At one time or another, every driver has stepped on the gas pedal a little too hard or made a quick lane change. It may seem like a harmless risk to get where you need to go, but if you are ever pulled over for such a maneuver, in Tacoma or any of the surrounding areas, you could be charged with reckless driving.
Many people misunderstand reckless driving as a simple traffic citation. However, this is a serious criminal offense and with penalties including jail, thousands of dollars in fines, and drastic effects on your driver’s license and insurance premiums. If you or someone you know has been charged with reckless driving, call The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC at (253) 375-8055 and schedule a free consultation with a skilled Tacoma traffic ticket lawyer.
What is Reckless Driving in Washington?
According to RCW §46.61.500, a person is guilty of reckless driving in Washington if they operate any vehicle in a manner that displays a “willful or wanton” disregard for the safety of persons or property. This means that the driver is consciously ignoring the dangers of their actions and behaving with indifference to the harm they can cause on the road.
People are often charged with reckless driving for speeding excessively (usually 25 miles per hour or more over the posted limit) and an example would be if you were pulled over for driving unreasonably fast in a residential area or school zone. However, the law is applied broadly and in various scenarios where other motorists and property are at risk.
Some examples of behaviors that could lead to a reckless driving charge may include:
- Aggressively changing lanes
- Street Racing
- Aggressive driving
- Road rage
- Handbrake Turns
Since there is no single factor that classifies an action as reckless, if you are charged, the prosecution will need to prove that the elements rose a “wanton and willful disregard.” This is typically accomplished with testimony from the officer involved, the official police report, data from several types of devices, and any eyewitness statements from other motorists or pedestrians.
Penalties & Consequences of Reckless Driving
Reckless Driving is a gross misdemeanor in Washington and, if convicted, can result in a maximum sentence of 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. There is no mandatory minimum jail sentence for reckless driving and judges are given a good deal of discretion in determining sentences, usually based on your previous history and the details of the incident, such as if injuries or serious property damage were involved.
In addition to the criminal penalties, one of the most significant consequences of a reckless driving conviction is the mandatory 30-day suspension of your license, imposed by the Department of Licensing(DOL). After your suspension period and as a condition of reinstatement, you will need to show proof of insurance with an SR-22 form. This type of insurance is typically more expensive than normal policies, since you will be classified as a “high-risk” driver and it must be carried for three years. Furthermore, reckless driving is considered a major moving violation in Washington and if you accrue three major moving violations in five years, the DOL will consider you as a Habitual Traffic Offender (HTO), resulting in a harsh seven-year license revocation.
In addition to the criminal penalties and considerable expense that go along with a reckless driving conviction, you may also have to contend with a suggestive blemish on your driving record. If you apply for a job that requires any type of driving, your potential employer may pass on your application, believing you to be too great a liability. For CDL-holders, the consequences of even a single reckless driving conviction can be severe. You may lose your CDL license for an extended period and will not be eligible for a restricted occupational license.
Reckless Driving & DUIs
In some instances, a DUI charge can be negotiated and amended to a reckless driving charge. While this is a favorable result when compared to the potential outcomes for even a first offense DUI, you need to be aware that if you are ever charged with a second offense DUI, your reckless driving charge can still be considered a prior DUI for sentencing purposes.
Defenses Against a Reckless Driving
You may believe that your actions behind the wheel were completely justified or the police mistakenly pulled you over. After all, police officers are trained in gauging speed and risky behaviors, but that doesn’t mean they are infallible. With the penalties of a misdemeanor hanging over your head, you should take your defense seriously from the very beginning with help from an experienced traffic lawyer.
After speaking with you and investigating every detail of the incident that led to your charges, attorney Morgan Fletcher Benfield will develop a strategy to preserve your license, your wallet, and your record. One of the most successful techniques usually involves challenging the elements of the reckless driving charge. For instance, if you were going too fast, attorney Benfield may be able to show that speed alone does not rise to the level of a “wanton and willful disregard.” Your attorney can also call into question the data collected from the device used to assess your speed or the information included in their report. Furthermore, you can be sure that attorney Benfield will pursue any available option that puts you in a better position. In many cases, reckless driving can be negotiated to a negligent driving infraction, which has much less severe ramifications and removes the possibility of jail. Whatever the case or your situation entails, attorney Benfield believes in keeping every client informed of how a case is progressing and is dedicated to finding an option that works for you.
Call A Tacoma Reckless Driving Lawyer Today
While protecting your driving record is always wise, you should keep in mind that reckless driving in Washington is vastly more serious than a mere traffic ticket. If you’ve been charged with reckless driving or any traffic-related crime, you’ll be facing significant penalties that can impact your life in several ways.
We realize that you want to stay out of jail, and that losing the ability to drive could make it hard to work, pick up your children, or even run errands around town. At The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC, we want you to know these cases are not always open and shut. Our focus will be on protecting what’s important to you and finding alternatives that offer you the best chance of success.
Call (253) 375-8055 today and discuss the details of your reckless driving charges with attorney Morgan Fletcher Benfield in a free initial consultation.