Careless driving and reckless driving have important distinctions that motorists need to understand.

What’s the difference between careless and reckless driving?

On the surface, careless driving and reckless driving seem like two sides of the same coin. In some respects, they are, because both involve inappropriate behavior behind the wheel that can lead to an accident, costly fines, and higher liability auto insurance premiums.

Similar though they may be, in the eyes of the law, reckless and careless have some key distinctions that are important to understand. The following should help set the record straight on how the two compare and contrast.

According to legal experts, careless driving is a traffic violation that’s charged when motorists disregard the rules of the road in a heedless manner. For example, most moving violations are classified as careless, such as speeding, running a red light, and veering over the center line. In these situations, motorists aren’t necessarily performing these actions out of malice or to harm individuals, including themselves. Nevertheless, they are operating a motor vehicle in a manner that’s irresponsible. Careless driving is an umbrella term, so the charges typically depend on what specific rules of the road were broken.

Severity of penalties harsher with recklessness

Reckless driving is the more serious of the two charges. Though the specific definition usually varies depending upon the state, reckless drivers demonstrate “willful or wanton disregard” for human life and the safety of their fellow road users. A prime example of driving in a reckless manner are those who stop at an intersection and proceed to jam the accelerator just as soon as the light turns green. This is known as drag racing, typically involving two drivers operating their own separate vehicles.

Drowsy drivers involved in an accident may also be charged with reckless driving. Americans’ sleep debt is a major safety hazard, as an estimated 846 motorists are killed each year on the highways when drivers nod off at the wheel, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Since the importance of being alert while driving is a given, drowsy motor vehicle operation is often considered reckless when it results in accidents. Because of the severity of the offense, reckless driving is usually considered a misdemeanor, carrying penalties that may include a citation, license suspension, and occasionally jail time, according to legal experts.

More than 95% of auto accident are attributable to behaviors.More than 95% of auto accidents are attributable to behaviors.

Accident may change nature of charge

Another subtle distinction between careless and reckless driving is the outcome of the behaviors. In instances where someone is driving more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, resulting in an accident in which someone was injured, that motorist may be charged recklessness. However, if the same motorist were clocked at a similar speed but pulled over during a traffic stop, the charge may be carelessness.

Either way, both are considered dangerous and you should avoid engaging in this kind of behavior – not only due to the safety risks involved, but also because they can result in costly premium increases, the sworn enemy of cheap full coverage auto insurance. Last year, reckless driving charges raised auto insurance premiums for the average driver by 85%, according to InsuranceQuotes.com. For careless driving, the average increase was 27%. So among Maryland auto insurance policyholders, as an example, an 85% spike in premiums can cost an additional $750 per year.

By following the rules of the road and driving defensively, you may be able to snag some serious savings.

This article is intended for informational purposes only. It does not replace or modify the information contained in your insurance policy.