Reckless Driving (NJSA 39:4-96)
New Jersey has two separate statutes defining the similar-sounding traffic violations “reckless driving” and “careless driving.” Reckless driving carries much harsher penalties than careless driving, though. It is defined in NJSA 39:4-96 as “driv[ing] a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”
The main difference between reckless driving and careless driving (aside from the difference in penalties) is intent. Obviously, few people intend to get in a car crash, but the law differentiates between driving “without due caution and circumspection” (in the case of careless driving) and driving “in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others” (in the case of reckless driving).
Penalties for Reckless Driving in New Jersey
Reckless driving is one of the New Jersey traffic violations with the most severe punishment. A person who is guilty of first-time reckless driving can be imprisoned up to 60 days in county or municipal jail and/or fined between $50 and $200. A second or subsequent conviction of the same offense will result in imprisonment up to three months and/or a fine of $100 to $500.
In addition to fines and possible jail time, a person who is convicted of or pleads guilty to reckless driving will have five points added to his New Jersey driving record. If you get six points added to your record in one three-month period, you will be fined $150, plus $25 for each point beyond six. If you have 12 points on your record at any time, your license will be suspended.
Points don’t expire, so a number of offenses over time can add up to a big penalty. However, three points will be deducted from your total for each year you go without a driving violation or a license suspension. You can also earn point deductions by participating in a defensive driving course (two points), a driver improvement program (three points), or a probationary driver program (three points), but there are limits to how frequently you can use these options.
Insurance Rates Will Increase
New Jersey auto insurers use a similar point system to determine how much a driver will have to pay for coverage. The more points you accumulate, the greater risk you present and the more you will have to pay. If you accumulate too many “insurance eligibility points,” you may be unable to buy insurance at all on the voluntary market and may have to go through the more expensive New Jersey Personal Automobile Insurance Plan (NJPAIP).
What to Do If You Are Charged With Reckless Driving in New Jersey
Reckless driving is a very serious offense that can mean fines, increased insurance premiums, the loss of your driving privilege, or even imprisonment.