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Reckless Driving

Under California Vehicle Code Section 23103, reckless driving is defined as driving a motor vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” A person can be arrested for reckless driving on either a public road or a private parking facility.

Unlike a civil traffic infraction, reckless driving is a criminal offense that comes with criminal penalties. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of $145 to $1,000. Penalties for reckless driving can include the impoundment of your vehicle for up to 30 days and/or a suspension of your driver's license.

In addition to the direct consequences that can be imposed by the court, the DMV can also take certain administrative actions. After a conviction for reckless driving, California Vehicle Code Section 12810(c) requires the DMV to impose two points on the defendant's driving record. You should also keep in mind that a conviction for reckless driving can cause your insurance company to dramatically raise your monthly insurance premiums or drop your insurance coverage completely.

Attorney for Reckless Driving in San Francisco, CA

If you were arrested for reckless driving under California Vehicle Code § 23103, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Ticket Crushers. Our local attorneys represent clients throughout the City of San Francisco and the surrounding areas throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

In many cases, a reckless driving charge will also go along with other criminal charges or civil traffic infractions, such as speeding.

If the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and drove recklessly, then other charges can also be filed for driving under the influence. Other related charges can include hit and run, leaving the scene of a crash, speeding, the exhibition of speed (street racing), or speed contest (street racing causing injury).

Call us to find out more about the criminal offense of reckless driving, potential penalties and possible defenses. We can help you fight the charges. Call 1 (866) 842-5384 today to talk with an experienced reckless driving defense attorney in the City of San Francisco, CA. 


Penalties for Reckless Driving under the California Vehicle Code

Unlike a civil traffic infraction, reckless driving is a criminal offense that comes with criminal penalties. Reckless driving is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of $145 to $1,000. Penalties for reckless driving can include the impoundment of your vehicle for up to 30 days.

Under California Vehicle Code § 13200, the court may suspend your driving privileges for up to 30 days upon the first conviction of reckless driving. For a second reckless driving conviction, the court can suspend your driving privilege for up to 60 days. For a third or subsequent reckless driving conviction, the court can suspend your driving privileges for up to six months.

In addition to the criminal penalties, the DMV will add two points to your driving license. The DMV can also count the reckless driving conviction against you for any future license suspension hearings.

If another person was injured or killed as a result of the reckless driving, then the penalties can be enhanced. The penalties are also more serious if you have a prior conviction for reckless driving.


Elements of Reckless Driving under CA Vehicle Code § 23103

The elements of reckless driving under Vehicle Code § 23103 require proof beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • The defendant drove a motor vehicle;

  • The vehicle was driving on a public roadway, highway, or off the street parking facility; and

  • The defendant intentionally drove with wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

The term "wanton disregard for safety" means that:

  • The defendant is aware that his or her actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm; and

  • The defendant intentionally ignored that risk.

The prosecutor is not, however, required to prove that the defendant intended to cause any damage to any person or property.

California law defines the term "highway" to include any area publicly maintained and open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel, and includes a street. Additionally, an "off-street parking facility" is an off-street facility open for use by the public for parking vehicles. An off-street parking facility includes any parking lot open to retail customers even when a fee is not charged for parking.


Reckless Driving Causing Bodily Injury

Reckless driving causing bodily injury under California Vehicle Code § 23104 requires both proof of reckless driving and that the defendant's driving was the proximate cause of bodily injury to a person other than the driver.

California law defines "bodily injury" as a physical injury that requires professional medical treatment. The penalties for a reckless driving charge increase if the act of driving recklessly causes great bodily injury. The statutory scheme defines "great bodily injury" as a significant or substantial physical injury.

Under CVC §23104(a), a person convicted of driving recklessly or engaging in a speed contest which causes bodily injury to another person is subject to:

  • Imprisonment in a county jail or state prison for a minimum of 30 days to 6 months; and/or
  • A fine ranging from $220–$1,000.

Defenses to Reckless Driving

California law recognizes important limitations on reckless driving. In many of these cases, the court distinguishes between evidence of driving with negligence or even gross negligence which is insufficient to be considered reckless driving. See People v. Allison, 101 Cal.App.2d Supp. 932 (1951); People v. McNutt, 40 Cal.App.2d Supp. 835 (1940).

The courts also look at other traffic violations to determine whether the evidence of reckless driving is sufficient, including excessive speeding, failing to maintain a lane, and improper passing. See People v. Nowell, 45 Cal.App.2d Supp. 811 (1941).

An experienced criminal defense attorney can raise several defenses to reckless driving under California Vehicle Code § 23103, including:

  • Insufficient evidence that the defendant was the person driving the vehicle;

  • The driving pattern was not sufficient to show reckless driving (although the driving might have been negligent); and

  • The defendant was acting out of necessity to avoid a greater evil.

Necessity Defense in a Reckless Driving Cases

In some reckless driving cases, the driver can show that the driving pattern was necessary to prevent a greater harm. Under California law, the necessity defense is an affirmative defense that requires the defendant to show that:

  • The offensive driving occurred because the defendant reasonably believed that an emergency existed;

  • The defendant did not create the emergency; and

  • The emergency presented a threat to the driver or some third party.

Speeding is not Sufficient to Prove Reckless Driving

The courts in California have recognized that speeding, by itself, is not sufficient to establish that the defendant drove with wanton disregard for the safety of any person or property. Instead, excessive speed is one factor that the jury must consider.


Sentences for "Wet" Reckless Driving (VC § 23103 under § 23103.5)

For the offense of Reckless driving reduced from driving under the influence under VC § 23103.5, the court can either grant probation or not grant probation. If probation is granted by the court, then you can be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail OR up to $1,000 fine plus penalty assessments OR both AND attendance at a treatment program.

If probation is not granted by the court, then you can be sentenced to 5 to 90 days in jail OR $145 to $1,000 fine plus penalty assessments OR both.

It is important to keep in mind that a conviction for reckless driving reduced from driving under the influence (DUI) under VC § 23103.5 will act as a separate DUI conviction if subsequent DUI offense committed within ten years.


Finding a Reckless Driving Attorney in San Francisco, CA

Call a local attorney at Ticket Crushers after a charge of reckless driving under California Vehicle Code § 23103. We represent people charged with reckless driving and other motor vehicle crimes throughout the greater San Francisco Bay area

Call Ticket Crushers today at 1 (866) 842-5384. Our criminal defense attorneys can begin your defense today.


This article was last updated on Friday, January 13, 2017.

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