Behind the Wheel: Getting a Grip on the Consequences of DUI vs. Reckless Driving

The penalties for each conviction and why plea bargaining could be advantageous

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on September 6, 2023

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Every state takes highway safety seriously, and drivers charged with either reckless driving or intoxicated driving face significant criminal penalties.

Sanctions for a reckless driving or DUI conviction can include fines, the suspension or revocation of your driver’s license, community service, and even time behind bars.

Below, you will find an overview of reckless driving and DUI consequences with examples from state law, an explanation of why a plea bargain may be the best option for a driver facing criminal charges, and when to seek legal help.

What’s the Difference Between Reckless Driving and Intoxicated Driving?

The legal definition of reckless driving varies by state, but generally, it’s the willful disregard of traffic laws, safety, or the consequences of operating a motor vehicle. Examples of reckless driving include:

  • Driving over the speed limit by 15 miles per hour or more (the exact number varies by state);
  • Passing someone in a no-pass zone or with low visibility of oncoming traffic;
  • Making an unsafe lane change;
  • Tailgating or racing someone;
  • Avoiding a law enforcement officer.

A DUI/DWI is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There are different ways to be charged with a DUI:

  • Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over the legal limit (typically 0.08 for drivers 21 years and older);
  • Your driving is impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Reckless driving and intoxicated driving are typically charged as misdemeanors. Both offenses can be upgraded to felony charges if certain aggravating factors are present, such as having a prior conviction or causing injury or property damage.

Both offenses are punishable by fines and jail time. Having a DUI on your criminal record can carry other lifelong consequences of stigma and potential impacts on employment.

An Example of Reckless Driving and DUI Laws: The State of Nevada

As noted, laws defining reckless driving and DUI vary by state. But to get a better sense of how these offenses are punished, let’s look at the law in Nevada.

Reckless Driving

Under Nevada law (NRS 484B.653), reckless driving is defined as operating a motor vehicle with “willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property.” It is a criminal offense, not merely a moving violation.

  • A first-time reckless driving charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a maximum sentence of six months in jail.
  • A second offense is punishable with a fine between $1,000 to $1,500, up to six months of jail time, and up to 199 hours of community service
  • A third offense is punishable with a fine between $1,500 to $2,000, up to six months of jail time, and 200 hours of community service

A reckless driving conviction can be a felony if someone is seriously injured or killed as a result of the unlawful conduct.

Driving Under the Influence

Under Nevada law (NRS 484C.010), it is unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

For non-commercial drivers over 21 years old, Nevada’s blood alcohol limit is 0.08. If police officers suspect that you’ve been driving under the influence, they can request that you take a field sobriety test.

Law enforcement can also ask you to take a breath test, blood test, or urine test to measure blood alcohol content (BAC). Refusing a BAC test will result in a driver’s license suspension.

Penalties for drunk driving depend on several different factors, including the level of intoxication and the driver’s prior history of DUIs or lack thereof. Even a first offense is extremely serious and can carry:

  • A $1,000 fine;
  • Six months of jail time;
  • Up to 96 hours of community service;
  • Driver’s license suspension; and
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on your car.

Causing injury or death or having prior DUI convictions can elevate charges to a felony DUI. Prosecutors are often aggressive in pursuing drunk driving or drugged driving charges.

Is a Plea Bargain a Good Option?

Aggressively fighting a DUI case and a criminal charge is not the right approach in every case. If the prosecution has sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, it is more sensible to focus on limiting the negative consequences.

A plea bargain is an agreement between a prosecutor and a defendant that allows the defendant to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced charge or reduced sentence. Some of the potential advantages of a plea bargain include:

  • Reduced criminal charges;
  • Quicker resolution to the case;
  • Lesser penalties, potentially including avoiding jail time;
  • Opportunity to save your license or get back driving privileges sooner.

Of course, a plea bargain is not the right option in every case. Further, not every plea bargain is the same. If you are facing reckless driving charges or DUI charges, you need a deal that best protects your rights and your future.

And a word of caution. Often, individuals who have been charged with reckless driving or a DUI assume they have no case and will settle when a lawyer with experience in these cases could have potentially challenged the case or mitigated the legal consequences.

So, while a plea bargain may be a good option in your case, it’s not necessarily so. To make that call, it’s best to have legal advice on your specific circumstances.

Get a Criminal Defense Lawyer on Your Side

If you have any specific questions about reckless driving, DUI penalties, or other driving offenses and your legal rights, contact an experienced DUI attorney for legal advice. Many criminal defense attorneys provide free consultations.

Visit the Super Lawyers directory to begin your search for an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area. For more information on these legal issues, see our overviews on traffic violations and DUI/DWI law.

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