An Overview of North Carolina’s Reckless Driving Laws

In North Carolina, drivers who break the law might get away with a traffic ticket, but it’s not worth the gamble: others may end up with actual criminal charges that carry severe penalties and besmirch their permanent criminal records. 

Here, we review what constitutes reckless driving in North Carolina, the associated penalties, and whether someone charged with a DWI can plead down to a reckless driving charge. 

What Is Considered Reckless Driving in North Carolina?

Under N.C.G.S. § 20-140, a person can be charged with reckless driving in one of two ways:

  1. Driving carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard for the rights or safety of others; or 
  2. Driving without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner to endanger or likely to endanger any person or property. 

The law is broad and covers many actions. A driver is expected to drive reasonably safely at all times. Examples of behaviors that a court would likely consider to be reckless driving include: 

  • Swerving dangerously from lane to lane
  • Running a red light or a stop sign
  • Tailgating 
  • Racing 
  • Speeding 

Speeding is one of the most common reckless driving charges. Generally, driving fifteen miles over the speed limit is considered reckless driving. However, as the speed limit increases, the threshold for reckless driving decreases. For example, driving just five miles over the speed limit in a 70 mph zone could warrant a reckless driving charge. 

Penalties for Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is a Class 2 misdemeanor. It carries a maximum penalty of sixty days in jail and a $1,000 fine. In addition, certain circumstances (such as excessive speeding) can also add points to your driver’s license. In some cases, a judge can decide to suspend a driver’s license for up to a year. 

Can a DWI Charge Be Reduced Down to Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving is a serious charge, but driving while intoxicated (DWI) is even more so. If you have been charged with a DWI, it is possible, although increasingly difficult, to get your charge reduced down to a lesser, reckless driving charge. 

A DWI that is reduced to a reckless driving charge is called a “wet reckless” charge. This is when a driver agrees to plead guilty to reckless driving where alcohol was involved, but the crime and punishment are less severe than for a DWI. 

While most prosecutors and courts are unlikely to agree to a reduced charge, an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney can assist you in exploring all of your options. A defendant has the best chance at a reduction in charges if, among other factors:

  • This is their first DWI
  • Their blood alcohol level was only slightly above the legal limit
  • They have a safe driving record 

Whether you have been charged with a DWI and are looking to plead to the lesser charge of reckless driving, or you have been charged with reckless driving and need assistance with your defense, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help.

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