What Is Reckless Driving, And Are You At Risk?

Feb 13, 2024

If you’ve spent even an hour driving a vehicle on any road, you’ve likely seen them: they speed, they weave in and out of their lane or change lanes erratically, they ignore traffic signs and signals, they use their cell phone, and they are dangerous. They are the dreaded…reckless driver!


Every person has their own way of handling drivers like these; they may use their horn, they may curse at their windshield, and in a moment of weakness, they may even roll their window down and stick out a certain forbidden finger. (We’ve all done it – there’s no judgment here.)

But on a more serious note, reckless drivers are much more than simply a nuisance. Reckless driving is not only a crime, but it puts other drivers, passengers and pedestrians at risk. In this blog, we’ll explain more about what exactly reckless driving is, the risks they pose, and how you can protect yourself while on the road. 

What Is Reckless Driving?

From a legal standpoint, different states have their own definition of what reckless driving entails. California Vehicle Code 23103 defines reckless driving in this way:

  1. The driver drove a vehicle on a highway or in an off-street parking facility, and
  2. The driver drove with wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

Further, California law describes “wanton disregard for safety” in this way:

  1. The driver was aware that their actions presented a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm, and
  2. The driver intentionally ignored that risk.

This means that the individual made a choice to operate their vehicle in a reckless manner even though they knew there was a risk that they could cause significant harm to others. Although reckless driving is classified as a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony, individuals found guilty are still subject to penalties such as jail time and hefty fines. There are many ways someone can drive in a reckless manner, including:

  • Excessive speeding
  • Swerving or erratic lane changes
  • Ignoring traffic signals
  • Intentionally driving with defective brakes
  • Tailgating
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Racing other vehicles
  • Passing cars illegally 
  • Distracted driving (which includes cell phone use, eating, drinking, etc.)
  • Driving on a sidewalk
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road 
  • And more.

What Statistics Surround Reckless Driving?

It’s estimated that a person dies every 24 seconds on the roads of America. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), traffic accidents and fatalities have been increasing dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic, with fatalities reaching an all-time high in 2021. In California specifically, speeding seems to be one of the most common forms of reckless driving, as speeding tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol where the driver was going over 100 miles per hour were nearly double pre-pandemic numbers during the first half of 2021. In 2023, speeding accounted for 29% of all deadly car accidents in the U.S., or 11,258 fatalities.

While drunk driving is often viewed as its own issue, it is also a form of reckless driving, as nearly everyone has an understanding of how dangerous it is to operate a vehicle while under the influence. It is estimated that around 37 people die every day in the U.S. due to drunk driving accidents, or one person every 39 minutes. 

Other statistics include:

  • 7,216 deaths occurred in 2021 because an operator drove in a careless, reckless, or negligent manner
  • 6,689 deaths occurred in 2021 because an operator failed to follow the yield sign or other signs and signals
  • 4,042 deaths occurred in 2021 because an operator failed to keep in the proper lane
  • 1,179 deaths occurred in 2021 because an operator drove on the wrong side of the road or the wrong way on a one-way road

What Are The Possible Outcomes Of Reckless Driving?

The most obvious and tragic outcome of reckless driving is death. More than just the reckless driver is at risk of death, though; their passengers, other drivers and passengers, and innocent bystanders are also at risk. Other risks include serious physical, emotional, and mental damage, such as:

  • Whiplash and other severe neck injuries
  • Head injuries like concussions, TBIs (traumatic brain injury), and skill fractures
  • Broken bones, commonly in the legs, arms, pelvis, and ribs
  • Soft tissue injuries such as sprains, strains, and contusions
  • Chest injuries, Including broken ribs, bruised sternum, and internal organ damage 
  • Spinal cord injuries which can result in paralysis, loss of sensation, or impaired motor function
  • Internal Injuries to internal organs such as the liver, spleen, kidneys, or lungs
  • Psychological trauma such as emotional distress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues 
  • Facial Injuries including cuts, bruises, dental injuries, and fractures to the face, jaw, or skull
  • Burns, both thermal and chemical
  • And more.

Furthermore, one can anticipate the following expenses to be associated with injuries of this nature:

  • Hospitalization costs
  • Emergency room fees
  • Doctor’s visits
  • Surgical procedures
  • Diagnostic tests (X-rays, MRIs, CT scans)
  • Medications (pain relievers, antibiotics, etc.)
  • Physical therapy or rehabilitation
  • Ambulance and Emergency Services
  • Medical equipment and supplies
  • Transportation Costs
  • Lost Income
  • Property Damage
  •  Home modifications or accommodations for disabilities
  •  Childcare or household help during recovery
  •  Counseling or therapy for psychological trauma

Is There A Way To Avoid Reckless Drivers?

The reality is that 100% of reckless driving accidents are preventable. Unfortunately, none of us can control the choices other drivers make; we can only control how we react. In order to protect yourself from a reckless driver, the first skill an individual should have is maintaining situational awareness while on the road. If you can identify a driver who is acting reckless, you can keep a safe distance from them, which minimizes your chances of being involved in an accident with them.

Additionally, being prepared to react calmly and swiftly if confronted with an aggressive driver is also essential. This may involve safely pulling over or changing lanes to create distance, rather than engaging with the reckless driver (i.e., no speeding up next to them and using the aforementioned forbidden finger). Finally, reporting reckless driving behavior to law enforcement can help remove them from the road and prevent future incidents, potentially saving lives!

What Should You Do If You Are Impacted By A Reckless Driver?

If a reckless driver caused your accident and resulted in serious injuries, they should be held accountable for the expenses you incurred. Their insurance company should compensate you fully and fairly, but those corporations are notorious for devaluing and denying the claims of victims. You’ll need an aggressive and skilled personal injury attorney in order to ensure that your voice is heard, and have the greatest chance at getting the insurance company to pay. 

Karpel Law Firm will advocate and negotiate for a fair settlement on your behalf. We have over 70 years of collective legal experience and are AV® Preeminent Peer Review rated by Martindale-Hubbell®. Call today to schedule your free consultation and let us help direct your next steps!