Differences Between Aggressive and Reckless Driving ChargesMany people in North Carolina do not realize that reckless driving and aggressive driving are two separate offenses and make the mistake of treating being charged with one of these offenses like a simple traffic ticket. However, both are serious misdemeanor crimes in North Carolina. If you have been charged with either of these crimes, do not make the error of just pleading guilty. You could face serious penalties when sentenced and have a permanent criminal record.

What Is Reckless Driving in North Carolina?

Reckless driving is a common and confusing charge in North Carolina. There are two reasons why drivers are charged with reckless driving. Reckless driving is defined as any person driving on a highway or public vehicular area in one of the following manners:

  • Driving in a careless and headless manner in willful or wanton disregard of the rights of others.
  • Driving without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner that does or is likely to endanger a person or property.

Because of the vagueness of the law, many different driving behaviors can be considered reckless driving. It is classified as a Class 2 misdemeanor.

What Is Aggressive Driving?

Aggressive driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is a more serious offense than reckless driving. It is defined as driving a motor vehicle on a street, highway, or public vehicular area carelessly and heedlessly in a willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others and doing one of the following:

  • Violating speed limits in a school zone.
  • Violating a speed restriction under North Carolina law, such as driving more than 35 miles per hour inside of municipal corporate limits or in excess of 55 miles per hour outside of municipal corporate limits.

In order to show that a person was driving carelessly and heedlessly in a willful and wanton disregard of others’ rights and safety, it must be proven that the person was committing a speeding violation listed above and at least two of these offenses:

  • Running a red light.
  • Running through a stop sign.
  • Passing illegally.
  • Failing to yield the right-of-way.
  • Following too closely.

Penalties for Reckless Driving and Aggressive Driving

North Carolina not only has complicated reckless driving and aggressive driving offenses, but also a complex sentencing system that considers the current offense and the person’s prior criminal history. Someone convicted of either of these charges could be charged with one of these types of sentences:

  • Active punishment, which includes a jail sentence.
  • Intermediate punishment, which is supervised probation that may or may not include a jail sentence.
  • Community punishment—any punishment other than active punishment and may include house arrest with electronic monitoring or community service.

The convicted person’s conviction level is also considered. An individual with no prior convictions falls within Prior Conviction Level 1, with one to four prior convictions within Prior Conviction Level 2, and with five or more convictions within Prior Conviction Level 3. Here are the possible sentences for aggressive driving and reckless driving:

  • Prior Conviction Level 1. For reckless driving, the sentence would be community punishment for one to 30 days. Aggressive driving is also sentenced at the community punishment level, but for 1 to 45 days.
  • Prior Conviction Level 2. A person convicted of reckless driving can face a community or intermediate punishment for 1 to 45 days. He could receive an active, intermediate, or community punishment for 1 to 45 days for an aggressive driving conviction.
  • Prior Conviction Level 3. A person could be sentenced to a community, intermediate, or active punishment for between 1 and 60 days for a reckless driving conviction and between 1 and 120 days for an aggressive driving conviction.

Have you Received a Traffic Citation in Charlotte, NC?

If you received a traffic citation, you need to speak with an experienced traffic ticket attorney as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Charlotte office directly at 980.207.3355 to schedule your free consultation.


Howard W. Long, II
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Charlotte Criminal Defense and DWI Lawyer