Every time we get a big snowstorm in Michigan, there are appear to be cars the ditches at the side of the road. On the highways, drivers with four-wheel drive commonly don’t slow down at all in snowy conditions or change the way they drive.
The traffic-related deaths are high on several of our highways in Southeast Michigan. There are signs warning people not to tailgate. Yes, Michigan is car country. As soon as you enter the state, you can tell – especially in snowy weather. People trust their cars or their driving skills too much and end up getting in accidents.
It is not unique to Michigan to hear about car pile ups on highway I-94. In January 2015, one involved over 100 cars and a firework truck. Unfortunately, we hear about bad car accidents during the winter on a regular basis.
However, did you know you can end up going to prison for a car accident?
Some car accidents are caused due to reckless driving. This is a legal term, and it’s broad. It is a term that good defense attorneys can successfully argue that the circumstances of the accident don’t meet the criteria for a reckless driving charge.
Michigan Law on Reckless Driving
Under Michigan law (MCL 257.626), reckless driving is defined as operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway (including parking lots), public lake, frozen pond, or stream with a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of persons or property.
Wanton or willful disregard.
Could that be driving near 90 miles per hour, in snowy conditions and on slick roads, weaving in and out of traffic, and tailgating other cars? Yes, it could. Those actions alone (without causing an accident) – if there were a policeman who also wanted to risk his own life by pulling you over – could earn you the charge of reckless driving, because of the conditions of the road.
Here are the penalties for reckless driving on its own in Michigan:
Penalties for Reckless Driving in Michigan
- Up to 93 days in jail
- Up to $500 in fines plus costs
- Six points on your driving record
- Not allowed to drive for 90 days – called a “hard suspension” (your driver’s license will be revoked if you get a second conviction within seven years)
- $1,000 in driver responsibility fees ($500 a year for two consecutive years)
- Vehicle forfeitures or immobilization—if the vehicle is not forfeited, then the judge must order it immobilized
- CDL Suspension – if you have a commercial driver’s license it will be suspended for one year
However, there is the bigger problem. If you have caused an accident that results in bodily injury or death for another person, the charges can be increased from a misdemeanor to a felony.
In addition, when that does happen in an accident, police generally investigate. They don’t just chalk up a traffic death to an “accident” and call it a day. If you’ve been the one blazing around in traffic, other drivers will have noticed.
Felony Reckless Driving
The crucial element in a felony reckless driving charge is causation. Not only does the prosecutor have to prove that you were driving recklessly, but that your reckless driving caused the injury or death of another person.
If you are charged with reckless driving causing death, the jury is not allowed to be instructed on the lesser charge of moving violation causing death. You have to be tried for the higher charge.
Penalties for Felony Reckless Driving
If you are convicted of this crime, the penalties are:
- Six points added to your driving record
- License Revoked (you may apply for reinstatement after 1 or 5 years depending on your master driving record)
- CDL suspended for 1 year
- Up to 5 years in prison if the cause of a serious injury to another person
- Fines up to $5,000
- Up to 15 years in prison if the cause of death to another person
- Fines up to $10,000
In conclusion, reckless driving does require the prosecution to prove that you had intent – which can be hard to prove. There are ways to argue these charges to plead to a lesser crime.
If you are facing charges of reckless driving – especially felony reckless driving – contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Call my office today.