Reckless Driving


If you are charged with reckless driving or speed contest, you might be worried about your options and whether or not you will be able to keep driving. If convicted, these charges could lead to loss of your driver's license or worse penalties. Let's break down everything you need to know about these charges and what defenses you and your legal counsel can consider to avoid conviction.


California Vehicle Codes 23103 (a) and (b) define reckless driving as:

  • A defendant intentionally driving with “wanton disregard” for either the safety of people or property.

Naturally, this requires the defendant to have been driving a vehicle. But the charge specifically pertains to driving on a highway or an off-street parking facility. A "highway" is any publicly maintained street open to the public.

To the court, “wanton disregard” for safety means that the defendant was:

  • Aware of the risk of driving in a manner they were doing so AND
  • Intentionally ignored the risk

Note that a court cannot convict you of this crime merely because you were driving above the speed limit. This is because, especially when driving on certain highways, it is sometimes necessary to speed to remain safe relative to one's surroundings.


A speed contest is exactly what it sounds like: racing another person in a speeding contest or impromptu race. But the legal definition of this charge is a little more complex, as defined by Vehicle Code 23109 (c), (e)(2), (f)(1)-(3):

  • The defendant has to willfully engage in a speed contest while driving on a highway AND
  • That speed contest has to lead or be a substantial factor in someone other than the defendant suffering a serious bodily injury

Thus, you cannot be charged or convicted of this crime if no bodily injury takes place, and if you were not aware of or willfully engaged in the speed contest.


This last charge is related to the last and may be charged instead due to varying factors. It's defined by the California Vehicle Code 23109 (c) as:

  • Driving and willfully engaging in an “exhibition of speed”. This is defined as accelerating or driving at an unsafe speed to show off or impress another person.

Because intent must be proven by the prosecution, it is often a very difficult crime to prove without the accounting of other individuals or admissions of guilt. There are multiple possible defenses for this charge.


A violation of any of the above statutes is almost always classified as a misdemeanor since they do not result in the death of another person. Thus, potential punishments if you are convicted of these crimes include:

  • Fines anywhere between $145 and $1000
  • Imprisonment for between 5 and 90 days in county jail

However, if more substantial injuries are obtained by another person as a result of the defendant's actions, the charge could change to a more serious felony with appropriate potential punishments.


With the help of defense counsel, there are multiple possible defenses you can bring to court to avoid a conviction for one or all of these charges (if you are charged with multiple crimes). Here are a few examples.

The Driving in Question Wasn't Reckless

Reckless, as described above, must be proven to be both knowledgeable and uncaring for the potential risks or dangers. It's often difficult for the prosecution to prove reckless behavior since it involves getting inside the defendant's head. If the defendant's driving was not reckless, these crimes become much harder to convict, if not impossible.

You Were Not Driving

Just being in a car with someone driving recklessly, performing a speed contest, or showing off while speeding is not enough to be convicted of these crimes. If you were just a passenger in the vehicle, you and your defense attorney can prevent a conviction with this defense.

The Driving Was Reckless, But Necessary

In some rare cases, such as when speeding to get someone to the hospital, reckless driving may be deemed acceptable by the court. In such cases, charges for reckless driving and speeding offenses may be thrown out in understanding of unusual circumstances that required some risky behavior.

Ultimately, each of these charges can be defended against with the right legal counsel. The Law Office of Peter James Chambers is your ticket to an overturned charge and return to the freedom of the road. Don't hesitate to contact us today to get a free consultation.