Drunk driving and reckless driving charges often come hand in hand. In many cases, drivers get pulled over when police officers believe they’re seeing reckless behavior. A traffic stop can then lead to a field sobriety or breathalyzer test, which can lead to a DUI charge.

Facing a DUI charge can feel intimidating and overwhelming. In some cases, you may be charged with both DUI and reckless driving. And while both are serious offenses in New Jersey and New York, they are two separate charges with different penalties and fines.

Not all drunk driving counts as reckless driving. You may get charged with a DUI at a traffic checkpoint – not because anyone witnessed you driving recklessly. The opposite is also true: you could be found guilty of reckless driving even if you’re sober.

What’s the best way to navigate these charges? Usually, reckless driving tends to have less severe penalties and fines compared to a drunk driving offense. Some states treat reckless driving as a “less serious” version of a DUI, although both come with significant consequences, including the possibility of criminal charges that stay on your record for years.

The best course of action when facing a DUI or reckless driving charge is to talk to an experienced DUI  lawyer as soon as possible. The outcome of your case will depend on the unique facts of your situation. Your attorney can recommend a strategy once they analyze the details of your case and take stock of the state’s evidence against you.

What’s the Difference Between Reckless Driving and DUI?

In order to be charged with a DUI or DWI in New Jersey or New York, you must be under the influence of alcohol or drugs (illegal or prescription). Evidence to prove intoxication usually involves results from a breathalyzer test, field sobriety test, or blood test.

Meanwhile, you can drive recklessly even if you’re not under the influence of anything.

In New Jersey, reckless driving involves endangering people or property with willful or wanton disregard for the rights or safety of others. You could be charged with reckless driving if you knew you were driving dangerously and continued anyway.

In New York, reckless driving involves interfering with the free and proper use of a highway or unreasonably endangering others on a public highway.

Even sober drivers can get pulled over for reckless driving, which could look like:

  • Driving the wrong way down a one-way street
  • Ignoring or speeding through stop signs or traffic lights
  • Excessive speeding, especially in construction zones
  • Tailgating, weaving through traffic, or racing other drivers
  • Operating a dangerous vehicle or improperly secured cargo
  • Road rage or using a motor vehicle as a dangerous weapon

The consequences for reckless driving vary based on the severity of your case and whether this is your first offense. You could face civil fines or penalties (such as getting your license suspended or revoked) or a criminal record for a misdemeanor or felony crime.

For example, speeding 5-10 MPH over the speed limit may simply get you a traffic ticket and civil fine. But speeding over 100 MPH or double the speed limit could rise to the level of a misdemeanor crime of reckless driving, with jail time. Engaging in this kind of reckless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol could elevate the criminal charges to a felony, where you face both reckless driving and DUI charges.

Can You Plead Reckless Driving Instead of DUI?

In both New York and New Jersey there are statutes that limit the types of offers that prosecutors are allowed to make in order to attempt to resolve a case. This means that a plea to an alternative traffic offense does not come easy. (In New York reckless driving is actually a misdemeanor crime and therefore may not be a better alternative to DWI). 

That does not mean that alternative plea agreements are never reached but they cannot be based on a “plea bargain” and instead must be based on the state’s inability to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. This is why it is so important to have a DWI lawyer on your side who can point out to the prosecutor the weaknesses in their case and argue why your matter might require such a diversion. 

At the Kugel Law Firm, we handle these types of charges every day for our clients. Schedule a no-risk case consultation with our leading DUI/DWI attorneys now. You can reach us at our New York offices at (212) 372-7218 and our New Jersey offices at (973) 854-0098.