When driving, you have a duty to follow traffic signals and laws and drive in a safe manner that keeps yourself and others safe. Unfortunately, though, sometimes motorists engage in activities that endanger themselves and others.

In Washington, motorists who break the law because of their erratic driving behavior can be charged with a misdemeanor. Typically, they may face either reckless driving or negligent driving charges. These two crimes sound similar but are actually different in some ways.

Negligent Driving

Under RCW 46.61.5249, negligent driving refers to driving that is likely to endanger someone or someone’s property and involves alcohol or drug consumption. The police officer must prove that you exhibited the effects of substance use, such as the odor of alcohol or drugs, or your mannerisms, such as speech, appearance, and behavior.

Many judges will charge a person with negligent driving instead of a DUI. Negligent driving is a lesser charge that comes with fewer penalties. There are no mandatory penalties. A person convicted of this charge may face up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.

Unlike a DUI, no ignition interlock device is required. You do not have to spend time in jail and no license suspension is needed. However, if you are charged with a DUI later on, the negligent driving charge can enhance your penalties the second time around.

Reckless Driving

Under RCW 46.61.500, reckless driving is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. It refers to disregard for the safety of others. It may or may not involve alcohol or drug use.

Reckless driving may involve disobeying traffic laws, but in many cases, it refers to racing. Under RCW 46.61.530, racing is prohibited on public highways in Washington. Comparing speeds against one or more other vehicles is considered racing, even if the cars did not exceed the speed limit. A motorist found guilty of racing will be charged with reckless driving.

Contact a Washington Criminal Defense Lawyer

Whether you are facing reckless driving, negligent driving or any criminal charge that could jeopardize your driver’s license as well as your future, contact our Washington criminal defense attorneys. The Nahajski Firm has close to 40 years combined legal experience in representing clients in Seattle, Puget Sound and surrounding areas. Find out more about how we can defend you. Call us at (206) 621-0500 or contact us online to request a free consultation today.