What is Negligent Driving?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 01 February 2020
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Negligent driving is an offense where someone drives a car dangerously, without exercising reasonable precautions to protect people and property. This differs from reckless driving, where people demonstrate a willful disregard for safety. The specifics of the offense can vary by jurisdiction. Criminal codes in regions where negligent driving is a potential offense may divide it into first and second degrees, and can have other types of offenses related to dangerous driving on the books, such as driving under the influence (DUI) laws. When negligent driving charges are filed, people can respond in court.

Dangerous driving activities can include driving while under the influence, failing to compensate for dangerous weather conditions, or driving at an unsafe speed. In negligent driving, people are aware of the danger to people and property, and do not modify their driving for safety. They also fail to behave with reasonable caution, failing to take steps a hypothetical “reasonable person” would make in the same circumstances, such as choosing to drive more slowly during heavy rain.

If someone causes a car accident while driving negligently, the person can face severe penalties, especially if serious injuries or death occur. In a negligent driving accident, the driver is at fault and is shown to have behaved negligently, in contrast with accidents where someone causes an accident but appears to have been exercising reasonable caution while handling a motor vehicle. A conviction can result in criminal and civil penalties, including fines and jail time.


The motor vehicle code can vary dramatically by region. People charged with negligent driving should consult an attorney to get more information about the code in their area. They can choose to plead guilty, accepting responsibility for the charges, or to enter a plea of not guilty and contest the charges in court. Attorneys may argue that a driver's activities don't meet the standard for conviction or introduce other defenses to the charges. Mitigating circumstances, like breaking the speed limit to rush someone to a hospital, may also be introduced to lessen the sentence if the driver is convicted.

In some cases, people may be able to negotiate a plea deal where they plead guilty to a negligent driving charge instead of a more serious one. This can allow people to avoid convictions for serious offenses. Typically, a negligent driving offense, along with other convictions for traffic offenses, will cause a driver's insurance to increase in cost, as the insurance company views the driver as a greater risk. Some insurance companies have programs for high-risk drivers, where such drivers are pooled together and their insurance premiums are lower.


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