North Carolina’s Reckless Driving Laws

Read about North Carolina’s reckless driving laws and the consequences of a conviction.

In North Carolina, a person can be convicted of “reckless driving” for driving on a public roadway:

  • “carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others,” or
  • “without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.”

Basically, North Carolina’s reckless driving law requires motorists to drive in a reasonably safe manner at all times.

In deciding whether a person’s driving qualifies as “reckless,” a judge might look to factors like:

  • traffic
  • road and weather conditions
  • whether the driver was paying attention (negligence), and
  • the driver’s speed.

But the facts of each case are different. So, whether a particular course of driving meets the legal definition of “reckless” will always depend on the particular circumstances. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 20-140 (2016); Kellogg v. Thomas, 244 N.C. 722 (1956).)

Reckless Driving Penalties

Reckless driving is a class 2 misdemeanor in North Carolina. The maximum fine for a class 2 misdemeanor is $1,000. Convicted drivers also face up to 30 days in jail for a first offense. And if the driver has prior criminal convictions, as much as 60 days in jail is possible. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 15A-1340.23 (2016).)

A reckless driving conviction leads to license suspension only in certain circumstances. These include offenses where the person:

  • was going more than 15 miles per hour over the speed limit and over 55 miles per hour
  • was driving more than 80 miles per hour, or
  • has at least one prior conviction that occurred within the past 12 months.

All reckless driving violations will add four points to the motorist’s driving record, and most likely, increase the motorist’s insurance rates. (N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 20-16, 20-16.1, 20-17 (2016).)

Reckless Driving and DUI Charges (“Wet Reckless”)

In North Carolina, it’s possible for a driver who’s charged with driving while impaired (DWI) 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 North Carolina can be serious, especially if you have prior convictions. 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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