California Reckless Driving Laws, Charges and Punishment

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In California, you can be convicted of reckless driving if you are driving your vehicle in a willful or wanton manner that disregards the safety of other people and property.

Reckless Driving Laws

To prove under California Vehicle Code 23104 that you are guilty of reckless driving, the following must be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt by the state prosecutor:

  • You drove the vehicle on a California road or parking lot
  • You drove the vehicle with wanton disregard for the safety of others

You act with wanton disregard for the safety of others when you were aware that your actions presented a risk of harm to other people, and that you ignored the risk. But you did not have to intend to cause damage to other people or property.

To be charged with reckless driving causing bodily injury, the above must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, plus that you caused bodily injury to a person other than yourself.

You also can be convicted of reckless driving even if you were on private property, such as a parking lot or on the property of a friend or your employer.

You Tube Special Feature

Every day, many people across the country and world drive recklessly. In some cases, driving recklessly can lead to serious and sometimes fatal injuries. Check out this compilation of reckless driving if you want to see how not to drive.

California Reckless Driving Punishment

Reckless driving may sound like a minor offense, but be aware the consequences can be more serious than a minor speeding ticket. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor and can result in five to 90 days in jail, as well as a fine ranging from $145 to $1000. Also, if someone was injured or killed due to your reckless driving, or if you have a previous reckless driving conviction, the penalties can be more severe. If you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the penalty will be enhanced as well.

Also, the DMV will place two points on your driver’s license and could count a conviction against you in a license suspension hearing in the future.

Note that because reckless driving is a misdemeanor, it cannot be reduced to a traffic violation. It also is common for the state prosecutor to add other charges to reckless driving charges, such as street racing, speeding and street racing causing injury.

Another possible consequence of this crime is the police have the ability to impound your vehicle for up to 30 days if you are arrested for reckless driving.

If you are a commercial vehicle driver and are convicted of reckless driving, you can receive up to six months in jail and $2500 in fines.

If your reckless driving leads to severe injuries for another person, the judge can impose a more severe penalty. Some of the common severe injuries where this can occur are bone fractures, brain injuries, paralysis and loss of consciousness. An offense with this type of consequence is referred to as a ‘wobbler,’ meaning it can be punished as a felony or misdemeanor. If it is punished as a felony, the driver can receive 16 months to three years in prison.

California Reckless Driving Defenses

Under California Vehicle Code 23103, reckless driving is defined as driving on a highway in the state with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety or property of others. It is important to note that the law states you must be on a highway, but it is understood to mean any road or parking facility in the state. ‘Wanton’ under the law means the act was deliberate and uncalled for. You must have meant to drive recklessly and had no reason to do it for your actions to be wanton according to the law.

The state prosecutor has the burden of proving you were driving and you were doing so with wanton or willful disregard for the safety of other people. To fight this charge, one of the most obvious is that you were not driving the car. This might sound silly in some ways, but does the prosecution have proof that you were driving? Did you actually identify yourself with your driver’s license?

Another possible defense is your actions were not willful. There are circumstances in an emergency where you could be driving recklessly due to needing to get to the hospital where your child was injured. If you can show your reckless driving was due to an emergency, this could be a strong defense.

Another defense is you did not know the rules of the road because there were no speed limit signs in the area. Or, the officer may not have accurately determined your speed. How was your speed measured and was the instrument used accurate? Did the officer have proper training to use the device properly?

It is important to note that speeding by itself does not prove that you were driving with wanton disregard for the safety of others. It is only a single factor the jury needs to consider out of the various case circumstances. If your speeding well beyond the speed limit is the only evidence against you, a good defense attorney may be able to successfully defend you against the charges.

California Reckless Driving Cases

  • Truck Driver To Stand Trial for CA Bus Crash – A truck driver will stand trial for a tour bus crash in Indio, California that killed 13 people. The trucker has been charged with 42 counts of reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter. Police say the truck driver fell asleep on the highway and blocked traffic, leading to the bus rear ending the rig at high speed.
  • CHP Officer Hit by Drunk Driver Released From Hospital – A California Highway Patrol Driver who was struck by a drunk driver in Concord, California last month has recovered enough to go home after 18 days of hospital care. The drunk driver has been charged with reckless driving, assault on a peace officer and DUI.
  • California Man Arrested With Mother’s Body in Trunk – A California man was arrested in South Dakota with his mother’s body in the vehicle. He was arrested on New Year’s Day for alleged drunk driving and reckless driving after leading police on a 50 mile chase on I-90 in South Dakota that reached speeds of 100 MPH.


  • California Reckless Driving Laws. (n.d.). Retrieved from