Summertime in Western New York can be a time of leisure and excitement, and after each long and snowy winter, our neighbors from Tonawanda to Lackawanna flock to the shores of Lake Erie, the amusement parks along the Interstates, or across the border to Ontario to take advantage of the warm weather and long, sunny days. With the increases in recreational activities and tourism, though, come a higher incidence of improper conduct behind the wheel. Distracted and reckless driving are common misdemeanors during the warmer weather, and for that reason, it is of extra importance to know the signs of both types of offenses. Before you go on your next road trip, head north to Niagara Falls, or drive to a local party, make sure that you know what constitutes reckless and distracted driving.
RECKLESS DRIVING CHARGES HAVE GREATER REPERCUSSIONS THAN SPEEDING DOES.
Reckless driving is a misdemeanor, and penalties include a fine of up to $300, a court surcharge of $70 or more, a significant insurance rate increase, up to 30 days in jail, and five points added to one’s driver’s license. For a second reckless driving conviction, the fine can rise to over $500, with potential jail time of 90 days. A third reckless driving conviction will result in a fine in excess of $1,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
RECKLESS DRIVING CHARGES CAN AFFECT YOUR ABILITY TO FIND WORK.
One significant difference between a charge of speeding and reckless driving charges is that the latter, as a criminal charge, could impact future employment. If you are facing reckless driving charges, you should consult a traffic ticket attorney, who might be your only chance at reducing the charge and keeping your record clean, allowing you to answer “No” if and when a future potential employer asks you about prior criminal convictions.
THE CRITERIA FOR RECKLESS DRIVING ARE A BIT UNCLEAR…
Reckless driving occurs either when a driver “unreasonably interferes” with the proper use of a public highway or when a driver “unreasonably endangers” others using a public highway. For example, running one stop sign is unlikely to constitute reckless driving, but running two stop signs in a row may rise to the level of reckless driving. Missing the first stop sign might be a simple mistake, but running a second one so soon after the first indicates a careless and reckless driver. Talking on a cell phone is not usually considered reckless driving (although it is illegal in New York State), but being on your cell phone while speeding excessively could be interpreted as reckless driving.
…BUT THAT DOES NOT PREVENT OFFICERS FROM ISSUING RECKLESS DRIVING CHARGES.
The nebulous language, however, gives police officers great latitude in making arrests, and grants prosecutors and judges significant discretion in charging and sentencing. This can work to the benefit or the detriment of the driver. An experienced attorney could argue that the arresting officer made a mistake, and that the accused was not acting in a reckless manner. This couldbe easier than controverting the hard evidence of a radar gun in a speeding case. If you face a charge of reckless driving, it’s imperative that you hire an attorney, who might be able to have your charge reduced to a speeding ticket or even a non-moving violation, reducing the financial cost of the charge and protecting your record from a criminal stain.
DISTRACTED DRIVING IS JUST AS SIGNIFICANT A PROBLEM AS SPEEDING IS.
A survey by Allstate found that U.S. American drivers are perennially distracted. New York drivers are no exception, though they face some of the nation’s harshest penalties for using mobile devices while driving. 45 percent of respondents said that they have driven while excessively tired, 15 percent reported that they have driven while intoxicated, and 34 percent said that they have sent a text message or email while driving. Broken down by age groups, this included a whopping 63 percent of drivers aged 18-29 and 58 percent of drivers 30-44.
UNLIKE RECKLESS DRIVING, DISTRACTED DRIVING IS CLEARLY DEFINED.
According to New York State law, illegal “distracted driving” activity includes driving while holding a portable electronic device and either talking on a handheld mobile telephone; composing, sending, reading, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving, or retrieving electronic data such as e-mail, text messages, or webpages; viewing, taking, or transmitting images; or playing games. If convicted of distracted driving, penalties include five points on the driver’s license, a fine of $50 to $200, a surcharge of $93, and the possibility of jail time and the suspension of the driver’s license (though these last two are not common).
HOWEVER, DISTRACTED DRIVING-RELATED ACTIVITIES ARE PERMITTED UNDER CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES.
Exceptions to the actions prohibited above are using a hands-free mobile telephone, which allows the user to communicate without the use of either hand; using a handheld electronic device that is affixed to a vehicle surface; using a GPS device that is attached to the vehicle; when the purpose of the phone call is to communicate an emergency to a police or fire department, a hospital or physician’s office, or an ambulance corps; or when the driver is operating an authorized emergency vehicle in the performance of official duties.
Except in the case of emergency, there is no reason sufficient to justify using a cell phone, driving carelessly, or engaging in other irresponsible behaviors. If you have been charged with engaging in distracted or reckless driving, you may have to contend with a hefty fine and other consequences that will have lasting effects on your abilities to drive and work. However, if you feel that you have been wrongly accused of such behavior, it is critical that you immediately consult an attorney with experience in fighting traffic violations and offenses. With the right attorney by your side, you will have a chance at either reducing the consequences or even having the charge removed.