What is reckless driving?
A person who drives a vehicle in reckless disregard for the safety of person or property is guilty of reckless driving.A.R.S. 28-693(A)
A reckless driving ticket in Arizona can be issued anytime a police officer believes a driver is putting other people or property in danger. Opinions vary on what exactly constitutes danger to people or property, but here are some examples of situations where we see reckless driving tickets:
- Egregious speeding. This depends on the jurisdiction, but sometimes we see reckless driving tickets together with excessive speed tickets when the speeds are 40, 50, 60, or more mph over the posted speed limit.
- A pattern of moving violations. If a police officer observes a driver commit a series of moving violations, he might write a ticket for reckless driving or aggressive driving.
- Donuts or burnouts on private property.
- Some traffic accidents can result in a reckless driving ticket. Most accidents are just a driver mistake, but if the driver was doing something like speeding or a burnout that caused the accident, a reckless driving ticket might be issued.
Possible Consequences of a Reckless Driving Conviction
Reckless driving is a class 2 misdemeanor in Arizona. While it is less serious than a class 1 misdemeanor like a DUI, it is still a very serious moving violation.
If you are convicted of reckless driving, the potential penalties include:
- A class 2 misdemeanor conviction.
- Up to a $750 fine plus surcharges, which could bring the fine close to $1,500.
- Up to 4 months in jail.
- Up to 2 years probation.
- The judge may suspend your driving privileges for up to 90 days. See A.R.S. 28-693(C).
- 8 points on your driving record.
For most first-time convictions, the consequences are limited to the misdemeanor conviction, a fine far less than the maximum, the points, and no jail time and no probation.
If you have been convicted in the previous 24 months of reckless driving, negligent homicide with a car, manslaughter with a car, racing, DUI, extreme DUI, or aggravated DUI, a reckless driving conviction becomes a class 1 misdemeanor. See A.R.S. 28-693(D)(1). In this case, the possible penalties could include:
- Minimum 20 days in jail with the possibility of up to 6 months in jail.
- The fine increases to $2,500 plus surcharges, bringing the total possible fine close to $5,000.
- Up to 3 years probation.
- Mandatory 1 year license suspension.
- 8 points on your driving record.
The Court Process in a Reckless Driving Case
The arraignment date is simply the date on which you will enter a plea. If you hire an attorney before your arraignment date, your attorney will file paperwork with the court entering a “not guilty” plea. The court will then vacate, or cancel, your arraignment date and set a new date for a pretrial conference.
The pretrial conference is often the first opportunity for your attorney to meet with the prosecutor in your case and discuss settlement and request information (known as discovery) that may be useful in defending against the charge. Sometimes not much happens before the initial pretrial conference. This is because the rules of criminal procedure in a misdemeanor case require the prosecutor to do very little before that initial pretrial conference. You can expect t there will be several pretrial conferences, usually occurring about 30 days apart.
Before your initial pretrial conference we will send discovery requests to the prosecutor seeking to get information that may be helpful to your case. We will continue the discovery process until we have all relevant information that is available. Things we might seek include the officer’s narrative, on-body camera video, dash camera video, and anything else we think is relevant.
After we have finished the discovery process, we may submit a written request to the prosecution asking them to deviate from the charge. In other words, we may ask them to offer a plea to something less, like two civil violations such as speeding and unsafe lane change. This request will present your background and good character, and depending on what we have learned during the discovery process, ideally we can make a factual argument too.
Resolution – Plea Agreement or Trial
Pretrial conferences will continue to occur until either a settlement has been reached, or until it is apparent that no settlement can been reached and all relevant information has been obtained from the prosecutor, at which point the case will be set for trial. If we are able to reach an agreement, the court will generally conduct a change of plea hearing to formally resolve the case by way of plea agreement.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some defenses against a reckless driving charge?
Possible defense could include:
- Whether or not the officer was able to actually observe what the driver did.
- The police officer’s training and ability to assess what they saw.
- There were no people or property near the driver to “recklessly disregard.
