Reckless Driving in New York

Recently, police officers in New York arrested a group of seven motorcyclists for reckless driving on the Long Island Parkway after seeing the motorcyclists speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. The incident occurred less than a month after another group of seven motorcyclists made news headlines after brutally attacking the driver of a SUV on New York City’s Upper West Side.

While video of the more notable, earlier incident attests to the clear criminality of those motorcyclists’ acts, the seriousness of the charge of reckless driving should not be underestimated; the group arrested in Long Island will likewise face criminal charges and serious consequences should they be convicted of reckless driving.

The Consequences of a Reckless Driving Conviction:

Under New York law, reckless driving is a serious offense, treated as a criminal misdemeanor. In 2011, the New York Senate passed a bill establishing the crime of aggravated reckless driving. The elevated crime of aggravated reckless driving is treated as a felony. Conviction on a charge of either reckless driving or aggravated reckless driving can result in:

  • A Criminal Record

A criminal record with a reckless driving conviction will show up in background checks, affecting your ability to find a job, to travel, and to acquire student loans. It can also affect your immigration status if you are not already a U.S. citizen.

A reckless driving conviction will be a part of your permanent criminal record; it cannot be expunged.

  • Jail Time

A reckless driving conviction can result in jail time for up to 30 days for a first-time offense, 90 days for a second offense, and 180 days for a third offense.

  • 5 Points

A reckless driving conviction carries with it an addition of 5 points to your driver’s license.

With 6 or more points on your license, you can be charged a state surcharge called the Driver’s Responsibility Assessment. At 6 points, this consists of a $100 fine every year for three years. Each point above 6 adds an additional $25 per year to that amount.

At 11 points on your NY state driver’s license, your driving privileges can be suspended. Because reckless driving charges are often accompanied by moving violations, reaching 11 points can be a quick feat when reckless driving charges are involved.

  • Fines

A first-time offense of reckless driving is punishable by anywhere between $100 and up to $300.  A second offense within 18 months is punishable by up to $525.  A third offense is punishable by a maximum fine of $1,125.

In addition, all reckless driving tickets carry a mandatory NYS Surcharge of $85 for town and village courts and $80 for all other courts.

  • A Substantial Automobile Insurance Rate Increase

A conviction for reckless driving causes a higher increase in auto insurance rates than any other kind of traffic ticket, at an average increase of 22%.

What Constitutes Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving is more than mere negligence or an error of judgment on the road; it is conduct that rises to the level of “unreasonable interference” or “endangerment” as indicated by the presence of “additional aggravating acts or circumstances beyond a single violation of a rule of the road.” A reckless driving charge is appropriate where the driver was aware of the potential risk of danger his or her driving entailed but disregarded that risk in choosing to drive as he or she did. To be reckless, a driver’s conduct must be a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the same situation. See NY VTL 1212 and New York Penal Law Section 15.05 [3].

The statutory definition of reckless driving in New York is intentionally vague, giving police officers broad discretion to pull someone over for what they subjectively believe to be reckless conduct. The traffic Information, or charge, must state the specific manner in which the person violated the law or allege facts that lead to the inescapable conclusion that the driver’s conduct was unreasonable.

In judging the appropriateness of an officer’s decision to ticket for reckless driving, courts look at the surrounding circumstances of the incident, including the nature of your conduct and the harm actually caused.

Typically, behavior observed by a police officer such as swerving in and out of lanes, talking on a cell phone while driving, and driving on sidewalks fall within the gambit of reckless driving. The mere occurrence of an accident which raises the inference that reckless conduct may have occurred, however, cannot be the sole basis of a conviction for reckless driving when an officer saw only the aftermath of the accident. Nor does excessive speeding by itself, without additional incriminating circumstances, constitute reckless driving.

What Can Be Done?

The charge of reckless driving is more common than one might think. Based on 2010 statistics, for instance, nearly 1,000 people are stopped in New York City and charged with reckless driving each month.

However, many of those issued tickets for reckless driving, whether inside or outside New York City, are in fact issued tickets for ordinary, non-criminal offenses such as blocking an intersection, going through a red light, making a wrong turn, not providing a sufficient signal when turning, obstruction of traffic, or mistakenly driving the wrong way on a one-way street.

Tickets for reckless driving may be the result of police unwillingness to come to court to testify, as is required for ordinary tickets in administrative courts, but not in criminal court, as well as pressure on officers to meet unlawful, but still extant, quotas for ticketing. Because many tickets for reckless driving are issued without good reason and may not meet the criteria for a conviction on the charge of reckless driving, you stand a good chance of having the charge against you lessened, or even dismissed altogether.

You can, and should, attempt to fight your ticket and avoid or mitigate the serious consequences it can bring with it. Consult with an attorney who has substantial experience dealing with reckless driving cases. Call the Rosenblum Law Firm today at 888-815-3649.