- In Georgia, there are many types of traffic offenses, but a reckless driving violation is considered more serious—a criminal misdemeanor charge.
- Before charging someone with reckless driving, a police officer determines whether the person was driving in a manner that puts others in danger.
- Although reckless and aggressive driving behaviors may be similar, they are treated differently under Georgia law, which punishes aggressive drivers more severely based on their intent.
- If the at-fault driver’s actions were not merely negligent but reckless, you may be entitled to more compensation for your car accident in the form of punitive damages.
Anyone who’s traveled on Georgia’s busy roadways knows there’s a high chance they may encounter dangerous drivers on their commute. Speeding, failing to yield, and changing lanes without signaling are all examples of common traffic violations that may cause a car accident. However, violating traffic laws or even causing a crash do not automatically mean that a person is guilty of reckless driving.
Under Georgia law, “[a]ny person who drives any vehicle in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property commits the offense of reckless driving.” O.C.G.A. § 40-6-390. Any number of actions may be considered reckless driving if they pose a threat to the safety of others, and the individual circumstances determine whether a reckless driving charge is warranted.
For example, a police officer may only issue a speeding citation if you’re traveling 10 miles over the speed limit, but you’re far more likely to be charged with reckless driving if you’re going 100 miles an hour on I-75. If you’ve been injured in a reckless driving car accident, you should understand how a reckless driving charge can affect your claim and the amount of compensation you can recover.
Types of Reckless Driving
In Georgia, there are many types of traffic offenses, but a reckless driving violation is considered more serious—a criminal charge. Whether a violation rises to the level of reckless driving depends on various factors, such as severity of the offense, road conditions, presence of other drivers or pedestrians, or time of day.
Before deciding to charge someone with reckless driving, a police officer determines whether the person was driving in a manner that was dangerous to others or disregarded public safety. Many reckless driving cases involve the following:
Speeding—Whenever you drive over the speed limit, you run the risk of getting a speeding ticket. However, if your speed is excessive, or far above the speed limit, you may also be charged with reckless driving. There is no specific number or threshold for determining whether speeding should be elevated to a reckless driving charge; it depends on the circumstances. For example, you may be charged with reckless driving if you’re traveling 30 mph over the speed limit in a residential area or 100 mph on the interstate. If
people are present, such as construction workers or pedestrians, you’re far more likely to be charged.
Street Racing—Under Georgia law, it’s illegal to engage in street racing or drag racing, both on public roads and private property. Street racers are often charged with reckless driving as well because of the inherently dangerous nature of the activity.
Driving in an emergency lane or shoulder—Those who drive in emergency lanes or on the shoulder of the road are more likely to cause accidents because other drivers, who aren’t expecting cars to pass in those areas, may hit them. In addition, police and other first responders may be blocked or unable to reach those in need of emergency help when people use those lanes for passing. Because of these dangers, you may be charged with reckless driving if you drive in an emergency lane or shoulder.
Weaving or switching lanes rapidly—Weaving, or darting in and out of lanes quickly, may be considered reckless driving if it puts others in danger. When drivers engage in this activity at fast speeds, in heavy traffic, or without using turn signals, they are more likely to be charged with reckless driving.
Failing to obey traffic signs or signals—Running a stop sign or red light, or otherwise failing to obey traffic signals, is a common violation. However, when drivers fail to obey traffic signals in busy intersections or fly through a stop sign without checking for approaching cars, they may also be charged with reckless driving.
Failing to yield to cars or pedestrians—Failing to yield to cars or pedestrians can easily cause serious or even deadly accidents. If oncoming cars are not close by or pedestrians are not in the crosswalk, you may not be charged with reckless driving, but this behavior is typically considered risky by police officers.
Distracted driving—Talking on the phone, texting, or engaging in other activities while driving can be considered reckless driving because those distractions may take the driver’s eyes off the road or hands off the wheel or make them unable to concentrate.
Tailgating—You can be charged with reckless driving if you follow too closely behind another vehicle—especially if you’re traveling at a high rate of speed, are driving in hazardous weather conditions, or are tailgating in heavy traffic—because you’re less likely to be able to avoid a collision.
DUI—Even though driving under the influence is a separate charge in Georgia, a person charged with DUI can also be charged with reckless driving. Because drinking alcohol or using drugs can impair your ability to operate a vehicle safely, driving drunk is considered reckless behavior that puts others at risk. Note that someone who has been drinking can still be charged with reckless driving even if their blood alcohol level is below the legal limit (.08 percent). Aggressive Driving Is Often Confused with Reckless Driving but Is Distinct
Although reckless and aggressive driving behaviors may be similar, they are treated differently under Georgia law. Reckless driving is governed by O.C.G.A. § 40-6-390, which states that a person may be convicted if their actions disregard the safety of others. Aggressive driving, on the other hand, is governed by O.C.G.A. § 40-6-397, which states:
A person commits the offense of aggressive driving when he or she operates any motor vehicle with the intent to annoy, harass, molest, intimidate, injure, or obstruct another person, including without limitation violating Code Section 40-6-42 [overtaking or passing], 40-6-48 [improper lane change or usage], 40-6-49 [following too closely], 40-6-123 [failing to signal], 40-6-184 [driving too slowly], 40-6-312 [lane usage by motorcycles], or 40-6-390 [reckless driving] with such intent.
