Reckless Driving in New York

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The Consequences of a Reckless Driving Charge

If you have been charged with reckless driving in New York, you are facing serious legal and financial consequences. This is no mere traffic violation. In New York, reckless driving is a misdemeanor, which is a crime.

This means that if you are convicted of reckless driving you will have a criminal record. It also means you could spend up to 30 days in jail for a first offense. Making matters worse, New York does NOT allow for expungements. Your criminal record is permanent. As if this weren’t enough, pursuant to NY VTL § 510-2(iv), your license may be revoked.

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The financial consequences are harsh and far-reaching. A first offense reckless driving conviction carries a maximum $300 fine plus a $93 surcharge fee and will result in 5 points on your driving record.

Beyond the fines there are other, long-term financial consequences. Since insurance companies care more about the type of traffic violation you’re charged with than the number of points the violation carries, a reckless driving conviction will likely lead to a higher increase in your insurance rate than would other 5-point offenses.

According to www.insurancequotes.com, your insurance rate may increase by as much as 42% as a result of your reckless driving conviction.

The below table lists all fines, points, and potential jail time associated with a reckless driving conviction.

Table 1.0: Consequences of a Reckless Driving Charge

OFFENSE

MAXIMUM FINE

MAXIMUM JAIL TIME

POINTS

1st

$300

30 days

5

2nd

$525

90 days

5

3rd

$1,125

180 days

5

*Note that the $93 surcharge fee is added to the above fines for each offense. Also note that, to incur the penalties listed for the 2nd and 3rd offenses, the violations must occur within 18 months of one another.

If you have questions call the Rosenblum Law at (201) 283-8852 for a free consult.

For commercial license drivers (CDL), reckless driving is considered a “serious traffic violation.” If you hold a CDL and are convicted of two serious traffic violations within a three year period, your CDL will be suspended for 60 days; and if convicted of three serious traffic violations within the same period the suspension will be for 120 days.

Moreover, if you are arrested for Reckless Driving, police have the authority to conduct what is called a “search incident to arrest,” meaning a general search of your body/clothes and anything that may be in your reach that you may use as a weapon or which may be evidence. (See People v. Cooper, 38 AD 3d 678 – NY: Appellate Div., 2nd Dept. 2007.)

What Exactly Is Reckless Driving?

The statute making Reckless Driving a misdemeanor, NY VTL 1212, provides as follows:

Reckless driving shall mean driving or using any motor vehicle, motorcycle or any other vehicle propelled by any power other than muscular power or any appliance or accessory thereof in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of the public highway. Reckless driving is prohibited. Every person violating this provision shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Therefore, you drive recklessly if you do either one of the following:

1) Drive in a manner that unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway; or

2) Drive in a manner that unreasonably endangers users of the public highway.

In simplified terms, the statute prohibits you from unreasonably getting in the way of, or endangering, other drivers on a public highway.

The word “or” is important here. It means a driver need only be shown to have done either one – unreasonably get in the way of OR endanger other passengers, not both.

But what do these terms really mean?

In a famous case analyzing the statute, People v Grogan (260 NY 138 [1932]), the New York Court of Appeals held that the People would have to provide “evidence showing something more than mere negligence” to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant has committed reckless driving.

The Grogan Court restated the statute in its own words, defining Reckless Driving as “the running or operation of an automobile under such circumstances as to show a reckless disregard of the consequences.”

It further defined the terms “unreasonably interferes” and “unreasonably endangers” as “interferes with or endangers the user[s] of the highway through the failure to exercise reasonable care, reasonable caution or the reasonable foresight of a reasonably prudent and careful person.”

Does that clear things up? Probably not.

Then let’s look at the legal definition of the word “reckless” and reexamine the statute with it in mind.

New York Penal Code Section 15.05(3) states:

A person acts recklessly with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe.

So when the Grogan Court said that a defendant must show “reckless disregard of the consequences” of his driving, it meant that he had to be aware that his driving was very risky and that the risk was unjustifiable (in other words, there was no emergency), and then had to disregard that risk and whatever consequences that might follow from it.

Moreover, the risk itself has to be bad enough that someone with common sense (or a “reasonable person”) would not disregard it; someone who does disregard such a risk, then, would be way outside the norm in terms of his behavior and mind state.

Now, let’s take all of this and filter it into a concise and concrete definition of Reckless Driving:

Driving in a way that shows you don’t care about getting in people’s way or endangering them, without any valid excuse, and knowing just how risky your driving is, which is to say, very risky.

Although better, this definition still doesn’t tell us what kind of specific driving behaviors might lead to a Reckless Driving charge. And this is the problem with this criminal offense: it is very broad. In many ways it seems as though Reckless Driving is a kind of “catch all,” leaving police and judges with great discretion in defining it specifically on a case by case basis.

The best way to know what specifically constitutes Reckless Driving, then, is to examine past cases in which defendants were found guilty of it, as well as cases in which defendants were found not guilty, so that we can see the difference.

ACTIONS CONSTITUTING RECKLESS DRIVING:

People v. Goldblatt, 98 A.D.3d 817, 950 N.Y.S.2d 210 (3d Dept. 2012) – There was ample proof of reckless driving by the combination of excessive speed, going off the road, the distance off the road, no effort to slow down once off the road, and failing to see the pedestrians despite their bright attire (their clothing included a bright orange hat and aluminum foil, one person who was struck had glow stick rings through the elongated piercings of his ears and another person was in the process of lighting a cigarette) and the prevailing clear road conditions.

