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Vehicle Code 23103 – Reckless Driving

Statutory Language:

23103. (a)  A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

(b) A person who drives a vehicle in an offstreet parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

Possible Penalties:

Reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense. If convicted, DMV will assess two points (not removable by traffic school) on your driving record.

Also, a driver convicted of reckless driving can receive a jail sentence for a minimum of 5 days and a maximum of 90 days. The court can also fine a convicted driver a base fine of at least $145 up to a maximum of $1000. Additionally, the court can use both imprisonment and a fine as a sentence.

Elements of the Offense:

To achieve a guilty verdict in a reckless driving case, the prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant drove a vehicle on a public highway, AND
  2. The defendant operated the vehicle in a manner displaying a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of other drivers, passengers, or pedestrians.

Explanation of the Law:

  • The term “vehicle” includes any type of motorized vehicle.
  • A “public highway” is any public road such as a residential street, a freeway, or any other type of street or road.
  • “Willful or wanton conduct” means an act that is intentional or which was done with the knowledge of the risk or danger presented and a disregard for the consequences thereof.
  • Police will generally cite someone for reckless driving when they witness three different moving violations occurring around the same time. For example, the defendant was seen speeding, making unsafe lane changes, and tailgating.
  • Police may also cite drivers under this section where the driver is operating a vehicle in a reckless manner and posing a risk of danger to passengers in his own car.


  • Unintentional Conduct: This section makes it clear that it seeks to regulate intentional, or wanton conduct. If an act perceived as reckless driving actually occurred without any intent on the part of the defendant, proving such would prevent the prosecution from being able to make their case. An example is where the vehicle driven by the defendant suffers some type of mechanical failure that causes the defendant to drive in an erratic way without the defendant intending to operate the vehicle in such a manner.
  • The defendant did not act recklessly: The most obvious defense to this charge is that the defendant's conduct while driving did not amount to recklessness. It is possible for police to believe a defendant is driving recklessly when the circumstances at the time of the event don't actually support reckless behavior on the defendant's part or a risk of danger to persons nearby.

How an attorney can help: An experienced attorney can investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged reckless driving act to see if the defendant's conduct really amounted to the required standard. An attorney may also negotiate the case on the defendant's behalf to resolve it short of a two point, misdemeanor violation, i.e. the attorney may obtain an acceptable plea bargain where the defendant will only plea to two, 1 point, violations as infractions.

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