California Reckless Driving

Penalties for reckless driving in California can include up to $1,000 in fines, up to 6 months in jail, and a possible license suspension.
Written by Kianna Walpole
Edited by R.E. Fulton
drivers, reckless driving can have a serious impact on your driving record. Most reckless driving instances are seen as misdemeanors, but if you accrue several reckless driving charges, or inflict serious bodily injury as a result of an accident, it could increase to a felony. 
  • For the state of California, there are different infractions that classify as reckless driving, including swerving into oncoming traffic, racing, or ignoring traffic signs and lights.
  • Reckless driving has a fine of $145 to $1,000 for a misdemeanor charge. Additional consequences are 2 points against your driving record, and potential driver’s license suspension. 
  • Typically, points will remain on your driving record for 3-7 years, unless it’s a more serious infraction—then, it will stay for up to 10 years.
  • Reckless driving charges can increase your car insurance rates, so be sure to compare quotes for cheaper policy if you get a ticket. 

What is reckless driving in California?

California Vehicle Code Section 23103 defines reckless driving as: “A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
According to California law, this applies to both public streets and highways, in addition to off-street parking facilities. The driver must be aware that their actions cause “a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm,” and choose to ignore that risk. 
Some examples of reckless driving in California are:
  • Excessive speeding (90-100 mph over the speed limit)
  • Passing a vehicle in an unsafe manner
  • Forcing your vehicle through a crowd of people
  • Street racing/speed contests
  • Swerving into oncoming traffic
  • Driving on the sidewalk
  • Ignoring traffic laws and rules
  • Tailgating
  • Weaving in and out of traffic
If a police officer pulls you over for reckless driving and finds you to be under the influence, your charge may increase to a DUI charge. With a DUI conviction, you could be made to pay fines of up to $10,000—depending if bodily injury to another party occurred—and a license suspension of up to 5 years, or revocation. 
However, if given the opportunity—and based on the severity of the charge—a California DUI could possibly be brought down to a reckless driver charge as part of a plea bargain. 
In this case, your criminal defense lawyer will likely vouch for a wet reckless driving or dry reckless driving charge.  
  • Wet reckless: This states that you were under the influence of alcohol while driving, resulting in reckless driving practices. Penalties can be jail time, loss of driving privileges, and mandatory enrolment in a driver education program. The consequences are generally lighter than a standard DUI charge—shorter class time, shorter probationary period, and most times, you don’t have to fill out an
    SR-22 form
  • Dry reckless: This states that you did not consume alcohol and were driving recklessly essentially ‘dry’. Dry reckless is considered a misdemeanor and your criminal defense attorney may be able to get you there from a DUI. If so, if you’re charged again in the future with a DUI, this reckless driving conviction will not be counted as a first offense.  
Based on
California DUI laws
, if you are convicted of a DUI after a wet reckless charge, as it is the equivalent of a DUI, it will be classified as a
second DUI charge
Keep in mind: A misdemeanor cannot be lowered to an infraction—if you’re deemed to be engaging in reckless driving, it will either be cited as a misdemeanor or felony. 

What are the penalties for California reckless driving?

A reckless driving offense under court statute is a “wobbler”, meaning that the circumstances of the offense will dictate punishment and whether or not the conviction will go down as a misdemeanor or a felony
Varied penalties are often applied at the hand of the judge or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in California.
Note that criminal charges for misdemeanors and felonies differ. Misdemeanors are broken down into two separate categories: standard reckless driving, and reckless driving resulting in injury. Each come with slightly different charges and jail times: 
Type of offense
County jail time
License suspension
Misdemeanor: standard reckless driving
5-90 days
Up to 6 months
Misdemeanor: reckless driving that resulted in bodily injury
30-90 days
Up to 6 months
Based on the circumstances of the offense, the judge could also charge you with a felony if you cause serious injury or recklessly drove under the influence of alcohol (wet reckless), putting the safety of others at risk.
When it comes to defining a severe injury caused by reckless driving, the court statute includes: 
  • Concussions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Bone fractures
  • Brain injuries
  • Paralysis
A reckless driver that is convicted of a felony in California can be prosecuted under the penal code with 16 months to 3 years in prison, fines of up to $10,000 and a potential license revocation.

How long do California reckless driving convictions stay on my record?

For dry reckless convictions, or reckless driving misdemeanors, charges will remain on your driving record for up to 3 years. More serious violations like DUI, “wet reckless,” or hit-and-run incidents can stay on your driving record for at least 10 years and may impact your criminal record.
After obtaining a reckless driving charge, your license can be suspended or revoked if you gain additional points in a specific amount of time: 
  • 4 points in 12 months
  • 6 points in 24 months
  • 8 points in 36 months
Those with misdemeanor charges have the option of attending a California traffic school to get a point removed from their driving record. Some tickets, however, are not eligible for traffic school. For example, you cannot have a reckless driving offense removed from your record if it’s a felony charge or DUI—rather, you will need to have it expunged in court.

How reckless driving charges in California impact your insurance

Reckless driving laws are put in place in most states to protect you and others on the road or walkways. More often than not, reckless driving cases do impact insurance rates—especially if you obtain a felony charge with great bodily injury. 
Any traffic violation—whether it’s a speeding ticket, failure to stop at a red light, or illegal passing—can increase your insurance premiums. But this holds even more true with larger convictions, like a charge of reckless driving due to DUI.
After a certain number of violations, or felony charges, you’re seen as a high-risk driver by most insurance providers. 
Therefore, auto insurance companies may raise your rates by roughly $1,956 annually after a reckless driving charge, for an average total of $4,392. These costs represent an 80% increase compared to the
average insured motorist
that holds a clean record in California. 
As a licensed broker,
does all the hard work of finding cheap quotes from the top name-brand insurance companies and buying new car insurance as a high-risk driver. Jerry will even help you cancel your old policy.
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No, and the difference between the two lies in intent. Careless driving is a disregard for traffic laws and is often seen as a less severe charge (i.e. in the case of standard road rage). Reckless driving refers to intentionally in an irrational manner that can cause harm to oneself or others.
Yes, burnouts, street racing, and speeding are all illegal in California as of January 2023.
For California, a ticket for going 20 mph over the posted speed limit is generally $70—however, additional penalties and fees may be added, increasing your overall total. 
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