Reckless Driving

Most Texans understand that reckless driving is a crime, but many are shocked when the police arrest them for the charge, and take them to jail. Most “rules of the road” are Class “C” misdemeanors that result in traffic tickets. Citizens are frequently surprised with an allegation of poor driving gets them arrested. 

Reckless Driving is a hybrid-misdemeanor offense charged under §545.401 of the Texas Transportation Code. The offense is called a “hybrid” because it falls outside traditional punishment ranges. Usually, a Class “C” misdemeanor carries with it a punishment range of up to a $500 fine and no risk of jail time. A Class “B” misdemeanor carries with it a punishment range of up to 180 days in jail, and up to a $2,000 fine.  However, Reckless Driving has a special punishment range that falls between a Class “B” misdemeanor and a Class “C” misdemeanor.   

A person commits an offense if the person drives a vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. Reckless Driving is punishable by a fine not to exceed $200, confinement in county jail for not more than 30 days, or both. Reckless Driving actually has a less punitive fine than Class “C” misdemeanors, but it does carry the risk of jail time, albeit significantly less jail time than an ordinary Class “B” misdemeanor. 

Texas courts have weighed in over the years on what exactly willful or wanton disregard means. This is an important term of the law, because it could mean the difference between a mere traffic ticket and a trip to the jailhouse. The courts have generally defined this kind of driving as deliberate, conscious indifference to the safety of others. If you are facing a reckless driving allegation in Texas, the officer has to specifically articulate how your conduct affected and endangered other drivers on the roadway. The allegation cannot be merely theoretical or hypothetical. It is not enough for the officer to allege you could have endangered another, but rather the officer has to point to an exact instance of your conduct and allege disregard for another’s safety. Put another way, it is extremely unlikely that a person commits the offense of reckless driving if they are on an isolated roadway completely removed from other traffic or motorists. The presence of an investigating officer likely means a suspect was not isolated in such a manner. 

Some common examples of reckless driving include speeding in an area that has lots of pedestrian traffic, driving far in excess of the posted speed limit, driving around curves at speeds fast enough to cause fishtailing, peeling out, spinning donuts, following another vehicle too closely, or unsafe lane changes.

Most offenses under the Texas Transportation Code deal with highways pursuant to §542.001 of the Texas Transportation Code. This is not the case with reckless driving. Reckless driving can be alleged regarding conduct that occurred on a private access ways, most private parking lots, and most places to which the public has access.