Texas law defines reckless driving as driving a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” The law leaves a lot of room for interpretation…which is the point. Reckless driving takes many different forms, but all of them have one thing in common: putting other people and their property at risk of harm.
In this blog post, we discuss the ins-and-outs of reckless driving in Texas: what it is, the impact it has on our great State, and how an experienced lawyer can help when a reckless driver causes devastation in your life.
The Many Forms of Reckless Driving
Take a car. Take a driver. Now, ask yourself: in what ways could the driver operate that car that reflects a “willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property?”
A flood of answers has likely already come into your mind, such as:
- Speeding. Going too fast might as well be a hallmark of reckless driving. After all, what car chase have you ever seen in an action movie that takes place at low speed? High speed, risk-taking driving is what most people think of as the definition of recklessness. But, believe it or not, you do not need to be weaving in and out of traffic at 125 mph to be considered reckless. What makes a speed reckless, more than the posted speed limit, is the road conditions. Driving highway speeds on a clear day is not reckless, but driving the same stretch of road in fog that cuts visibility to a few feet sure would be.
- Joyriding. Pretty much every parent tells their 16-year old that a car is not a toy. A person of any age who ignores that principle by joyriding is a reckless driver—because our parents were right. A car is not a toy. And, while it may seem fun to a teenager or adrenaline junky to spin donuts, burn rubber at a red light, treat a straightaway as a drag strip, or accept a stupid dare like driving at night with your headlights off, none of those actions represents anything but a willful and wanton disregard for other people’s wellbeing.
- Road raging. A car is also not a vessel for your feelings. Treating the act of driving as an exercise in expressing your emotions—particularly dark emotions like anger, frustration, or vindictiveness—makes you a dangerous, reckless driver. Unhappy about your life, the pace of traffic, or someone else’s driving? Keep it to yourself until you are no longer behind the wheel, so that you and everyone else can get to your destinations alive.
- Tailgating. This goes hand-in-hand with road raging; in fact, at times they are one-in-the-same. However, even if you tailgate out of nothing more than a misplaced confidence in your own reflexes or a distorted perception of distance, the practice is virtually always a reckless one that puts you and others in serious danger.
- Texting and driving. Here’s the simple truth: the human brain is not capable of handling the competing tasks of texting and driving. You cannot do it safely, no matter how much of a multi-tasker you think you are. It is impossible. Texting and driving leads to crashes and death. No person can text and drive without putting others at serious risk. It is, in short, reckless.
- General idiocy. You know what we mean. Driving with a mattress on top of your car that isn’t tied down. Attaching a trailer to a broken hitch with duct tape and baling wire. Letting ten of your friends pile into the bed of your pickup for an off-road spin. Anything having to do with trying to pull a stunt, a jump, or spin-out. These are dangerous, reckless behaviors that can get someone killed, and not just you.
You get the idea by this point: Reckless driving covers the universe of obnoxious, angry, stupid, and dangerous actions a person can take behind the wheel of a car.
A Quick Word About Drunk/Drugged Driving
We would be remiss if we were to fail to acknowledge that perhaps the most reckless driving behavior of all consists of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Obviously, drunk/drugged driving puts everyone on Texas roads at risk, and inflicts a massive toll on our State. For the most part, however, we do not address drunk/drugged driving in his blog post, only because it is an entire topic unto itself. Texas law, in particular, treats drunk and drugged driving as a separate category of a criminal offense, with its own system of penalties and sanctions.
For now, know that victims of drunk/drugged drivers have largely the same rights to seek compensation as those discussed later in this article in the context of suing reckless drivers and those responsible for their conduct. If a drunk or drugged driver has caused an accident that injured you or a loved one, then speak with an experienced Texas car accident injury attorney today to learn about your rights.
The Terrible Toll of Reckless Driving
What happens when someone drives recklessly? Simple. People die. In just one year, speed played a role in 745 fatalities on Texas roads. Just 251 of those involved someone driving over the speed limit. The rest involved speed that was simply too fast for road conditions. In total, seven hundred forty-five fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters whose lives ended because someone decided to drive too fast.
People also get injured. Thousands of them, every year, because of a bad decision about how fast to drive.
And that’s just speeding. Other reckless driving behaviors account for hundreds more fatalities and thousands more injuries in Texas. In just one year, our state saw:
- Unsafe lane changes – 10 fatal crashes and 977 injury crashes;
- Failure to drive in a single lane – 350 fatal crashes and more than 3,000 injury crashes;
- Passing in a no-passing lane – 27 fatal crashes and 157 injury crashes;
- Road rage – Two fatal crashes and 60 injury crashes;
- Driving on the wrong side of the road – 171 fatal crashes and 599 injury crashes.