The key part of this section is the driver’s intent. While behaviors such as weaving, tailgating, or cutting others off may also be considered reckless, if the driver is doing those things specifically to annoy, harass, molest, intimidate, injure, or obstruct someone else they may be charged with aggressive driving.
It is important to note that a driver can be charged with both reckless driving and aggressive driving if their behavior falls into both categories. Also, while both offenses are serious traffic violations, the penalties for aggressive driving are more severe.
If convicted of aggressive driving, you’re guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor, which means you could face a fine up to $5,000, a jail term of up to 12 months, or both. In addition, an aggressive driving conviction adds more points to your license, which could lead to a suspension (for drivers under 21, an aggressive driving conviction results in a 6-month suspension).
Georgia Criminal Charges for Reckless Driving
When the police officer at an accident scene believes a driver was reckless, they will charge the driver and note it in the accident report. Unlike most traffic violations, reckless driving is a criminal misdemeanor charge, and anyone convicted may be fined up to $1,000 and/or serve up to 12 months in jail. If a reckless driver causes serious injuries or death to another person, they may be charged with a felony.
In addition to criminal charges, a reckless driving conviction adds points to your license, which can lead to your Georgia license being suspended. If you’re convicted of reckless driving and are under 21, your license will be suspended for 6 months.
If you’ve been injured by a reckless driver, you can use the driver’s criminal conviction as evidence to prove your liability claim. Even if the driver is not convicted, however, they can still be held liable for reckless driving in a personal injury lawsuit, and the police accident report can be submitted as evidence. Being able to prove that the driver’s behavior was not merely negligent but also reckless can significantly increase the compensation you receive for your claim, as discussed below. Reckless Driving Often Results in an Injury Accident
Even when people are trying to drive safely and follow the rules of the road, they can still make mistakes that lead to car accidents and injuries. When people make no attempt to drive safely, however, the consequences can be far more serious.
If someone is convicted of reckless driving, that means they used no caution and acted without regard for public safety. A reckless driver is much more likely to violently collide with a person
or car at a high rate of speed or in a situation that produces multiple impacts and victims. As a result, collisions caused by reckless drivers often produce severe or even catastrophic injuries, such as broken bones, organ damage, internal bleeding, paralysis, or brain trauma.
Can Reckless Driving Accidents Result in More Compensation?
Yes. In most car accident cases, compensation is based solely on a claim of negligence. To prove your claim, you or your attorney must show that the other party drove in a negligent manner that caused the crash, and you were injured as a result. If the other driver was charged with reckless driving at the accident scene, that is strong evidence indicating they were likely at fault.
Assuming you can prove your negligence claim, the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier has a duty to pay your economic costs, such as medical bills, vehicle damage, and lost income, and your noneconomic costs, such as pain and suffering and diminished quality of life, up to the liability policy limit. When the other driver’s actions were not only negligent but reckless, however, you may be able to recover more compensation in the form of punitive damages.
For a jury to award punitive damages in Georgia, the plaintiff must prove more than mere negligence. Rather, punitive damages may be awarded if the at-fault driver exhibited “willful misconduct, fraud, wantonness, malice, or that entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences.” O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1(b). Unlike compensatory damages, which are awarded to make the victim whole, punitive damages are imposed to punish and deter the person who caused the accident.
Under Georgia law, reckless driving meets this standard, so you could have a claim for both compensatory and punitive damages. Keep in mind that courts have held that punitive damages are capped at $250,000 in claims not involving DUI or an intentional act. Unless the at-fault driver’s liability policy specifically excludes coverage for punitive damages, your attorney can make a settlement demand for compensatory and punitive damages up to the policy limit.
If the at-fault driver’s policy contains such an exclusion, you and your attorney can file an insurance claim for compensatory damages but will have to file a lawsuit against the driver to receive punitive damages. If you prevail on the lawsuit, the driver must pay the punitive damage award from their personal assets.
Note that even though accident victims are often entitled to more compensation for a reckless driving claim, insurance companies typically try to avoid paying punitive damages unless they’re demanded by a lawyer. Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages aren’t proven with bills and records, which means they can be hard to calculate.
How Hiring an Experienced Lawyer Can Help You Receive More after a Reckless Driving Accident
Without an experienced attorney handling your claim, you risk not receiving the maximum amount of compensation you deserve. Our lawyers have represented reckless driving car accident victims since 1993 and know how to build a strong claim to recover accident costs and punitive damages.
Our lawyers go to work immediately to investigate the accident and gather all the evidence necessary to prove reckless driving. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.