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Reckless Driving in New York: 3 Things to Know

by Seth Azria on 9/16/2020
Syracuse Traffic Lawyer - What is Reckless Driving in New York

1.Reckless Driving is a Crime

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor crime in New York, as opposed to a non-criminal traffic infraction.

The consequences for a conviction for reckless driving are:

  • 5 points
  • Up to 30 days in jail,
  • $300 maximum fine and $93 surcharge.

2. How Reckless Driving is Defined

New York Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1212 defines two methods to prove reckless driving:

  1. Driving in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway; or,
  2. Driving in a manner that unreasonably endangers users of the public highway.

When a law uses an ambiguous word like “unreasonable”, lawyers look to the cases for guidance.

Speeding Alone is Not Reckless Driving

“Mere speed in itself in excess of that allowed by the Highway Law is not alone sufficient.” Recklessness may be speeding together with other circumstances that show a disregard of the consequences or to the rights of others. People v. Groghan, 260 N.Y. 138, 144 (1932).

In Groghan, a defendant was convicted of reckless driving for driving at a rapid and dangerous rate of speed. On appeal, the New York Court of Appeals reversed the lower court and dismissed the charge even though there was a collision.


Collision Alone is Not Reckless Driving

Reckless driving requires:

  • more than mere negligence,
  • more than mere traffic infractions, and,
  • more than than the fact that a collision occurred. People v. Orlofsky, 332 N.Y.S.2d 778 (1972)


Crossing the Center Line and Speeding is Reckless Driving

In People v. Armlin, the court held that it is “unreasonable interference with the free and proper use of the public highway and unreasonable danger to the users of the public highway inevitably resulted from defendant's driving his automobile across the center line into the path of an approaching car...going headlong without any warning and at a high rate of speed into a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction on its own proper side of the highway.” People v. Armlin, 6 N.Y.2d 231, 233 (N.Y. 1959)


Driving on a Sidewalk can be Reckless Driving

Even though the law uses the term “public highway,” driving on a sidewalk is included within that definition. In re Vincent H. 775 N.Y.S2d 457 (2004).

In Vincent, the defendant drove a motor scooter on a sidewalk causing several pedestrians to quickly move. This conduct showed a conscious disregard for a substantial and unjustified risk to safety of others and was therefore reckless driving with the meaning of the law.


3. Ultimately, it is a Question of Fact

Occasionally, a decided case will have the same facts as your case. If so, it is relatively easy to determine whether the driver of an automobile was guilty of reckless driving. But those cases are somewhat rare, to determine unclear cases, there are factors to consider.

Relevant factors include:

  1. The time when, and place where, alleged violation occurred,
  2. the condition of the vicinity as to light or darkness,
  3. width of the highway,
  4. amount of traffic thereon at the time,
  5. the position of other vehicles,
  6. the right of way as between vehicles,
  7. condition of motor vehicle and brakes with which it is equipped,
  8. weight of the vehicle,
  9. the opportunity for observation,
  10. the chance of being able to stop or avoid a collision; and,
  11. driving by accused while under influence of intoxicating liquor. People v. Mason, 1950, 198 Misc. 452, 97 N.Y.S.2d 462


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