Fighting A New York Reckless Driving Ticket

Reckless Driving In NY

We’ve received a number of inquiries recently concerning reckless driving tickets. Here are some thoughts on the NY Reckless Driving law, including how it is enforced and how it typically plays out in court.

What is Reckless Driving?

Reckless Driving is set forth in § 1212 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law:

Reckless driving shall mean driving or using any motor vehicle, motorcycle or any other vehicle propelled by any power other than muscular power or any appliance or accessory thereof in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of the public highway. Reckless driving is prohibited. Every person violating this provision shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Note how vague it is. Essentially, driving in a manner which “endangers users of the public highway”. Talking on the phone, eating a sandwich, driving with a broken headlight…any of these acts could arguably fit within the statute. It can be written as a catchall for almost any traffic violation or driving act/omission an officer believes he witnessed.

Note how serious it is. It’s a misdemeanor, not a violation. It’s a crime that results in a permanent criminal record. On top of that, it’s damaging to your license as it carries five points. I’m confident lawmakers never meant for this to be written as a substitute for any old minor traffic violation, yet that is exactly what we see on a daily basis.

Why would an officer issue a serious misdemeanor Reckless Driving ticket instead of an ordinary traffic violation upon observing a minor infraction?

There are three theories here.

First, some officers aren’t regular summons writers. They happen to see an infraction, pull someone over, yet aren’t sure what specific section of vehicle and traffic law to site. The officer may know however that Reckless Driving, a vague catchall, is good enough and will likely fit. Many of these officers who don’t regularly deal with car stops and issuing summonses might not even recognize how much more serious the Reckless Driving charge is.

Second, some NYC officers may recognize that for every Reckless Driving charge they issue they likely save themselves a trip to court. For ordinary traffic violations, the officer will be summonsed to the TVB to testify. For minor criminal charges like Reckless, it’s unlikely an officer will ever need to show in court. Most Reckless cases are plea bargained to a disposition before the officer ever needs to appear. This is specific to Reckless Driving in NYC.

Third, there must be cases where the motorist’s behavior after the car stop prompted the officer to write the more serious reckless charge. Arguing with an officer doesn’t help. While not every officer will be swayed one way or another by the motorist’s attitude, we have to acknowledge that officers are human and have discretion when it comes to what they issue. It’s fair to assume that in some small percentage of cases an argumentative motorist can drive away with a reckless charge where a more cooperative motorist would have been issued the simple traffic violation.

What does a Reckless Driving Lawyer do in court?

Luckily, lawyers aren’t the only ones who recognize that Reckless Driving is charged in many cases where a simple traffic ticket should have been issued. The Prosecutors and Judges see the same thing. In cases such as these we are typically able to get Prosecutors to agree and Judges to sign off on significantly reduced charges that result in damages no more severe than a parking ticket.

There is also the Reckless Driving situation where a motorist may have actually been driving recklessly. Trying to evade police, drag racing…these are situations where the charge may actually fit. In these cases, the Prosecutor and Judge may not be as sympathetic but a lawyer’s strategy remains the same–try to negotiate a significantly reduced charge.

If you’ve been charged with Reckless Driving in NY, just make sure you do your research and proceed carefully. While your outlook is good in the vast majority of these cases, the potential penalties are too severe to play around. When you are dealing with a criminal misdemeanor charge you should always consult with an attorney before proceeding.

Scott Feifer