People v. Patterson, 23 Misc.2d 182, 198 N.Y.S.2d 926 (1960) – A motorist who runs through a police barricade may be guilty of reckless driving.

People v. Cooper, 38 A.D.3d 678, 833 N.Y.S.2d 118 (2d Dept., 2007) – A police officer’s observations of the defendant (a) operating his pickup truck at an unreasonable speed in the wrong lane of travel as the defendant approached a three-way intersection (b) sideswiping a parked police car (c) proceeding through the intersection against a traffic light, and (d) jumping out of the vehicle before it came to a complete stop were sufficient to provide probable cause to believe the defendant committed reckless driving.

People v. McGrantham, 12 N.Y.3d 892, 885 N.Y.S.2d 244, 913 N.E.2d 936 (2009) – Evidence that the defendant mistakenly drove onto an exit ramp and then slowly made a U-turn across three lanes of traffic and collided with a motorcycle supported a charge of reckless driving,

People v. Armlin, 6 N.Y.2d 231, 233, 189 N.Y.S.2d 179, 160 N.E.2d 478 (1959) – Allegations that the defendant drove his car across the center line into the path of an oncoming car at a high rate of speed and crashed into that car were sufficient to permit an inference that the defendant’s operation of vehicle unreasonably interfered with the free and proper use of the highway and unreasonably endangered other drivers.

People v. Bohacek, 95 A.D.3d 1592, 945 N.Y.S.2d 460 (3d Dept. 2012) – Evidence that the defendant recklessly disregarded the consequences of his actions by ingesting drugs, failing to keep right and driving her vehicle across the center line of the highway and colliding head-on with a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction was sufficient to support her conviction of reckless driving.

ACTIONS NOT CONSTITUTING RECKLESS DRIVING:

People v. Bulgin, 29 Misc.3d 286, 908 N.Y.S.2d 817 (Sup. Ct. Bronx County 2010) – Officer lacked probable cause to arrest motorist for misdemeanor of reckless driving because there was no evidence that any pedestrians or other drivers were affected in any way, where motorist was driving five to fifteen miles per hour above the speed limit and failed to stop at one stop sign and two steady red lights and there was no evidence that defendant knew the officer was trying to pull him over despite his lights and sirens being on for a two minute pursuit.

People v. Khurshudyan, 34 Misc.3d 152(A), 951 N.Y.S.2d 88 (Table) (N.Y.Sup. App.Term 2012) – Although the officer’s testimony may have established that defendant committed multiple traffic infractions, there was insufficient evidence that defendant’s operation of his vehicle “unreasonably interfere[d]” with anyone’s use of the oncoming lane or the lane from which he left and returned, or that he thereby “unreasonably endangere[d]” anyone or anyone’s property.

People v. Garo, 208 Misc. 496, 144 N.Y.S.2d 107 (Broome Co. Ct., 1955) – The mere passing of a single stop sign in itself cannot be said to establish “disregard of the consequences” of the act. If the defendant had also entered the intersection at an excessive and illegal rate of speed, it might be considered reckless.

People v. Korytowski, 14 Misc.2d 417, 179 N.Y.S.2d 424 (Schenectady Co. Ct., 1958) – Evidence that the defendant was going faster than 45 to 50 miles per hour, and made a ‘U’ turn from the outside lane 75 feet away, on an open highway, was not sufficient to convict him for reckless driving.

If you have questions call the Rosenblum Law at (201) 283-8852 for a free consult.

The underlying theme here seems to be that, as the Appellate Court noted in People v. Goldblatt, 98 AD 3d 817 – NY: Appellate Div., 3rd Dept. 2012, “the presence of additional aggravating acts or circumstances beyond a single violation of a rule of the road” is necessary to violate New York’s Reckless Driving statute.

So, for example, “although violating the speed limit may not be enough by itself, speed plus crossing into the passing lane when the view of oncoming traffic is not clear is sufficient.” Moreover, “merely making a U-turn would not constitute reckless driving, but doing so across three lanes of traffic on a parkway could be considered reckless…”

That should clear things up a bit. But there is one thing we have not yet addressed.

The statute states that Reckless Driving must occur on a “public highway.” When we think of a highway, we tend to think of long stretches of road that usually have posted speed limits of 55 mph or above. But, as is so often the case, the legal meaning of a word or phrase is vastly different from its common meaning.

Vehicle and Traffic Law § 134 defines “public highway” as “[a]ny highway, road, street, avenue, alley, public place, public driveway or any other public way,” which includes sidewalks (see, People v Miller, 206 Misc 1085 [Nassau County Ct 1954]).

So you can be charged with Reckless driving almost anywhere you drive.

Why You Should Hire an Attorney to Fight for You

Now that you know what Reckless driving is and the consequences of being convicted of Reckless driving, the question is – if charged with Reckless driving, what can you do about it?

Not surprisingly, we suggest you hire an attorney. But this is not just because that’s what we do for a living. As noted above, Reckless driving is a serious charge; the consequences of being found guilty of Reckless driving are severe, including jail time and a criminal record, in addition to five points on your driving record, possible suspension of your license, fines, and significantly increased insurance premiums.

Fighting such a charge should be left up to professionals, not gambled away.

The attorneys at the Rosenblum Law are seasoned professionals with vast experience in handling such matters. We know how to fight your reckless driving charge. For more information, call us at (201) 283-8852 for a free consultation.

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