In New York, reckless driving is driving in a way that poses an unreasonable danger to other travelers on the highway/roadway.  The accusation will usually be brought by police officers that pull over and cite the accused for the offense, or as a result of witness statements that report the accused to have been driving reckless before an accident occurred.  No matter where the accusations come from, anyone charged with reckless driving can face serious fines and penalties.  If the risk posed by a person’s reckless driving is deemed especially outrageous, the court may sentence the accused to time in jail and/or suspend or revoke the accused’s driving privileges.

New York’s Definition

The state of New York defines the offense of reckless driving as the operation or use of any vehicle propelled by means other than muscle power in a way which unreasonably interferes with the public’s free and proper use of the highway, or in a way that puts members of the public in unreasonable danger.

At first glance, this statute may seem pretty straightforward, but it is noticeably broad. The terms “free and proper” and “unreasonable” could be interpreted in different ways by different police officers and prosecutors. An unfortunate truth about reckless driving charges is that, in many cases, a citation for a lesser infraction would have sufficed under the law, but for whatever reason, the officer at the scene decided either purposely or mistakenly to charge reckless driving, and the prosecutor bringing the charges decided to pursue the matter.

Pulled Over; Remain Silent

When a person is pulled over or otherwise has contact with law enforcement because of the way they have been driving, it is generally best not to ask anything of or say anything to police.  Even if the situation is nothing more than a regular traffic stop, the police do not need to be answered or spoken to in order for them to effectively to their jobs.  Even if a person has not been read his or her rights, the right to remain silent always applies.

It might seem trivial not to answer the questions of police on a regular traffic stop, but the police do not exist to judge our offenses on the sides of roads, they exist to gather evidence and present that evidence to a prosecutor.  Anyone who has contact with an on duty police officer can bet, no matter how cordial the encounter might seem, the officer is likely talking to them to gather evidence on behalf of the prosecution.  Instead of forcing someone to tell their side of the story as an intimidating police officer towers over, or following an intense commotion of some kind, the law allows citizens to discuss the matter and their legal options with counsel.

Identify, Comply, Sign

When a person is pulled over by police, the only thing he or she has to do is identify him or herself, which can be done by simply showing an official ID card.  A New York issued driver’s license contains everything an officer will need to identify someone they have pulled over – so nobody who presents a valid driver’s license need say anything at all in order to satisfy this requirement of identification.  Further, remaining silent does not mean remaining still.  If police give an order, such as “get out of the car” or “show me your hands,” a person should always comply.  Finally, when the officer gives a driver a citation to sign, the citation can and should be signed.  All it means is that the person pulled over received a copy of the citation – it in no way means that the person admits guilt.

Contempt of Cop

One aspect of police culture which permeates the ranks in agencies across the country and, in fact, around the world, is known as contempt of cop. Essentially, when a police officer feels disrespected, he or she will exaggerate the facts and inflate the charges primarily out of spite. Though not technically allowed, the mindset is allowed to exist because there is nothing actually illegal about using fancy words and clever grammatical tactics to make a suspect’s actions seem all the more serious when the officer goes to type the official police report.

For example, an officer who pulls over a driver for failing to signal before changing lanes and driving five miles over the speed limit could issue a traffic ticket for these offenses as infractions. Any narrative attached to the citation would likely sound something like this: “Driver failed to signal before entering a new lane and was traveling 5 miles per hour over the speed limit.

Now, if the officer feels disrespected by the driver, or is simply feeling overzealous, he or she could use language like this in a narrative:  “Driver erratically changed lanes while traveling in excess of the posted speed limit. Based on my years of law enforcement training and experience, I determined the suspect’s actions to be a danger to fellow users of the roadway and initiated a traffic stop.”

When sent to a prosecutor, the narrative with more flourish would seem much more like it was discussing an incident which justifies reckless driving charges, even though both narratives describe the same incident.

This is perhaps one of the most common reasons why people who should otherwise get a simple citation for an infraction have to go through the hassle of dealing with a reckless driving charge, and it is also a very good reason why a reckless driving defense attorney should be secured to review and handle reckless driving charges in New York.

Following the issuance of a citation for reckless driving, the cited person should immediately contact an experienced reckless driving criminal attorney.  In many cases, a criminal defense attorney will fight for reduced fines, reduced penalties, the preservation of driving privileges, and, sometimes, for the complete dismissal of the citation.  Each case is different and only an experienced attorney will be able to advise the accused on his or her best legal options.