Washington’s Reckless Driving Laws and Penalties

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

In Washington, a person can be convicted of “reckless driving” for driving a vehicle “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. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 46.61.500 (2017).)

Reckless Driving Penalties

Reckless driving is a gross misdemeanor in Washington. Anyone convicted of reckless driving is looking at up 364 days in jail and a maximum $5,250 in fines and penalty assessments. The motorist also faces a license suspension of at least 30 days.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 7.68.035(1)(a), 46.61.500 (2017).)

Second-Degree Negligent Driving

How the Offense is Defined

Washington has another offense called “negligent driving in the second degree.” A motorist can be convicted of second-degree negligent driving for operating a motor vehicle in a manner that is both:

  • negligent, and
  • endangers, or is likely to endanger, property or another person.

As used in the statute, “negligent” means an act that a reasonably careful person wouldn’t do or failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 46.61.525 (2017).)

Penalties

The consequences of second-degree negligent driving depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:

  • Second-degree negligent driving. Generally, second-degree negligent driving is a traffic infraction. A violation carries up to $500 in fines and penalty assessments.
  • Offenses involving death or injury to a “vulnerable victim.” Enhanced penalties apply to second-degree negligent driving offenses where a “vulnerable victim” is killed or seriously injured. “Vulnerable victims” include pedestrians and persons riding bikes, motorcycles, mopeds, tractors, or horses on a public roadway. Convicted drivers have two sentencing options:
    • Option one: Pay $1,250 to $5,250 in fines and penalty assessments and have their license suspended for 90 days, or
    • Option two: Pay $500 in fines and assessments, attend traffic school, and complete a maximum of 100 hours community service.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 7.68.035(1)(a), 46.61.525, 46.61.526 (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.”

Washington doesn’t restrict plea bargaining in DUI case. So it’s possible for a motorist who’s accused of driving under the influence to plea bargain for a reckless or negligent driving charge.  

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 Washington can be serious. 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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