What Are the Penalties for Reckless Driving in New York?
Depending on how dangerous the actions are, a driver charged with reckless driving could go to jail for up to 30 days for a first offense, 90 days for a second offense, and 180 days for a third offense. Aside from the criminal penalties, a reckless driving conviction will put 5 points on a driver’s license and result in a fine of up to $300 for a first offense. To learn more on how to read your New York Reckless Driving Ticket click here.
The full list of potential consequences are:
Criminal record: Reckless driving is more than a moving violation—it is a misdemeanor offense. A conviction means having a permanent criminal record. This could be a barrier to finding or keeping a job, and could affect other aspects of one’s life, including access to housing, acceptance to colleges, and financial aid. It could even affect one’s immigration status.
Jail time: The risk of going to jail over a reckless driving ticket is higher than with most moving violations. Drivers who are convicted of reckless driving could spend up to 30 days in jail for a first offense, 90 days in jail for a second offense, and 180 days in jail for a third offense.
Fines: Someone convicted of reckless driving in New York will pay a fine of $100 to $300 for a first offense. A second offense in 18 months will cost $100 to $525. A third conviction can result in a fine of $100 to $1,125.
Surcharges: In addition to the fine, a reckless driving ticket includes a state surcharge of $88 or $93, depending on where it was issued.
Driver Responsibility Assessment Fee (DRA): Drivers convicted of six or more points worth of violations within an 18-month period will be hit with a fine known as the Driver Responsibility Assessment fee (DRA). This is separate from the surcharges and fines associated with the ticket and is paid directly to the DMV. A DRA costs $300 plus an additional $75 for each point after six. Since reckless driving is worth five points, it only takes one additional moving violation to end up paying a DRA.
Points: The New York DMV will assess 5 points for each reckless driving conviction.
Auto insurance premium increases: Most moving violations will impact a drivers’ premiums. Some studies have found that a reckless driving conviction can cause a rate increase of 76 percent! Since reckless driving is a criminal offense, the ticket can also increase premiums for one’s life insurance and homeowner’s insurance.
Risk of license suspension: Reckless driving carries a serious risk of a license suspension. Any NY judge can suspend a person’s driving privileges if they feel the person deserves it based on their actions. Driving recklessly could be such a basis. In addition, drivers who are assessed 11 points or more will have their license suspended by the DMV. This can happen to any driver who has already been or later is convicted of two three-point offenses (e.g. red light tickets) or one six-point ticket (e.g. speeding 21 mph over the limit) in addition to the 5 point reckless driving ticket.
|Offense Within 18 Months||Max Fine + Surcharge & DRA||Total Points||Potential Jail Sentence|
|First||$188 – $393||5||30 Days|
|Second||$788 – $1,218||10||90 Days|
|Third||$1,163 – $2,193||15||180 Days|
What is Considered Reckless Driving in New York?
A driver can be convicted of reckless driving in New York for driving a vehicle in a way that “unreasonably interferes” with the use of the public highway, or which “unreasonably endangers” other drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians. Police have wide latitude regarding what can be considered reckless driving. For a charge to be upheld in court the prosecutor must demonstrate that the driver was acting in a way that showed disregard for the safety of others in a way that a rational person would not have done.
Examples of behavior that can result in a reckless driving conviction would include:
- Driving off the road while going at an excessive speed and making no effort to slow down in the presence of pedestrians (see People v. Goldblatt, 98 A.D.3d 817).
- Running through a police barricade (see People v. Patterson, 23 Misc.2d 182).
- Driving onto an exit ramp and then making a U-turn across three lanes of traffic before colliding into another vehicle (see People v. McGrantham, 12 N.Y.3d 892).
- Crossing the centerline into the path of an oncoming traffic at a high rate of speed and crashed into another vehicle (see People v. Armlin, 6 N.Y.2d 231).
- Ingesting drugs or alcohol before getting behind the wheel and subsequently committing one or more traffic violations or causing an accident (see People v. Bohacek, 95 A.D.3d 1592).
Actions not constituting reckless driving:
- People v. Bulgin, (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, (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, (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, (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.
Hiring an Attorney to Fight a NY Reckless Driving Ticket
Reckless driving (VTL 1212) is considered to be one of the most serious tickets a person can receive. Reckless driving is unlike most other traffic tickets because it counts as a misdemeanor (crime) in New York. That means, unlike speeding tickets, a reckless driving carries the risk of a jail sentence. This, plus the high fines and point value of the ticket and the potential for significant auto insurance increases makes it imperative that a person hire a qualified NY traffic ticket attorney to fight a reckless driving charge. A skilled attorney can assess the evidence of the case surrounding the reckless driving charge and develop a defense strategy that can potentially get the charge reduced to a more common traffic ticket (such as speeding or improper turn).
