Washington's Reckless and Negligent Driving Laws and Penalties

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

In Washington, unsafe driving can lead to reckless or negligent driving charges. This article explains how Washington defines these offenses and the penalties you'll face for a conviction.

What's Considered "Reckless Driving" 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.)

Washington's 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 of $5,000 in fines and penalty assessments. The motorist also faces a license suspension of at least 30 days.

What's Considered "Second-Degree Negligent Driving" in Washington?

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 a failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do. Washington also has a law that makes embracing another in a manner that "prevents the free and unhampered operation of such vehicle" prima facie evidence of reckless driving.

Washington's Second-Degree Negligent Driving Penalties

The consequences of second-degree negligent driving depend on the circumstances. But the possible penalties are explained below.

Fines for Second-Degree Negligent Driving in Washington

Generally, second-degree negligent driving is a traffic infraction. A violation carries up to $500 in fines and penalty assessments.

Fines and License Suspension for Negligent Driving Involving Deaths or Injuries in Washington

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: pay $1,250 to $5,250 in fines and penalty assessments and have their license suspended for 90 days, or pay $500 in fines and assessments, attend traffic school, and complete a maximum of 100 hours of community service.

Reckless Driving and DUI Charges ("Wet Reckless") in Washington

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 cases. 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.

Talk to a Washington Defense 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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