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Careless Driving in New Jersey (NJSA 39:4-97)

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Written By 
Last updated 
March 21, 2024

In New Jersey, careless driving is a catch-all law that prohibits any form of unsafe operation not otherwise covered by an already existing traffic statute. It differs from reckless driving and is a less serious offense but still carries points and fines. It is extremely important to understand the ramifications of a conviction for careless driving in NJ.

What Are the Penalties for Careless Driving in New Jersey?

Fine: Drivers can be fined between $50 and $200 if convicted of careless driving in New Jersey. This fine does not increase upon subsequent convictions. 

Points: Two points are assessed on one’s NJ license following a conviction for careless driving. 

Court costs: Those who take their ticket to court will have to pay $34 in court fees. This is in addition to the fine or possible surcharge (see below). 

Surcharge: Drivers convicted of six points or more worth of traffic tickets in New Jersey over three years must pay a surcharge. This is an additional fee on top of the fine. A point-induced surcharge costs $150 plus $25 for each point over six.

Auto insurance increase: A conviction for careless driving in New Jersey can result in a significant increase in insurance premiums. One study estimates that a single careless driving ticket can cause a rate increase of about 16%.

Jail time: In extreme cases, drivers can be jailed for up to 15 days if convicted of careless driving. The circumstances that warrant jail time are at the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. 

Angry and rude driver portrait sitting in his car

The Difference Between Careless Driving and Reckless Driving in New Jersey 

Drivers who exhibit dangerous behavior on the road can be charged with either careless driving or reckless driving, depending on the type and severity of the actions. 

Under NJSA 39:4-97, “A person who drives a vehicle carelessly, or without due caution and circumspection, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property, shall be guilty of careless driving.”

New Jersey’s careless driving law is exceptionally open-ended and leaves a police officer with a tremendous amount of discretion. Any time someone drives erratically on the road and the conduct does not quite fit with another traffic violation, an officer can issue a ticket for careless driving. 

According to NJSA 39:4-96, reckless driving involves “[d]riving a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”

The core difference between careless driving and reckless driving is one of intent. Drivers charged with careless driving are accused of unintentionally exhibiting unsafe behavior; reckless driving means the officer accuses the driver of “willful or wanton disregard” for the safety of others. 

Careless Driving (39:4-97) vs. Unsafe Driving (39:4-97.2) in New Jersey

Another New Jersey traffic infraction similar to Careless Driving is Unsafe Driving (NJSA 39:4-97.2). The unsafe driving statute states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, it shall be unlawful for any person to drive or operate a motor vehicle in an unsafe manner likely to endanger a person or property.” 

It is a common tactic for drivers to plead down a careless driving charge to an unsafe driving charge. Many drivers do this because unsafe driving carries no points. The catch is that unsafe driving comes with an automatic $250 surcharge, in addition to the fine and court costs.

Drivers should consult with an experienced traffic ticket attorney before pleading guilty to any traffic violation or attempting to negotiate it down to a lesser offense. An attorney is more likely to get a better deal than one would on his/her own. In addition, if the charge is related to an auto accident, pleading guilty to any offense–even a reduced offense–can be used against the driver in a civil lawsuit (see below).

Careless Driving and Auto Accidents

Tickets for careless driving are sometimes issued to drivers involved in auto accidents, even if one or both did not commit any other traffic violations. A driver who has been charged with careless driving following an auto accident should do everything possible to avoid conviction. Such a conviction–even if it is reduced to a lesser offense as the result of a plea bargain–can be used against the driver to demonstrate liability in a civil lawsuit.

In situations where getting a not-guilty verdict from a judge is not possible, the driver should have his attorney request a civil reservation. This allows the driver to accept the conviction without accepting the associated civil liability it would otherwise imply. A driver should always consult with a traffic ticket attorney before choosing this or any course of action in response to a charge of careless driving. 

Who Should I Contact for Help with a Careless Driving Ticket in NJ?

If you recently received a NJ traffic ticket, contact Rosenblum Law. Our team of New York and New Jersey traffic ticket attorneys has a successful track record of fighting NJ traffic tickets and getting our clients the results they want. Call us today at 888-815-3649.

Author Bio

Adam H. Rosenblum

Founding Attorney Of Rosenblum Law

Adam H. Rosenblum is an experienced and skilled traffic violations and criminal defense attorney. Mr. Rosenblum provides expert and aggressive representation to those facing points on their drivers’ licenses and the associated fines and surcharges.

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