Common Defenses to NY Reckless Driving Tickets
Fighting a ticket for reckless driving in NY can be more challenging than a regular ticket. Since VTL 1212 is considered a criminal matter, it will usually require an appearance in court. More importantly, judges and district attorneys are less flexible when negotiating a criminal offense like reckless driving.
Due to the severity of these penalties, it is absolutely vital to familiarize oneself with a few of the common defenses used to prevent a conviction for reckless driving from staining one’s driving record.
In order to be convicted of reckless driving, the prosecution must provide evidence showing more than mere negligence. Similarly, determining whether conduct rises to the level of “unreasonable interference” or “endangerment” requires the presence of “additional aggravating acts or circumstances beyond a single violation of a rule of the road.” (see People v. Goldblatt, 98 AD 3d 817).
Based on this, a good defense NY traffic ticket attorneys raise is that there were no additional “aggravating acts” beyond the bounds of a mere traffic violation. For example, if the defense attorney is able to prove that all the driver did was violate a speeding or lane change law without engaging in any erratic or out-of-the-ordinary conduct, the driver will likely be able to get the reckless driving charge dismissed or greatly lowered.
Additionally, a more obvious—though equally valid—defense against VTL 1212 is that the driver was in fact driving reasonably. This of course presumes that the driver was not drinking and driving, swerving along the entire road, and/or driving erratically. Nevertheless, a smart attorney will use the exact language of the statute to argue that the driver was not endangering anyone else on the road and/or he/she was driving reasonably given the circumstances.
Lastly, police misconduct or a blatant abuse of power may also be a factor in an attorney’s defense. Although this will not usually sway a judge to dismiss a reckless driving charge (and is not always believed by the judge), this defense can seriously mitigate the punishment if solid proof is proffered.
Case Law Analysis
The case law in New York reveals a very interesting insight into convictions for VTL 1212. Usually, engaging in multiple traffic violations will amount to reckless driving (see People v Grogan, 260 NY 138).
Additionally, if those infractions would be considered dangerous to the average individual, a judge will likely find the driver guilty (see People v Lamphear, 35 AD2d 305).
For example, in People v. Bohacek, 95 AD 3d 1592, a woman’s car crossed over into the oncoming lane of traffic and collided with another vehicle. If the story ended there, he would have been dealing with a run-of-the-mill negligence case, not reckless driving.
However, the driver of the other vehicle was killed instantly, and a blood test revealed that the woman who swerved into the other lane was on drugs at the time. With these facts on the table, due to the combined unreasonableness of: 1) driving while on drugs, 2) swerving into oncoming traffic, and 3) being the cause of a fatal car crash, there is no doubt why the judge ruled that this amounted to reckless driving.
Likewise, just swerving in and out of lanes will not constitute reckless driving. However, if the driver hits a car while swerving, it usually will (see People v. Van De Cruze, 2012 NY Slip Op 51378).
The difference between getting slapped with a routine traffic ticket and one for reckless driving appears to be in the compounded nature of the conduct as well as how dangerous it ultimately was. Download a free copy of our Reckless Driving ebook.
Many drivers mistakenly believe that being licensed in a state other than New York means they can ignore NY traffic tickets. The fact is New York and most other states sharing information about each other’s drivers. As such, a charge of reckless driving issued in New York can and will follow an out-of-state driver home. More importantly, because reckless driving is a criminal offense, not only will one’s driving record be tarnished but the driver will also have a criminal record that will show up in any kind of basic background check, regardless of where the person lives.
- How fast is considered reckless driving in New York?
There is no formal speed that is considered to be reckless per se. However, excess speed in combination with any number of other factors can be grounds for a reckless driving charge. Generally speaking, an officer will issue a ticket for reckless driving if a driver is acting in a way that is considered unreasonable and either endangers others or prohibits use of the roadway.
- Is reckless driving a felony in New York?
No. Reckless driving is classified as a misdemeanor in New York. While less serious than a felony, a misdemeanor conviction can still result in jail time, heavy fines, and a permanent criminal record.
- How long does a reckless driving conviction stay on one’s license?
- A reckless driving conviction will stay on a New York driving record for three years. However, the misdemeanor conviction will remain on one’s criminal record forever.
- What is a “wet reckless” charge?
The term “wet reckless” is not usually used in New York. Other states use the term to mean a plea bargain under which a DWI is reduced to a reckless driving charge. New York, however, has tight limits on plea bargains for DWI cases. In fact, it is not uncommon for drivers to be charged with both DWI and reckless driving—or aggravated reckless driving—depending on the circumstances.
- How long does a reckless driving conviction stay on one’s license?
A reckless driving conviction will stay on a New York driving record for three years. However, the misdemeanor conviction will remain on one’s criminal record forever.