Reckless driving often defies definition, but you recognize it when you see it. Reckless motorists challenge your sense of safety and endanger your life, even in a scenic Florida city like Lakeland. They navigate the roads in ways that make them lose control, regardless of weather and road conditions.
Reckless drivers often cause preventable, high-impact accidents, and they seriously injure people. If you and your family travel in traffic near a reckless driver, you can’t always avoid them and the harm they cause.
The word “reckless” provides a clue as to who reckless drivers are and why most motorists try to avoid them. Reckless is often described as “marked by lack of proper caution,” “careless of consequences,” or “irresponsible.” These phrases accurately explain their actions, but no definition explains why they act that way.
Reckless drivers speed, change lanes erratically, and disregard important safety rules. They sometimes drive under the influence, ignore traffic lights, and speed through intersections. When a person drives recklessly, they disregard their safety and endanger other drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians, and anyone else in their vicinity. When they cause extensive damage and severe injuries, they can’t always pay the compensation injured victims deserve.
Reckless Drivers are Mostly Men
It sounds like a stereotype, but men drive recklessly more often than women. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety explains this in “Fatality Facts: Male vs. Female.”
The organization developed these conclusions about male drivers after reviewing Department of Transportation data:
- Men drive more miles than women.
- They engage more frequently in what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls risky driving behaviors.
- Men cause more severe crashes than women.
- Men die in auto crashes more frequently than women.
- Women are closing the crash fatality gap. In recent years, male crash fatalities have decreased while female fatalities have increased.
Reckless Driving is a Crime In Lakeland
Like other risky driving behaviors, reckless driving is a criminal act under Florida’s Motor vehicle code, §316.192. The state law’s description of driving with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property” invites a know-it-when-you-see-it interpretation.
Criminal penalties include:
- First offense: Up to 90 days imprisonment and a fine of $25 to $500.
- Second offense: Up to six months imprisonment and a fine of $50 to $1,000.
- A reckless driver causes property damage: This criminal charge becomes a first-degree misdemeanor, which includes imprisonment up to one year and a fine of $1,000.
- A reckless driver causes bodily injury: The charge becomes a third-degree felony, with imprisonment up to five years and a fine of $5,000.
In Florida, fleeing a law enforcement officer is also considered reckless driving. As to other reckless actions, police officers have discretion when issuing citations. When they cite a driver for reckless operation, they sometimes have difficulty proving that the driver acted willfully.
To ensure a conviction, officers often issue citations for reckless driving and at least one other moving violation.
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Texting while driving
- Speeding or speeding in an enhanced penalty zone
- Aggressive careless driving §316.1923: two or more simultaneous actions including speeding, improper lane change, following too closely, improper passing, and violation of a sign or traffic signal
- Drag racing in the street
- Ignoring a stopped school bus
Insurance Coverage for Reckless Driving Accidents
Reckless drivers disregard safety and their potential for causing injuries. As an injured party, you probably believe that a reckless driver earns whatever penalty the court sanctions. Unfortunately, when a reckless driver injures you, his criminal conviction sometimes complicates your liability insurance claim.
Insurers Don’t Always Cover Reckless Driving Accidents
Personal auto insurance policies cover “accidental” damage. They typically exclude coverage for a driver who “intentionally causes” damage or injuries. If the claim department interprets an insured’s reckless operation as intentional or willful, they consider declining coverage for the accident.
How an insurer chooses to handle an injury claim depends on the answers to several questions.
- Did the court convict the driver of an intentional act only (reckless operation)?
- Will the insurance company pay your claim based on the driver’s potentially negligent acts?
- Did you allege negligence when you presented your injury claim? A negligence allegation usually triggers coverage or at least an insurer’s duty to defend.
- Did a civil court issue a verdict based on negligence?
Reckless Drivers Usually Have Low-Limit Insurance Policies?
If you sustain serious injuries and the reckless driver’s insurer decides to pay you, his policy limit probably won’t cover all of your damages. If he’s anything like other bad drivers, his driving history makes insurance unaffordable.
The U.S. DOT FARS Data tables illustrate how drivers who cause fatal crashes frequently have bad driving histories. Their records include license suspensions and citations for DWI, speeding, prior crashes, and other moving violations.
Traditional insurance companies systematically reject chronically bad drivers. If they do write their policies, they add surcharges that increase premiums and make their policies unaffordable. High-risk companies usually insure bad drivers. They charge lower premiums and they provide minimal coverage. Either way, bad drivers pay more for coverage and they often get only state minimum liability limits. Often, bad drivers have no liability coverage at all.
Your Policy May Have Uninsured Motorist or Underinsured Motorist Coverage
If a reckless driver’s insurer declines coverage, your policy’s Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage may pay your damages. Florida doesn’t mandate UM or UIM coverage.
If you have the coverage on your policy, it pays your injury claim under certain circumstances.
- The other driver doesn’t have a liability policy or bond that covers the accident date
- His coverage has a lower limit than the state’s financial responsibility law requires.
- An unidentifiable hit-and-run driver caused your accident.
- The responsible party’s insurer declines coverage or becomes insolvent.
You Can’t Make a Bodily Injury Claim Until You Meet Florida’s PIP Threshold
When you’re injured in a vehicle accident in Lakeland, Florida, you turn a claim into your own insurer. They pay your medical bills and a wage benefit under your Personal Injury Protection coverage.
You have no right to make a claim against a reckless driver or under your UM/UIM coverage unless you sustain an injury or condition described in Florida’s No-Fault Statute:
- Loss of bodily function
- Permanent disability
- Significant disfigurement
Reckless Driving Accidents Have Increased Over the Past Two Years
During the recent pandemic lockdown, the NHTSA documented an unexpected increase in accident-related fatalities. The agency reviews the statistics in its crash stats early estimates. The special report Examination of the Traffic Safety Environment explains the facts behind the numbers.
During previous economic downturns, fewer vehicle miles traveled resulted in reduced fatal crashes.
The pandemic triggered an opposite effect:
- Overall, fatal accident rates increased.
- Vehicle speed increased due to reduced traffic congestion.
- Law enforcement officers documented increased ejection rates, primarily for males ages 18 to 34.
- Trauma care units reported increased alcohol use by traffic accident victims.
- Emergency care facilities also documented higher drug use, including opioids and marijuana.
- Reduction in police enforcement increased speeding opportunities.
- Fatality numbers for older people decreased due to reduced travel.
NHTSA reports suggest that fewer cars on the road created unprecedented conditions that encouraged unsafe driving. Unfortunately, this negative trend continues. The most recent early crash stats estimates show even higher fatality rates than the previous year.
Do You Need An Attorney if a Reckless Driver Injures You?
Yes. Even when a reckless driver clearly caused your accident, your injury claims become overly complicated. You need a Lakeland car accident attorney protecting your legal rights as soon as possible. Even when no one questions your injury severity, reckless driving accidents often involve complex coverage, criminal, and legal issues. Personal injury attorneys deal with insurers, their investigators, and their attorneys. They protect your rights while you rest and recover.