Florida Laws on Reckless Driving and Habitual Traffic Offenders
Reckless driving charges and the label of “habitual traffic offender” can seriously affect people’s lives in Florida. An experienced attorney can help you attack the charges of a traffic offense and avoid the consequences of a conviction.
Under Florida Statute § 316.192, reckless driving is defined as driving behavior that displays a “willful and wanton disregard” for other people’s safety or the safety of their property. This generally means that a driver acted with intent or with a conscious indifference to the potential damage that could occur.
Examples of reckless driving in Florida can include:
- Grossly excessive speeding
- Weaving through traffic
- Passing in no-passing zones
- Driving without consideration for weather conditions
- Improperly passing a school bus in a loading zone
- Violation of multiple traffic laws at once
- Failing to observe traffic signs or signals
The issue of intent can make reckless driving a difficult charge to prove. It is not easy to show in court that a driver intentionally violated a traffic law or consciously disregarded someone’s safety. A skilled Florida attorney will immediately assess whether the charges match the available evidence and file appropriate motions to reduce or eliminate the charges.
Florida’s Reckless Driving Penalties
The penalties for a reckless driving conviction in Florida can be severe and can follow a person for years to come. Someone convicted of reckless driving in Florida can be fined $500 and sentenced to 90 days in jail for the first offense. The conviction will also result in four points on the person’s driver’s license.
On a subsequent conviction for reckless driving, a person can be fined $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail. If the act of reckless driving caused damage to someone’s property, the charge becomes a first-degree misdemeanor in Florida, which is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time up to one year.
A third-degree felony charge will result from reckless driving that caused someone serious bodily injury. In Florida, third-degree felonies are punishable by a fine up to $5,000 and jail time of up to five years. These are serious penalties stemming from traffic accidents, and it is important that you have qualified representation in the criminal proceedings, as well as any civil lawsuits related to the accident.
Difference Between Recklessness and Carelessness in Florida
It is important to know that reckless driving is not the same as careless driving under Florida law. Sometimes, reckless driving will be the charge resulting from an accident, when the driver should have been cited for careless driving, instead.
For example, Florida law is settled that speeding alone does not constitute reckless driving, even when the speeding was excessive. In order for speeding to be considered reckless, the driver has to have committed an additional infraction while speeding or have been traveling at a grossly excessive rate of travel. Grossly excessive might mean driving 75 mph in a residential area that has a posted speed limit of 25 mph.
Simple negligence behind the wheel is also not reckless driving under state law. This is careless driving, and it carries very different consequences. A driver must have acted willfully and wantonly in order to be charged with reckless driving. Because of the grave penalties associated with a reckless driving conviction, accused persons need to fight the charges on all fronts.
Florida Habitual Traffic Offenders
Florida law, § 322.264, defines a habitual traffic offender as someone whose motor vehicle record shows three convictions in a five-year period of time involving any of the following:
- Vehicular manslaughter, both voluntary and involuntary;
- Driving under the influence;
- A felony involving use of a motor vehicle;
- Driving with a revoked or suspended driver’s license;
- Driving a commercial vehicle with disqualified commercial driving privileges; or
- Failing to stop and provide aid following a fatal or injury-causing vehicle accident.
The label of habitual traffic offender can also stem from the accumulation of 15 moving violations with points assessed during a five-year period of time. A habitual traffic offender in Florida will be facing license suspension and could have his or her license suspended for up to five years. He or she could also then face third-degree felony charges if caught driving.
Habitual Traffic Offender License Revocation — Defenses and Hardship Licenses
In Florida, someone accused of being a habitual traffic offender can request a hearing to review the record and potentially avoid license revocation. Particularly if the most recent citation is incorrect, the driving record is not accurate, or more than five years expired between convictions, the habitual traffic offender charge and license revocation need to be fought immediately. This hearing has to be requested within 30 days of the license suspension, which means time is of the essence in these situations.
Even after conviction, habitual traffic offenders have options for restoring their driving privileges or lifting the label. It is important to have an attorney review all of these options. Florida law allows habitual traffic offenders two years from conviction to petition for their convictions to be set aside. An experienced attorney can file a motion to vacate or work to remove the underlying offenses that gave rise to the habitual traffic offender status.
It is also possible to obtain a hardship license after conviction that will allow a habitual offender to travel to and from work. Unfortunately, this option is not available to habitual offenders during the first year following conviction. It can be granted during the second year. Several steps have to be taken before applying for the hardship license, including completion of Advanced Driver Improvement School and Driving Under the Influence School if alcohol was a factor in the conviction.
Obtaining a hardship license can be difficult and does not provide relief to habitual traffic offenders for a full year. During this time, a person’s job might have already been lost and the financial and emotional consequences of the revoked license already in effect. Therefore, all persons facing habitual traffic offender status should contact a knowledgeable Florida lawyer to fight the charges and avoid the label in the first place.