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Can I Go to Jail for a Reckless Driving Charge in New Jersey?

A reckless driving offense carries the potential for a serious conviction in New Jersey. Although similar in definition and effect to careless driving, reckless driving brings the threat of much heftier punishment. If you find yourself trying to fend off a reckless driving charge, don’t hesitate to reach out to a Bergen County traffic ticket attorney. There is statutory fuzziness that may be useful to your defense, but it takes an experienced lawyer to apply this to a specific set of facts. Read on to learn more about how New Jersey addresses reckless driving and whether jail is a possibility.

Getting Our Definitions Straight: Reckless vs. Careless Driving

Since careless and reckless driving are so similar, it will be less confusing if we distinguish one from the other first.

Careless driving is defined in New Jersey Statutes 39:4-97, and it refers to an offense when someone “drives a vehicle in carelessly, or without due caution and circumspection, in a manner to endanger or likely to endanger a person or property.”

Reckless driving is found in New Jersey Statutes 39:4-96. It refers to someone driving “heedlessly, in willful and wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger or likely to endanger, a person or property.”

These are similar definitions, though one might correctly expect “without due caution and circumspection” to be qualitatively different from and less than “in willful and wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Herein lies the big definitional meaning between the charges. The intent behind careless driving is meant to be unintentionally dangerous behavior—the intent behind reckless driving, exceptional indifference to the well-being and safety of others.

As a consequence, careless driving is punished far more lightly. For careless driving, the max penalty in terms of points on someone’s license is two points and the fine must be set between a minimum of $50 and a maximum of $200. The fines do not increase for a second offense. Because of the similarity between the charges, but careless driving’s lesser penalties, many lawyers will try to get their client’s charge downgraded from reckless driving to careless driving.

Can I Go to Jail for Reckless Driving in NJ?

If those are punishments for careless driving, what would be the punishments for the crime of reckless driving in the Garden State?

For the first offense, reckless driving can result in up to 60 days in jail and a fine between $50 and $200. After a second offense, someone may be subject to up to 90 days in jail and a fine between $100 and $500. New Jersey judges have a good deal of discretion in deciding what someone’s exact punishment will be.

Furthermore, reckless driving has a much heavier punishment with regard to points on a New Jersey license. It added 5 points to a license. That brings someone perilously close to 6 points, which is where the state will start to charge $150 annually. If you have more than 6 points, the state then charges $25 per point after that. New Jersey may charge this annually for up to 3 years.

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