What Are The Dangers Posed by Reckless Driving?By Gabriel Levin on August 26th, 2019
Like other states, Pennsylvania’s definition of reckless driving covers a wide variety of driver actions and behaviors, many of which can lead to an accident. According to Pennsylvania law, reckless driving occurs when “a person drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
Law enforcement in Pennsylvania issues thousands of tickets to drivers each day, some of which are reckless driving citations, but reckless driving tickets are often issued in conjunction with other tickets. When drivers deliberately make poor choices, it can lead to fatal and severe accidents. This guide provides a general overview of reckless driving, specific behaviors which constitute reckless driving, penalties for reckless driving in Pennsylvania, and how an auto incident lawyer can help you can recover damages after an accident with a reckless driver.
Reckless Driver Behaviors
Pennsylvania’s reckless driving law doesn’t explicitly provide the behaviors which constitute reckless driving. This means law enforcement has ample discretion to issue the citation they see fit in a particular situation. For example, going over the speed limit can result in a speeding violation, but when a driver is speeding excessively, law enforcement might issue a reckless driving ticket, especially when speeding caused property damage, bodily injury, or death. Some other examples of driver behaviors often resulting in a reckless driving citation include:
- Ignoring traffic signs and signals, such as running a stoplight, or running a stop sign on a school bus
- Racing cars or playing “chicken” on public roads
- Following another vehicle too closely
- Passing another vehicle on a solid or double solid line or passing on blind curves
- Weaving in and out of traffic in two or more lanes of traffic
- Intentionally ignoring barriers at railroad crossings
- Driving under the influence of a controlled substance
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s crash data doesn’t offer specific information on reckless driving, but it does offer statistics related to some of the above behaviors. In their most recent year of data:
- More than 30,000 crashes were speed-related, including 441 fatal crashes.
- Drunk drivers were involved in more than 9,100 crashes, including 160 fatal crashes.
- Pennsylvania drivers who carelessly or improperly passed other cars caused almost 4,800 crashes, including 54 fatal crashes.
- Drivers who were following other vehicles too closely caused 6,800 traffic accidents, including 19 fatal crashes.
Why Do People Drive Recklessly?
Another term for reckless driving is aggressive driving, which the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses to describe, analyze, and report the above behaviors. The NHTSA’s definition of aggressive driving is very similar to Pennsylvania’s definitions; according to the NHTSA, aggressive driving is driving a motor vehicle “in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger persons or property.” Reckless driving has been a main focus for NHTSA’s research over the last decades. They hope efforts spent to understand the causes of aggressive driving reduce the problem and prevent accidents and bodily harm.
After all the time and money spent on learning about aggressive driving, the NHTSA cannot provide specific causes. Yet, they have strong research that supports the factors which often contribute to reckless driving. After studying data collected by law enforcement officers across the nation, the NHTSA has identified four scenarios which are often associated with reckless driving citations. Keep in mind that a driver might experience one or more of these factors simultaneously:
- Heavy traffic. Delays caused by traffic congestion remains a common factor associated with aggressive driving. Road construction, traffic accidents, funeral processions, trains, and too many cars on the road can all lead to traffic delays. When drivers lack the patience to deal with these delays, they might aggressively weave in and out of traffic, follow others too closely, or engage in other reckless behaviors.
- Lateness. We live in a world where everyone is busy and running from obligation to obligation and appointment to appointment. Drivers can easily fall behind schedule when taking kids to school, attending classes, going to work, attending a sporting event or concert, going to a business appointment, or when headed towards any type of appointment or meeting. The NHTSA reports the average mother makes five trips and spends about an hour traveling almost 30 miles each day. The demanding schedule of a mother includes trips to the grocery store, taking and picking up kids from school, practice, and doctor appointments. Mothers and other drivers who have demanding schedules sometimes make poor choices behind the wheel to get to their destination on time.
- Anonymity. The NHTSA has studies some of the psychological factors which contribute to reckless driving. Feelings of anonymity and detachment inside a vehicle can lead to antisocial behavior, in contrast to public aspects of driving where people are more likely to conform to social norms. More simply put—Some drivers will behave horribly when others don’t know who they are. For example, a driver is frustrated because they are running late or in traffic, so they will behave rudely or engage in road rage behaviors. Maybe they will give hand gestures or honk incessantly because they feel they have more power when they are anonymous.
- Habitual or clinical behavior. In comparison to other driver behaviors, reckless driving is rare. Repeat offenders often engage in aggressive or reckless driving. In fact, reckless choices behind the wheel might be their standard way of driving. The NHTSA expects that some reckless driving might be a one-time behavior after a stressful day. Yet, habitual reckless driving, which also includes feelings of frustration and anger and confrontations with other drivers who share the road, demonstrates pathological behavior.
