Reckless driving is a serious offense in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, and it’s not uncommon for drivers to face this charge. For example, law enforcement officials frequently consider speeding as reckless driving. However, reckless driving can be applied to a range of traffic violations beyond just excessive speeds. 

If you were issued a reckless driving charge and face penalties, it’s critical to understand that this isn’t simply a traffic ticket—and there are severe consequences that follow a conviction. At Browning & Long P.L.L.C., our experienced Charlotte reckless driving attorneys know the gravity of your situation and are committed to guiding you through your legal options while mounting an aggressive defense to protect your rights and future. Reckless Driving Charges Penalties | NC Criminal Attorney

What is Reckless Driving in North Carolina?

N.C.G.S. 20-140 outlines the legal definition and consequences of reckless driving in North Carolina. Here are the key components of the statute.

Careless and Heedless Disregard for Others

The first part of the statute, subsection (a), defines reckless driving “as any individual who drives any motor vehicle upon a highway or any public vehicular area carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others.” In simpler terms, if you operate a vehicle in a manner that demonstrates a complete disregard for the safety and well-being of others on the road, you may be charged with reckless driving. 

This aspect of the statute encompasses a wide range of behaviors if done in a manner that endangers others. In addition, a highway is broadly defined to include most roads in Charlotte.

Driving Without Due Caution and Circumspection 

Subsection (b) of N.C.G.S. 20-140 addresses another way a person can commit the crime of reckless driving. It defines reckless driving as “any individual who operates any vehicle upon a highway or any public vehicular area without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property.”

In essence, this part of the statute focuses on the lack of care and caution exhibited by a motorist. Even if your actions don’t amount to a willful disregard for others, driving without the necessary care and attention required by the situation can still result in a reckless driving charge.

Commercial Vehicles

Subsection (f) of N.C.G.S. 20-140 provides for when drivers of commercial vehicles can be charged with reckless driving. If you drive a commercial motor vehicle carrying a load subject to permit requirements (as outlined in N.C.G.S. 20-119), you can be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor for reckless driving if you engage in:

  • “Driving carelessly and heedlessly in wanton or willful disregard for other individuals' rights or safety;” 
  • “Driving without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner likely to endanger a person or property.”

Examples of Reckless Driving  

Reckless driving charges in Mecklenburg County can be filed in various situations when a motorist's behavior endangers the safety of others on the road. Here are some common scenarios.

Speeding 

Driving at a significantly excessive speed, well beyond the posted limits or safe conditions. This includes: 

  • Driving 15 mph over the speed limit
  • 75 mph where the posted speed limit is 70 mph
  • Over 80 mph 

Running a Red Light 

Ignoring a red traffic signal and proceeding through an intersection can be considered reckless driving, especially if it puts other drivers and pedestrians at risk. 

Running a Stop Sign 

Not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, especially in a manner that endangers others, may lead to a reckless driving charge.

Unsafe Lane Changes  

Making abrupt or unsafe lane changes without signaling or checking blind spots can be grounds for reckless driving charges. 

Tailgating 

Following another vehicle too closely, without adequate stopping distance, can cause a dangerous rear-end collision. Law enforcement might view this behavior as reckless. 

Failing to Yield 

Not yielding the right-of-way when required, such as at yield signs or to pedestrians in crosswalks, is considered a negligent or reckless act. 

Street Racing 

Engaging in illegal street racing or participating in dangerous speed contests on public roads is another example of reckless driving.

Factors Determining Reckless Driving Charges and Penalties in Charlotte 

Judges evaluate many aspects of your case to assign an appropriate sentence for a reckless driving conviction. Here are some key factors judges consider.

Causing an Accident 

The judge will likely impose a more substantial penalty if reckless driving resulted in a traffic collision causing injury or property damage. 

Not Driving for Weather Conditions 

Failing to adjust driving behavior in adverse weather conditions—such as heavy rain, fog, or ice—may lead to a harsher sentence.

Using a Cellphone

Distracted driving, particularly using a cellphone, is a significant factor in reckless driving cases and often results in increased penalties. 

Driving at Excessive Speeds 

Operating a vehicle too fast for road conditions or at an excessive speed are significant aggravating factors in reckless driving cases. 

Driving While Drunk or Drugged 

Dire consequences are frequently imposed if someone combines careless driving with drunk or drugged behavior. Penalties include longer jail sentences, higher fines, and DWI charges.

Penalties of a Reckless Driving Conviction 

Reckless driving is a Class 2 misdemeanor in North Carolina. Class 2 misdemeanors are considered more severe offenses than traffic infractions or lower-level misdemeanors, and a conviction can carry notable penalties, including fines and the potential for jail time. In addition, you must attend a mandatory court hearing to resolve your criminal case.

The punishments of a reckless driving conviction can be far-reaching and may impact various aspects of your life, including the following. 

Jail Time  

You could be jailed for up to 60 days, even for a first offense, especially if aggravating factors are involved.

Fines

You may also be required to pay fines as part of your punishment. The typical fines in reckless driving cases can be up to $1,000. Failure to pay them leads to further punishments.

License Suspension 

A conviction might also include a suspension of your driver's license. This disrupts your daily life and makes fulfilling work and family responsibilities challenging. 

Driving License Points 

You could have four demerit points placed on your driving record. Accumulating too many points in a short time can be additional grounds to suspend your driver's license. 

Insurance Costs

Auto insurance premiums will likely increase significantly after a reckless driving conviction. This causes financial strain for years to come.

Criminal Record 

A reckless driving conviction results in a permanent criminal record, affecting your employability, housing prospects, and other important aspects of life. 

5 Essential Steps to Take if You're Arrested for Reckless Driving in Charlotte

Facing a reckless driving charge is a daunting experience, but taking certain actions promptly can make a critical difference in the outcome of your case. 

1. Stay Calm  

If you’re pulled over for reckless driving, remain calm and respectful when interacting with law enforcement officers. Cooperate with their requests, provide your identification, and avoid arguing or making admissions.

2. Seek Legal Representation 

As soon as possible, consult a knowledgeable reckless driving attorney in Charlotte like the professionals at Browning & Long P.L.L.C. Legal counsel is crucial in building your potential defenses and strategizing on the best course of action.

3. Review the Notice to Appear 

Carefully examine the notice to appear, as it contains important details about your charge, court date, and other relevant information. Put the court date on your calendar, and provide the notice to appear to your attorney. 

4. Understand Your Rights 

Ensure that you understand your rights, including the right to remain silent. Avoid making statements to law enforcement or anyone else without your lawyer present.

5. Maintain Court Hearings 

Attend all scheduled court hearings, as failing to do so can result in additional criminal charges. Dress appropriately and arrive on time.

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