3, 2C:43-6, 2C:43-8 (2016).)

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.”

In New Jersey, plea bargaining is generally prohibited in DUI cases. So plea bargaining for a reckless driving charge typically isn’t an option. (NJ R MUN CT Plea Agreements Guideline 4(A) (2016).)

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 New Jersey 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 criminal 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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