Ohio’s Reckless Operation (Driving) Laws

Read about Ohio’s reckless operation laws and the consequences of a conviction.

In Ohio, a person can be convicted of “reckless operation” (also called “reckless driving”) for operating a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard of 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.

(Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 4511.20, 4511.201 (2016); State v. Earlenbaugh, 18 Ohio St.3d 19 (1985).)

Reckless Operation Penalties

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

  • No prior traffic convictions. When a motorist has had no prior motor vehicle or traffic convictions within the past year, reckless operation is a minor misdemeanor.  The maximum punishment for a minor misdemeanor is a $100 fine—jail time isn’t a possibility.   
  • One prior traffic conviction. Reckless driving is a fourth-degree misdemeanor if the driver has been convicted of one motor vehicle or traffic offense within the past year. A fourth-degree misdemeanor carries up to 30 days in jail and/or a maximum $250 in fines.
  • Two prior traffic convictions. If a driver has been convicted of two or more motor vehicle or traffic offenses within the past year, reckless driving is a third-degree misdemeanor. Convicted motorists face up to 60 days in jail and/or a maximum $500 in fines.

For any reckless operation conviction, a judge can—but isn’t required to—suspend the driver’s license for six months to three years. (Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2929.21, 4511.20, 4511.201 (2016).)

Operation Without Reasonable Control

Ohio has another offense called “operation without reasonable control.” Operation without reasonable control is similar to reckless driving, but the possible penalties of a conviction are less severe. Regardless of whether the driver has prior traffic offenses, operation without reasonable control is a minor misdemeanor. And convicted motorist don’t face the possibility of license suspension.

Unlike with reckless driving—which requires proof that the driver intentionally or knowingly did something dangerous behind the wheel—a motorist can be convicted of operation without reasonable control for accidentally losing control of a car. Basically, the reasonable control law holds drivers responsible for maintaining a steady course and being able to stop their car in time to avoid collisions.

Vehicular Assault

A driver who causes “serious physical harm” to another person while operating a vehicle recklessly can be convicted of “vehicular assault.” Vehicular assault is typically a fourth-degree felony. The penalties for a conviction generally involve six to 18 months jail time, up to $5,000 in fines, and a one-to-five year license suspension.

(Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §§ 2903.08, 2929.14(A)(4), 2929.18(A)(3)(d), 4510.02(A)(4) (2016).)

Reckless Driving and DUI Charges (“Wet Reckless”)

In Ohio, 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.”

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 Ohio 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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