The experience traffic ticket defense lawyer have to answer the question of what constitutes reckless operation in Ohio every time we take on a new client who has been accused of committing the offense. We expect the confusion — even disbelief — because state laws do a very poor job of defining “reckless operation.” Sometimes, the decision to issue the charge can appear to have been made completely at the discretion of the police officer, state trooper, or deputy sherrif who wrote the court summons.
The problem with understanding reckless operation in Columbus Ohio starts with the fact that two separate statutes cover the alleged offense. The one law enforcement officers and prosecutors invoke most often, section 4511.20(A) of the Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.), is a standard reckless driving ban. It states “No person shall operate a vehicle, trackless trolley, or streetcar on any street or highway in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property.”
Reading past the odd additions of types of vehicles, the legal language offers no examples of what counts as reckless behavior behind the wheel.
The related boating and watercraft reckless operation statute does a little bit to correct that omission. O.R.C. section 1547.07 prohibits operating any watercraft or “aquaplane … carelessly or heedlessly, or in disregard of the rights or safety of any person, vessel, or property, or without due caution, at a rate of speed or in a manner so as to endanger any person, vessel, or property is guilty of reckless operation of the vessel or other device.”
The statute also includes the terms “reasonable,” “prudent,” and “unsafe.” To further help people understand what is and is not considered safe and respectful behavior.
Section 1547.07 includes this list of statutorily defined reckless actions:
- Becoming airborne while crossing another vessel’s wake
- Jumping wakes while following closer than 100 feet
- Causing another watercraft to swerve in order to avoid a crash
- Traveling at a speed that requires other vessels to quickly move or change direction
- Following a water skier or tuber at less than 200 feet, and
- Weaving through congested traffic.
Much of this list can be extrapolated to driving a car, truck, motorcycle, or other vehicle on an Ohio road or highway. The easiest example of reckless operation in a motor vehicle is exceeding a posted speed limit by 25 mph with some other action like weaving. City and county police may have specific guidance on reckless speeding from local ordinances, but state troopers often use the 25 mph rule when it is accompanied by some other type of careless driving.
Other actions that have a high likelihood of getting cited as reckless operation include
- Driving the wrong way on a one-way street, divided state highway, or interstate;
- Weaving in and out of slower traffic;
- Crossing a double yellow line or double white line and causing a crash;
- Jumping a curve; or
- Leaving the roadway or flipping over after taking a turn or curve too fast
As noted above, a driver may need advice and insight from a Columbus, Ohio, reckless operation attorney to understand why he or she specifically got charged. Police officers and state troopers only have to believe the person they pulled over or found at a crash scene was operating with willful or wanton disregard of other people’s safety, physical health, lives, and property. What any given officer will consider reckless disregard can vary greatly from person to person.
The lack of an objective standard can be a problem, as judges are inclined to trust a law enforcement officer’s judgment over a defendant’s explanation. A conviction for reckless operation, whatever the grounds, can bring serious consequences. A first-time sentence will include several hundred dollars in fines and fees, as well as a 4-point license penalty. A second reckless violation within a 12-month period is treated as fourth-degree misdemeanor, which puts a brief jail term on the table.
A Columbus traffic attorney of The Maher Law Firm can help with any traffic ticket or criminal driving case.