Updated: September 10, 2022 by Sean McQuaid
If you’ve been charged with reckless driving in Florida, it is time to start taking steps to protect yourself. Reckless driving is a crime that is reported on your permanent record and also has consequences on your driver’s license. Fortunately, there are routes to reduce or dismiss your charges with the help of a criminal defense attorney.
Whether you’ve been unfairly charged or simply made a mistake, here’s what you need to do if you’ve been charged with reckless driving in Florida:
What Is a Reckless Driving Charge in Florida?
Florida Statute 316.192 defines reckless driving as “Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” or some who is “fleeing a law enforcement officer in a motor vehicle.”
Reckless driving is considered to be a lesser crime than Driving Under Influence (DUI). The main difference between the two is that a reckless driving charge carries less severe penalties than DUI charges. But, if you really made the police officer mad, you might have even been charged with a DUI and a reckless driving.
Penalties for a Reckless Driving Charge in Florida?
Reckless driving in Florida is categorized as a misdemeanor and can potentially result in jail time. According to Florida law, the penalties are:
- Up to 90 days in Jail.
- A $25-$500 fine.
- Or both a fine and imprisonment,
Second or More Convictions:
- Up to 6 months in Jail.
- A $50-$1,000 fine.
- Or both a fine and imprisonment.
If You Cause Property Damage or Bodily Harm to Another Person
- In this scenario, you are facing a first-degree misdemeanor offense.
- Punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
- Up to 1 year in jail.
If You Caused a Serious Bodily Injury
- Third-degree felony.
- Up to $5,000 fine.
- Up to 5 years in jail.
Reckless vs. Careless Driving
In Florida, there is a similar traffic violation called ‘careless driving.’ The main difference is that reckless driving is a crime and careless driving is a civil infraction. Reckless driving covers those ‘wanton disregard for everyone’s safety, careless driving is for lesser conduct such as causing an accident, speeding, weaving through traffic or following too closely.
Those charged with careless driving may be driving dangerously, but it might just be an unintentional slip-up or failure to pay attention. Careless driving charges usually provide the option to be dismissed by completing a DHSMV-approved Florida traffic school course.
In every reckless driving case, the goal is to either get the charge dismissed or reduced to a careless driving infraction. Often, having it reduced to a civil infraction is just as good as a dismissal since it is not a crime.
What to Do if Charged With Reckless Driving in Florida?
Start Fixing Your Mistake
If you’ve been charged with a reckless driving charge, you need to start fixing the mistake. Even if the police were wrong, the prosecutor and the judge still want to see that you are taking responsibility for the actions that brought you to court. I like my clients to complete a voluntary driving school like ADI. This is not an admission of guilt, just a way to show that you are taking the matter seriously and want leniency.
Can a Reckless Driving Charge in Florida Be Dismissed?
Florida’s courts hear reckless driving cases every day. Despite their severity, they can be dismissed.
Most cases that are dismissed are due to being overcharged. Police officers sometimes even seem confused about what exactly is a reckless driving charge. They see someone speeding or driving erratically, get upset, and default to the reckless driving charge. This is especially true for younger people.
If it’s not possible to get your case completely dropped, your reckless driving attorney may be able to get your charge reduced to a ‘careless driving’ charge – which carries far less severe penalties.
Letter from DHSMV
Florida Statute 322.026 states that after a reckless driving conviction, DHSMV will send you a letter informing you that you are required to complete a four-hour Basic Driver’s Improvement class.
You must complete this class within 90 days to avoid having your driving privileges suspended.
If the court withholds adjudications (thus drops the conviction), you are not required to take the class.
Points on License for Reckless Driving
A reckless driving conviction will put 4 points on your driver’s license. If you have a bad driving record, you may have too many points and get your license suspended.
If you have no idea how many points are on your record, contact a criminal defense attorney to avoid making a costly mistake by going to court alone.
- 18 points in 18 months = a 90-day license suspension.
- 24 points in 24 months = a year license suspension.
How Long Does a Reckless Driving Charge Stay on Your Record
A Florida reckless driving charge will stay on your record for the rest of your life. So, it is best to get a lawyer to help avoid this.
Expunging or Sealing Your Reckless Driving Charge
Even if the case is dismissed or adjudication is withheld, the reckless driving charge will remain on your record – until it’s expunged or sealed.
Getting your reckless driving charge expunged or sealed is a benefit that should be taken full advantage of if possible. To do so, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the county courts are required to be involved.
If you wish to expunge or seal your reckless driving charge, you should contact a criminal defense attorney for expert guidance.
Reducing Your DUI Charge to a Reckless Driving
In Florida, a driver charged with a DUI offense can make a plea bargain to a reckless driving charge.
A reckless driving charge involving alcohol is often called a ‘wet reckless.’ Although the penalties and consequences are far less severe than with a DUI, you will likely be required to complete a DUI substance abuse education course and evaluation. Depending on the county where your DUI charge is, there may be programs available that allow a reduction to a reckless for first time offenders.
How to Get a Reckless Charge Instead of a DUI?
Your criminal defense attorney will most likely work with you to reduce your DUI to a reckless driving charge.
As of June 2021, Pinellas County has a program for first time DUI offenders – the D.R.O.P Program (Pinellas County DUI Rehabilitation of Offenders Program). There are similar programs in most of the larger counties around Florida.
The D.R.O.P program includes reducing your DUI to a Reckless Driving once certain conditions are completed. To see if you’re eligible, read our DROP guide here.
Like most programs, the prosecutor has discretion to allow you in the program, so you should contact a criminal defense attorney who will walk you through the process.
Reckless Driving Attorney in Pinellas County, FL
If you want to fight a reckless charge in Florida, you should contact a reckless driving attorney as soon as possible. Please don’t go to court on your own, get a horrible offer from the prosecutor and then hope a lawyer can bail you out. Once that offer is made, your case becomes much harder to defend.
I have limited my criminal defense practice to Pinellas County, Florida. I have had very good success over the years in getting reckless driving charges dropped to a civil infraction. You might have to put in a little work to earn the result, but protecting your driver’s license and criminal record is well worth it.
Sean McQuaid is a top-rated criminal defense attorney in Pinellas County. In addition to his numerous awards and accolades, he was the President of the St. Petersburg Bar Association from 2020-21. He is the managing partner at Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid, P.A., the oldest law firm in St. Petersburg and one of Pinellas County’s most prestigious law firms with the reputation and connections to make things happen.
With decades of experience helping people like you, we believe there is no better place to help you fight or reduce a reckless driving charge or DUI charge in Florida.
Contact us today for a free consultation to get started or CALL (727) 381-2300