If the police stop you and accuse you of driving recklessly, you might assume they are telling you off for the way you were driving. More likely is that they are about to give you a reckless driving ticket.

People use reckless and careless almost interchangeably in everyday speech. Yet they have slightly different connotations and very different consequences when used as legal terms.

What is the difference between reckless and careless driving?

Reckless driving is a more severe offense than careless driving and carries greater consequences if convicted:

  • Reckless driving: New Jersey code defines it as driving “heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”
  • Careless driving: The state considers this to be “carelessly, or without due caution and circumspection, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”

The two definitions are similar. The difference is that reckless driving requires some intent on your part. As the police were not inside your head while you were driving, they cannot be sure what you were thinking. That does not mean they cannot convince a judge of your intent, but it does give you scope to challenge the charge and, at the very least, get it reduced to careless driving.

The other point you can challenge is whether you put anyone or anything in danger. It would be easier to claim this was not the case on an empty rural road than driving through the middle of town.

Defending against a traffic charge requires a thorough understanding of what the particular offense covers. If you can find a weakness in the cop’s argument, you may be able to overturn the charge.