Losses of life and bodily injury represent a constant, tragic toll of reckless driving behaviors. However, that is not the only impact driving recklessly can have. In dollars and cents, Texas estimates that the annual economic loss to the state caused by motor vehicle crashes topped out over $38 billion (billion with a B) in just one year alone. Not all of those crashes involve recklessness, of course, but enough of them do to say with confidence that reckless drivers costs Texans somewhere in the neighborhood of the annual budgets of Dallas, Houston, and Corpus Christi combined.
Your Rights Against Reckless Drivers
Texans injured in an accident caused by a reckless driver have rights. They have the right to expect drivers to face prosecution for their crimes. And they have the right to take legal action seeking financial compensation from those drivers and anyone else responsible for the drivers’ behavior.
Considering the toll reckless driving takes on the lives of innocent Texans, the criminal penalties for reckless driving may seem a bit weak. A conviction for reckless driving comes with a fine of up to $200, and a jail term of up to 30 days, or both. Of course, a reckless driver who causes serious injury or death may also face prosecution for far more serious offenses, such as manslaughter (defined as recklessly causing the death of another). Still, fining reckless drivers who get away with not hurting someone just $200 does not seem like much of a deterrent.
Lawsuits for Damages
Reckless driving is, virtually by definition, an act that constitutes negligence and which, if it leads to someone getting hurt, makes the driver liable for damages.
Damages a victim of a reckless driver might seek include compensation for include:
- Medical costs incurred in treating any injury caused by the reckless driver’s actions;
- Lost wages and lost future income resulting from the injured victim not being able to return to work because of the injuries inflicted by the reckless driver;
- Repair or replacement of property damaged or destroyed by the reckless driver;
- Services the reckless driver’s victim needs to hire to take care of day-to-day tasks that the victim cannot do because of the injury;
- Pain and suffering endured by the reckless driver’s victim because of the injury; and
- Damage to the victim’s personal relationships caused by the injury.
How much money a victim of a reckless driving accident can recover through a legal action depends on a wide variety of factors, including the severity of the injury (which obviously affects all of the factors above), the circumstances of the accident, and the resources of the person with legal liability to the victim.
That last bit is especially important. A reckless driver is usually at fault for the injuries and losses sustained by accident victims. However, the driver is not always the only party at fault who has a legal liability to victims. Other individuals and entities may share liability with the reckless driver.
- The driver’s employer may have liability, if the driver drove a commercial vehicle recklessly, and especially if the employer knew before the accident about the driver’s reckless tendencies;
- The driver’s doctor or pharmacist if, for example, the driver drove recklessly as a result of the side effect of a dangerous combination of drugs the doctor prescribed or the pharmacist supplied;
- The driver’s parents if the reckless driver was under 18; and
- A bar or restaurant that served alcohol to an obviously intoxicated reckless driver before he climbed behind the wheel of a car.
These are examples only. The point is, with the help of an experienced Texas car accident injury attorney, victims of reckless drivers can hold not just the driver financially accountable, but also others who the law makes responsible for the driver’s conduct.
Tips for After a Reckless Driving Accident
If you suffer the misfortune of getting into an accident with a reckless driver, or an accident caused by a reckless driver, following these simple tips may help you protect your wellbeing and your legal rights to compensation.
Seek Medical Care
Always, always, always seek medical care after a car accident. It does not matter if you feel fine or not. Let EMTs at the accident scene check you out and (assuming you don’t end up taking a ride to the hospital in an ambulance) schedule an appointment with your regular doctor as soon as possible for a full check-up. Some potentially disabling or fatal car accident injuries take awhile to show any symptoms, but can be diagnosed right away with relatively simple medical tests. Plus, going to the doctor establishes a connection between the accident and any injury a check-up identifies, which may prove critical to a later legal action for damages.
Report Reckless Drivers
Everyone needs to do their part to curb reckless drivers. After an accident involving a reckless driver, be sure to report the driver’s conduct to law enforcement. For that matter, report reckless driving whenever you see it, even if it does not lead to an accident (this time). Let’s all keep each other safe by calling reckless drivers out for their deadly conduct.
Seek Legal Help When Necessary
Do not wait to speak with an experienced Texas car accident injury attorney if a reckless driver causes havoc in your life. The sooner you sit down for a free case evaluation with a lawyer, the better your chances of obtaining any and all compensation you deserve for your injuries. Remember, the law exists to protect victims of reckless driving accidents: by pursuing these drivers and ensuring they are held accountable, we can all do our part to reduce the plague of reckless driving throughout our state.