Pennsylvania’s Reckless Driving Laws
Read about Pennsylvania’s reckless driving laws and the consequences of a conviction.
Pennsylvania law defines “reckless driving” as driving a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Basically, the law is violated when:
- a person’s driving is so unsafe that it creates a high probability of an accident occurring, and
- the person is aware of but disregards the risk.
In other words, a person who makes an honest mistake and causes a collision typically can’t be convicted of reckless driving (but see "Careless Driving," below). (75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3736 (2016); Com. v. Bullick, 830 A.2d 998 (2003).)
Reckless Driving Penalties
In Pennsylvania, reckless driving is generally a “summary offense.” The penalties for a violation include up to 90 days in jail, a $200 fine, and a six-month license suspension. (75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1532, 3736 (2016).)
But a motorist who causes “serious bodily injury” to another person while driving recklessly can be convicted of “aggravated assault by vehicle.” Aggravated assault by vehicle is a third-degree felony. Convicted drivers normally face up to seven years in prison, a maximum $15,000 in fines, and a one-year license suspension. (75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1101, 1103, 1532, 3732.1 (2016).)
Pennsylvania has another offense called “careless driving.” The offense is defined as driving “in careless disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Careless driving is a “lesser-included offense” of reckless driving.
Unlike with reckless driving—which requires proof that the driver intentionally or knowingly did something risky behind the wheel—motorists can be convicted of careless driving without realizing the dangerousness of their driving.
Careless driving—like reckless driving—is a summary offense. But the possible punishments are different. A motorist convicted of careless driving generally faces up to 90 days in jail and/or a maximum $300 in fines. However, if the offense involved serious bodily injuries to another person, the fine is fixed at $250; and for violations that resulted in a death, the fine is set at $500. A six-month license suspension is possible only for careless driving violations involving a death.
(75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1105, 1532, 3714 (2016); Com. v. Cathey, 645 A.2d 250 (1994).)
Reckless Driving and DUI Charges (“Wet Reckless”)
In Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania 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.