What Defines “Careless Driving”?

careless driving

Careless driving is one of the most common citations given by police officers. Despite its common nature, however, there is often some confusion about what actually constitutes careless driving. For this reason, a careless driving charge is often one that can be successfully disputed in court.

The Definition of Careless Driving

Careless driving comes with the definition of the driver having “careless disregard” for any rules of the road. Careless driving also requires the driver to have been driving “without due caution.” These definitions are designed to include a wide range of behaviors that may present a danger to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.

Examples of Careless Driving

Examples of behaviors that constitute careless driving include failing to use turn signals, disobeying traffic signals, and drifting into the wrong lane. Additionally, texting or using your smartphone while driving may count as careless driving, especially if it contributes to a car accident. Any other example of distracted driving, such as eating, arguing with a passenger, or putting on make-up, may count as careless driving.

Careless Driving vs. Reckless Driving

Reckless driving is typically defined as an action that had “wanton disregard” for traffic safety and laws. Unlike careless driving, reckless driving implies that the driver did something on purpose to break the law. Being found guilty of reckless driving offenses can result in higher fines and can even result in jail time. It will have a greater impact upon your driving record as well. If you’ve been accused of reckless driving, an experienced attorney may be able to argue that you should be charged with careless driving, instead.

Reckless Driving vs. Aggravated Reckless Driving

Reckless driving and and aggravated reckless driving are similar yet different offenses.

  • Reckless driving is when an individual drives without considering the safety of others. In Illinois law, this also includes cases where the driver is attempting to make the vehicle airborne (using ramps, hills, etc.). Reckless driving can be intentional or unintentional.
  • Aggravated reckless driving is the same as reckless driving, but occurs when the driver’s behavior (intentionally or accidentally) causes severe injury or disability to another person.

If either harms a child or school crossing guard on duty, the punishment is more severe.

Reckless Driving vs. Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

A DUI is classified separately from a reckless driving charge, although the difference between them varies from state to state. In some states, offenders may hire lawyers to plead for a reckless driving charge (and less severe consequences) instead of DUI. For example in Illinois, however, the offenses are often punished similarly.


  • Driving Record. Reckless driving is considered a Class A Misdemeanor in Illinois, and aggravated reckless driving is a Class 4 Felony. First-offense DUI is also considered a Class A Misdemeanor, but the consequences escalate if the perpetrator repeats the offense, up to Class X Felony.
  • Fines. Reckless driving and first-offense DUI can be fined up to $2,500. Aggravated reckless driving can be fined up to $25,000. The most a repeated DUI can be fined is $25,000, but if there is a passenger under 16 years of age in the vehicle, $25,000 becomes the minimum.



  • License Suspension. If one is pulled over with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or more, the officer will immediately suspend the driver’s license. In cases of reckless driving, the license may be restricted or possibly revoked, but it’s uncommon.


  • Jail Time. DUIs and reckless driving charges can both be punished with jail time. In Illinois, reckless driving can result in up to a year in jail, and aggravated reckless driving can result in up to 3 years in a state penitentiary. DUIs Also, DUIs tend to be thrown in jail directly after arrest, while reckless driving is only ticketed.

Do You Need a Lawyer for Your Careless Driving Charge?

Unlike other traffic offenses, such as speeding tickets, the definition of careless driving is a broad one and often left to the interpretation or opinion of the police officer issuing the citation. Since the charge is one that left up to the opinion of the officer, you are entitled to challenge this allegation in court. Having an experienced attorney at your side will help to make sure that your rights are maintained and that the officer is required to prove his opinion to be fact.

If you believe that your careless driving charge was not a fair one, contact an experienced attorney. Since the legal definition of the charge is so broad and so frequently issued, you should have the knowledge of someone who is used to handling similar cases.

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