Though the words careless and reckless may seem very similar, careless driving and reckless driving are two different offenses with different consequences. What are the differences between careless driving and reckless driving in the state of New Jersey?

Reckless driving is a more serious offense than careless driving in New Jersey. Careless driving is when the driver is unintentionally driving in a dangerous manner, and careless drivers are often given tickets. Reckless driving is when the driver knowingly drives in a dangerous manner.

There are a few key differences between careless and reckless driving, including how you commit each offense and how you are penalized for committing them.

What is Careless Driving?

Careless driving is driving dangerously without intent to do so. If you are ticketed for careless driving, that means that you were driving in a dangerous way without meaning to. This may include running red lights, speeding, or drifting into other lanes.

One important thing to note is that you are usually ticketed for each of these offenses individually if you only commit one. You will usually be ticketed for careless driving if you commit more than one violation. Committing multiple violations means that you are consistently being careless as you are driving.

What is Reckless Driving?

Reckless driving is similar to careless driving, but there is one major distinction: reckless driving means that you are driving dangerously on purpose. Rather than being careless and not paying attention to the traffic laws, reckless driving means that the driver specifically chose to drive dangerously.

Many of the actions you can receive a reckless driving ticket for are the same as those you can receive a careless driving ticket for. The difference is in intentions. If you run a red light because you didn’t see that the light was red, you can be given a ticket for careless driving. If you run a red light because you are late for work and don’t want to have to wait, that is reckless driving. In the first scenario, you unintentionally ran a red light, while in the second scenario, it was an intentional choice that you made to run the red light.

Reckless driving is a more serious offense because of the intentions of the driver. It will get you a more severe punishment. The idea is that it is more dangerous if someone is intentionally driving dangerously and putting others in harm’s way rather than doing so unintentionally.

How Do the Police Decide If I Was Driving Carelessly or Recklessly?

Whether a driver was committing careless driving or reckless driving can often be a gray area. It may end up being difficult to discern which offense someone should be charged with. Careless driving and reckless driving do not involve any specific driving offenses but are determined more based on how the person is driving.

When a person is first pulled over, a police officer may not know if the driver was acting unintentionally or intentionally. They will usually come to a decision after talking to the driver for a few minutes. If the driver doesn’t seem like they knew that what they were doing was dangerous, the officer will give them a ticket for careless driving. If they come to a decision that the driver was intentionally breaking the law by driving dangerously, the driver will get a reckless driving ticket.

Essentially, the officer that pulls you over decides if you were driving carelessly or recklessly based on what they witnessed and how you responded when you were pulled over. However, if you get ticketed for reckless driving when you believe it should have been for careless driving instead, you can try to get it changed in the municipal court.


The intentions behind careless and reckless driving are not the only differences between the two violations. The penalties for the offenses are also different.

The penalties for careless driving are less severe because the dangerous driving was unintentional. The fines for careless driving in New Jersey are $85 to $140 for a first-time offense. You will also have 2 points added to your driver’s license (getting 6 points results in fines and surcharges, while 12 points lead to a suspension of your license). Depending on how many careless driving tickets you have accrued, you may also have your license suspended or be sentenced to community service.

Reckless driving involves much more severe consequences than careless driving because the dangerous driving was intentional and therefore more likely to be repeated. The fines for a first offense of reckless driving are from $50 to $200, while the fines for a repeat offense are $50 to $500. You will also receive 5 points on your license, which is pretty significant.

While careless driving is considered a traffic violation in New Jersey, reckless driving can actually be a criminal offense. For reckless driving, you may also receive jail time of up to 60 days for your first offense and 90 days for a second offense. You may also have your license suspended for up to 180 days or it may even be revoked entirely. This all depends on how many reckless driving offenses you have committed, and if anyone was injured or property was damaged by your reckless driving. The charge also becomes more serious if you are charged with DWI.

Essentially, reckless driving is much more serious and results in far more consequences than careless driving, so the lesson here is to not intentionally commit traffic violations. If you do end up committing traffic violations, it is better if they are done unintentionally.

What Should I Do If I Get Ticketed for Careless or Reckless Driving?

Depending on which offense you are being charged with and the circumstances of your case, it may be a good idea to get an attorney like Chris Baxter. With careless driving, if you believe there are circumstances involved that could get your case dismissed, it is a good idea to contact the Law Offices of Christopher L. Baxter.

Since reckless driving is a more serious criminal offense, an attorney is a great resource, especially if someone was injured, property was damaged, or you are also facing driving under the influence charges. It is important to consider the circumstances and the degree of the charge.