Reckless driving is a serious offense in Illinois. If you’re charged with reckless driving in or near the Chicago area, you’ll need advice and legal representation from a Chicago reckless driving attorney, and you must reach out to that attorney immediately.

More than 1,300 people perished in traffic crashes in Illinois in 2021, so reckless driving has once again emerged as a growing concern. What constitutes reckless driving? What are the defenses against a reckless driving charge in Illinois? How are convictions penalized?

If you’ll keep reading this discussion of reckless driving, your rights, and the law in Illinois, you will learn the answers to these questions, and you’ll also learn why you must call a Chicago reckless driving lawyer at once if you are charged with reckless driving in the Chicago area.

How Does Illinois Define Reckless Driving?

Illinois law requires every motorist to drive prudently, carefully, and at speeds that do not put other persons or their property at risk. Reckless driving is always more than a simple driving mistake or a momentary distraction. It is willful and intentional.

The law in Illinois spells out two situations when a motorist may be charged with reckless driving. The charge may be filed when a motorist:

  1. drives with a “wanton” or “willful” disregard for others, their safety, and their property
  2. intentionally and knowingly uses an incline in the road to make the vehicle airborne

What Behaviors Constitute Reckless Driving?

What constitutes driving with a “wanton” or “willful” disregard for others? Whether someone is driving recklessly is a subjective judgment. The law leaves it to the discretion of the police and the courts, but the driving behaviors that frequently trigger reckless driving charges include:

  1. running through stop signs and red lights
  2. excessive speeding or street racing
  3. reading, grooming, eating, or adjusting an audio or GPS device
  4. talking on the phone or texting while driving
  5. cutting off other motorists or tailgating
  6. erratic driving such as swerving from lane to lane or running off the road

Is Reckless Driving a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

If no one gets hurt, reckless driving in Illinois is charged as a Class A misdemeanor. A conviction may be penalized with a jail sentence and a costly fine. But if someone is injured, a reckless driving incident may prompt a much more serious felony charge.

For example, if your reckless driving causes someone “great bodily harm,” disfigurement, or permanent disability, or if you injure a minor or an on-duty school crossing guard, the charge can be a Class 4 felony.

However, if you cause a child’s or a crossing guard’s disfigurement or permanent disability, the reckless driving charge will be “aggravated reckless driving,” a Class 3 felony. Both felony charges are punishable upon conviction with lengthy prison sentences and fines of up to $25,000.

Will Your Driver’s License Be Suspended?

Illinois is a three-strike state for moving violations, so a reckless driving conviction will not necessarily result in a driver’s license suspension unless you already have two “strikes” against you.

However, if you receive three strikes within a twelve-month period, your license will be suspended. A conviction for aggravated reckless driving will result in an immediate driver’s license suspension or revocation.

What Else Does a Reckless Driving Conviction Entail?

A conviction for reckless driving also entails “extra-legal” penalties. Your auto insurance costs will substantially increase, for example, and if driving is your profession – or even if driving is only a part of your job – you may have to seek other employment.

If you hold a professional license, a reckless driving conviction may prompt disciplinary action by your professional licensing board, and if you are not a U.S. citizen, a conviction for reckless driving in Illinois – especially if it’s a felony conviction – may affect your immigration status.

If anyone was injured, a convicted reckless driving offender could be named as a defendant in a civil personal injury lawsuit. In these cases, a reckless driver who caused injuries may be found liable for the victim’s medical costs, lost wages, suffering, pain, and related losses and damages.

How Can You Fight a Reckless Driving Charge?

Unlike most other traffic offenses, a reckless driving charge is a criminal charge, and if you are convicted of reckless driving, that conviction will establish a criminal record. If you’re charged with reckless driving, you must contact a Chicago reckless driving lawyer as quickly as possible.

As mentioned previously, the law in Illinois does not spell out the specific driving behaviors that constitute wanton or willful disregard for others, their safety, and their property. If you are charged with reckless driving, this lack of specificity in the law may work to your advantage.

If your lawyer can show to the court that you simply made one bad driving choice, without any willful or wanton criminal intent, you may be found Not Guilty, be offered a plea deal that’s acceptable, or the charge against you may be entirely dropped or dismissed.

What’s Important to Remember About Reckless Driving?

This can’t be emphasized strongly enough: Reckless driving is a criminal offense, so you must not act as your own lawyer. If you are placed under arrest for reckless driving, you would be wise obtain the advice and defense representation that a Chicago reckless driving attorney will provide.

Exercise your right to remain silent, and do not answer any questions from a police officer before you consult with your defense lawyer. You can say something like, “I would rather not answer any questions until my lawyer can be here,” and then say no more.

You are not guilty of reckless driving until and unless an Illinois prosecutor proves your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Your defense lawyer will aggressively protect your rights, cast doubt on the state’s evidence, and bring your reckless driving case to its best possible outcome.

If you’ve been charged with reckless driving or with aggravated reckless driving in or near the Chicago area, your best chance for avoiding the most serious criminal penalties is to contact a Chicago criminal defense lawyer at your earliest possible opportunity.