Penalties and Fines for Reckless Driving in Pennsylvania
Unlike some other states, most reckless driving convictions are not criminal offenses. Under Pennsylvania law, a reckless driving conviction is a summary offense which carries up to a $200 fine and a six-month license suspension. Reckless driving is a crime, but a conviction won’t typically lead to misdemeanor or felony on a drivers’ record. Yet, repeat offenses and other specific scenarios result in harsher penalties. Penalties and fines for a variety of these situations include:
- Drivers who drive recklessly in a work zone or an emergency zone face double the fine if convicted.
- Drivers who cause bodily injury as a result of their reckless driving face $1,000 minimum find and a minimum 90 days in jail.
- Drivers whose recklessness results in fatality face a minimum fine of $25,000 and a minimum of a year in jail. These drivers might also face a civil lawsuit and criminal charges for vehicular manslaughter.
Drivers who are convicted of reckless driving also face point penalties to their Pennsylvania driver’s licenses. Each traffic violation has a point value assigned. As a person accumulates points, they might face legal consequences, including suspensions and fines, plus fees for reinstatement. One year without traffic violations will clear points from a driver’s record.
Steps After an Accident with a Reckless Driver
Many reckless driver behaviors are recognizable after a crash. To ensure you have the best outcome with insurance companies and a potential lawsuit, you need to take a number of steps after you have an accident with a reckless driver. They include:
Call 911. If you or any other driver or passenger involved in an accident with a reckless driver has been injured, you need to call 911 as soon as possible to dispatch emergency response teams and law enforcement to the scene of an accident.
Seek medical treatment. Don’t refuse medical treatment after an accident, even if you feel okay. Some injuries from traffic accidents don’t show symptoms right away, especially concussions and other brain injuries. If the accident is not severe enough to warrant an ambulance ride, make sure to head to the nearest emergency room or your doctor as soon as possible to get checked out. Medical documentation is crucial to providing evidence of harm to insurance companies and defense teams.
Gather information at the scene of the accident. It’s likely law enforcement will come to the scene of the accident and complete a report. Yet, it’s in your best interest to gather as much information as you can, if you are physically able to do so. This includes:
- Making note of the location, time, weather conditions, and road conditions where the accident occurred
- Recording any reckless driving behaviors you believe contributed to the accident, e.g. speeding, swerving, tailgating
- Collecting contact information and insurance information from all involved drivers
- Recording or taking photos of license plates of all vehicles involved
- Taking photos of property damage to cars and any other relevant photos at the scene
- Taking photos of any visible bodily injury at the scene
Remember that reckless drivers might feel angry and frustrated. You should always remain calm, and proceed with caution when trying to gather information. In some cases, it might be in your best interest to stay in your vehicle until police arrive. Use your best judgment, but don’t jeopardize your personal safety to gather evidence you can get off of the police report.
File an insurance claim. Even though you are certain another driver is at fault for the accident, you need to report the accident to your insurance company. Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance state, which means all drivers file claims under their own personal injury protection (PIP) policies to recover the costs of a traffic accident.
Keep all bills and receipts. You need to provide documentation to prove economic loss related to a traffic accident. Your PIP insurance in Pennsylvania only covers medical costs up to a certain amount. Bills, receipts, and pay stubs show all medical costs, as well as repair costs, lost wages, and travel expenses to and from the doctor.
Hire a personal injury attorney. When reckless drivers cause accidents, they are often severe and result in serious injury or fatality. In these types of accidents, it’s highly likely your PIP insurance will make only a dent in providing the compensation you deserve for your loss and injuries. A skilled and reputable personal injury attorney can help you seek compensation beyond PIP coverage in Pennsylvania, so you don’t have to shoulder the financial burden which often accompanies a severe accident. Additionally, good lawyers are skilled negotiators who can handle communication with insurance companies, protecting you from tactics they will use to devalue your claim and reduce liability. In many cases, a personal injury attorney can also negotiate a higher settlement than you would receive on your own.
Seeking Compensation Beyond PIP Coverage in Pennsylvania
After you have an accident involving a reckless driver, and you file an insurance claim under your mandatory Pennsylvania PIP coverage, you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver to recover additional damages not covered by your policy. It’s likely you won’t take legal action after a minor accident, but the medical costs from a severe accident often meet or exceed policy limits quickly. If you file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, you might recover the following damages from a settlement or verdict in your favor:
- Medical expenses not covered by your PIP policy including ambulance ride, emergency room visit, hospital stay, radiology, surgery, and prescription medication
- Future medical expenses when a reckless driver causes a severe injury requiring extensive treatment and recovery or a permanent disability
- Rehabilitation expenses including visits to physical therapists and other specialists, and assistive devices such as wheelchairs, artificial limbs, crutches, and canes
- Lost wages for time away from work due to the injury, treatment, and hospitalization
- Future lost wages when a catastrophic injury prohibits you from returning to work or requires you to reduce your hours or change careers
- Non-economic costs such as pain and suffering, loss of consortium with a spouse, loss in quality of life, scarring and disfigurement, and any other costs which might apply to your particular circumstances.
Reckless driving is a serious offense which potentially leads to life-changing injuries for those who are victims in an accident. If you have suffered injury in an accident with a reckless driver, talking to an experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorney can help advise you on your best course of action.