Careless Driving vs Reckless Driving in NJ with an NY Driver’s License

By: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq. | Last Updated:

Some states have different traffic laws for careless driving and reckless driving. Luckily, New York is not one of them. Instead of having two different laws on the books, the element of carelessness is included in the NY reckless driving statute.

However, if you are a NY driver and travel to NJ, it is important for you to know the difference between the two because NJ does make this distinction and you can be affected by it.

Careless Driving and Reckless Driving

In New Jersey, careless driving is a less serious traffic violation than reckless driving. According to 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.”

In plain English, this is a catch-all provision that prohibits erratic driving that can put the safety of other motorists in jeopardy.

However, this sounds an awful lot like what we commonly think of as reckless driving. If so, then what exactly is reckless driving?

Reckless driving in NJ involves a higher degree of “disregard” for other motorists than merely driving erratically.

According to NJSA 39:4-96:

  • A person who drives 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, shall be guilty of reckless driving.”

This raises the standard for “carelessly” driving to “willful or wanton disregard.” Although they appear similar, they are not. Willful or wanton disregard usually means you intentionally did something dangerous to others.

A good example of this involves what we do when we act out of road rage (e.g. tailgating while speeding).

However, just being “careless” could involve swerving unintentionally from one lane to another in an unsafe fashion.

Reckless Driving Out of State

If you are a New York driver and receive a NJ reckless driving ticket (or a NJ careless driving ticket), although points will not be added onto your NY license, you will have to pay a fine and could face a steep insurance hike.

However, without knowing the difference between careless and reckless driving, you might have wondered why your premium only went up 14% for a careless driving ticket but it skyrocketed by 42% for your reckless driving ticket (based on the calculator).

Regardless of whether you received a ticket for careless driving or reckless driving in NJ, it is always a good idea to contact an experienced attorney who knows the ins and outs of both violations.