Pennsylvania's Reckless and Careless Driving Laws and Penalties

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

Pennsylvania has laws that prevent "reckless" and "careless" driving. This article covers how these offenses are defined and the penalties that can result from a conviction.

What Is Considered "Reckless Driving" in Pennsylvania?

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.)

Reckless Driving Penalties in Pennsylvania

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.

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 of $15,000 in fines, and a one-year license suspension.

What Is Considered "Careless Driving" in Pennsylvania?

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. (75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3714.)

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 Penalties in Pennsylvania

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 of $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 or if the motorist accumulates too many demerit points. A careless driving conviction will add three demerit points to a motorist's driving record.

Reducing a DUI Charge to Reckless Driving in Pennsylvania

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."

Talk to a Pennsylvania Defense Attorney

The consequences of a reckless driving conviction in Pennsylvania can be serious, especially when the offense involves 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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