Are you committing a crime behind the wheel of your car… without even realizing it? We all know that we might get a traffic ticket when we drive. And of course we know driving while intoxicated is risking jail time as well as playing Russian roulette with our lives. But could you be facing jail time or a criminal conviction by simply driving your car?
Courts say that ignorance of the law is no excuse. However, that might just keep the government from doing a good job about informing the public about the law. Like it or not, you are responsible for thousands of laws and rules whether you know about them or not.
On the road, there are many ways you could be charged with “reckless driving” – a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor means being convicted of an actual crime, with the possibility of up to 1 year in jail, a suspended driver’s license, and fines up to $2500. It is a criminal record.
You can be charged with a misdemeanor for driving a car which is not under proper control or which has inadequate or improperly adjusted brakes. If you’ve been putting off brake repairs, don’t wait any longer.
It is criminal reckless driving to drive over 80 miles per hour regardless of the posted speed, or to drive 20 miles per hour in excess of the posted speed if the speed is 30 miles per hour or less, or 25 miles per hour in excess of a posted speed of 35 miles per hour, or 20 miles per hour in excess of the posted speed if the speed is 40 miles per hour or more. Isn’t that simple?
It’s a crime to drive a vehicle that is over-loaded with items or with too many people in the front seat, so as to obstruct the view of the driver to the front or sides or interfere with the driver's control. And when you have snow on your car, you’d better clean off all the windows completely no matter how late you are for work.
You know you’re supposed to stop for a school bus. But did you know it’s criminal reckless driving, punishable by a year in jail, if you fail to stop for a yellow school bus that is loading or unloading?
It’s not merely a traffic ticket, but actually a criminal offense to fail to give adequate and timely signals of your intention to turn, partly turn, slow down, or stop. Not signaling can land you in jail, and/or lead to your driver’s license being suspended. Quite a surprise.
Did you know it is criminal reckless driving to fail to bring your car to a stop immediately before entering a highway from a side road when there is traffic approaching within 500 feet?
Will you be safe by driving at the posted speed limit? Well, no, actually. “A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who exceeds a reasonable speed under the circumstances and traffic conditions existing at the time, regardless of any posted speed limit.” So, in whose opinion is a speed ‘reasonable?’ Sure, you should slow down during driving rains. But did you know you are risking a stay in jail and a criminal record if you don’t? And “Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway … at a speed … so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.”
You could be convicted of a misdemeanor for passing other vehicles: If you pass while approaching a curve or while approaching the crest of a hill or on a hill, you could be stopped and charged with a crime. Or if you pass two cars abreast on a four-lane highway (that is crossing over into the oncoming lane). On the other hand, it’s no surprise that passing at a railroad crossing could earn you a “go directly to jail” card and so can passing an emergency vehicle with lights flashing.
Motorcycle riders may be surprised to learn that it is not just unlawful but actually reckless driving for two motorcycles to ride abreast inside a single lane.
Not surprisingly, racing on a highway or on any driveway or premises of a church, school, recreational facility, or business property open to the public is obviously reckless driving.
So maybe it would be good to cut this article out and post it in your car. Well, actually that might be a bad idea because if you get caught reading while driving…. You get the idea.
Jonathon Moseley, Esq.