We often see a reckless driving charge tied to other traffic violations, such as unsafe lane changes, following too closely or excessive speed. Police may add the reckless driving charge because they believe your driving posed a danger to other people or property. For example, maybe you had a passenger in your car while you were criminally speeding. That could result in a reckless driving charge. Or maybe you passed another vehicle while speeding in a no passing zone – that too could result in a reckless driving charge. You may be able to challenge the underlying violation(s) that contributed to the reckless driving charge.
Of course, each case is different and your defenses will depend on your particular fact pattern.
This is also a jury-eligible charge, so instead of a judge, you could choose to have a selection of people from the court’s jurisdiction decide whether or not you were driving recklessly.
How many points is a reckless driving conviction?
If you are convicted of reckless driving, the court where you are convicted will transmit a record of that conviction to the Arizona Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicles Division (MVD for short). When the MVD is notified of a conviction, they will assess 8 points on your driving record. Check out this post for more discussion about points.
8 points means that the MVD will send you a letter saying you have to complete an 8-hour Traffic Survival School (TSS) class to avoid a license suspension. If you have taken TSS in the previous 24 months, you will just get a 3-month suspension.
These MVD consequences are in addition to any consequences imposed by the court.
Even if you do not have an Arizona driver license, the Arizona MVD will still impose essentially the same penalties. The MVD will create a record for you, send you the same letter about traffic survival school, or issue a suspension of your driving privileges.
These MVD consequences will likely also impact an out of state driver license. Arizona, and most other states, participate in an interstate Driver License Compact. This is an agreement between states to share information about driver license records and suspensions.
Can you go to jail for reckless driving?
Yes. Although you will almost never see jail time approaching the statutory maximum of 4 months, it is possible that a prosecutor could seek several days of jail in egregious cases.
In cases that involve a prior conviction within the preceding 24 months, there is a mandatory 20 days of jail time upon conviction.
Sometimes a driver will be booked into jail when they are arrested for the violation. This is usually only a few hours or maybe a day of jail time though.
Can you get a reckless driving ticket for speeding?
Yes. Many police officers (and judges unfortunately) believe that speeding can present a reckless disregard for the safety of people or property. The likelihood of a reckless driving ticket from speeding increases as the speed increases. We see this combination often in Scottsdale City Court.
How much is the fine for a reckless driving ticket?
Although the maximum allowed fine, including surcharges and assessments, can approach $1,500, most fines are going to be in the $400-$700 range.
Why would a police officer issue a reckless driving ticket when there was no reckless driving?
Sometimes a driver is not driving recklessly, but gets charged with reckless driving anyway.
We frequently see a reckless driving charge tacked on to a criminal speed/excessive speed ticket. The police officer’s position is typically that it was reckless to drive at an excessive speed. While we can often get the reckless driving charge dismissed, the fact that reckless driving was charged in the first place makes it more difficult to get rid of the less serious criminal speed charge.
It is our opinion that police officers add reckless driving to criminal speed tickets, even when there is no basis for the charge, because doing so places the driver in a worse bargaining position when negotiating with the prosecutor. This results in an increased conviction rate for excessive speed charges.
Whereas if the officer just issued a ticket for an excessive speed charge alone, there is a good change the driver can avoid a criminal conviction entirely.
Can you set aside a reckless driving conviction?
In the event you are convicted of reckless driving, you can apply to the court to have the conviction set aside. This application can be made anytime after all of the sentencing requirements have been completed. In most cases, this means after the fines have been paid.
If the court grants the request, and it is at the court’s discretion, then the conviction is set aside. This means that if someone were to conduct a criminal background check, this charge would still be reflected there, but the disposition or outcome would say “set aside and dismissed” rather than show that you had been convicted.
In other words, once the conviction is set aside, it means you have no longer been convicted of the charge.
It has been our experience that most courts are pretty generous with granting applications to set aside convictions.
Unfortunately, setting aside a conviction does not undo any MVD consequences or remove the violation from your driving record.
A set aside does not “expunge” the records. To expunge something essentially means to erase the fact that it occurred at all. Expunging a conviction is not possible in Arizona except under very limited circumstances. There is no way to erase the record of the case.