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Reckless Driving Charges in California
- Vehicle Code §23103 -

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Reckless Driving - VC 23103

Reckless driving is a serious traffic offense that involves operating a vehicle in a manner that shows a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. In California, reckless driving is criminalized under Vehicle Code section 23103. According to VC §23103, reckless driving is a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.


In addition to the penalties above, a driver convicted of reckless driving will be assessed two points on their driving record.  The DMV may suspend or revoke a person’s driver’s license, whenever the driver obtains 4 or more points in 12 months, 6 or more points in 24 months, or 8 or more points in 48 months.

Separate from any action by the DMV, the court may suspend the driver’s license of any person convicted of reckless driving. The court may suspend a person’s driver’s license for up to 30 days upon a first conviction of reckless driving.


Upon a second conviction, the court may suspend the person’s driver’s license for up to 60 days. The person’s driver’s license may be suspended for up to 6 months upon a third or subsequent conviction for reckless driving.


As you will learn, the consequences for reckless driving can be very serious.  It is always recommended that anyone charged with reckless driving contact an experienced Orange County criminal defense lawyer at JPLaw, P.C. to schedule a FREE consultation.  Just because you’ve been charged with reckless driving doesn’t mean you have to plead guilty!

1.  What is considered reckless driving under VC §23103?

Pursuant to VC §23103, any person who drives a vehicle in willful and wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.  A person drives with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others when (1) he or she is aware that his or her actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm, and (2) he or she intentionally ignores that risk. 

Vehicle Code §23103 States:

(a)  A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

(b)  A person who drives a vehicle in an offstreet parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

(c) Except as otherwise provided in Section 40008, persons convicted of the offense of reckless driving shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days nor more than 90 days or by a fine of not less than one hundred forty-five dollars ($145) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 23104 or 23105.

It should be noted that the driver does not have to cause any harm or damage to be guilty of reckless driving.  Merely driving in a manner that creates a risk of harm is sufficient if the driver was aware of the potential harm and disregarded the danger.


However, just because a driver was speeding does not, by itself, mean that the defendant drove with wanton disregard for safety of others. The jury must consider all of the surrounding circumstances in deciding whether a defendant drove with wanton disregard for safety.

2.  What are the penalties for reckless driving?

In California, a violation for reckless driving under VC §23103 is considered a misdemeanor offense.  The penalties for reckless driving depend on the severity of the offense. 


A first violation of VC §23103 for reckless driving is punishable by a minimum of 5 days in jail and a maximum of 90 days in jail.  However, if someone is injured as a result of the reckless driving, the defendant may be imprisoned for up to 6 months in jail. 

A defendant convicted of reckless driving may be imprisoned for up to 3 years if someone suffers a serious injury, like a loss of consciousness, a concussion, a bone fracture, a brain injury, or paralysis.


A defendant may also be issued a fine between $145 and $1,000, or both that fine and imprisonment.

Lastly, a conviction for reckless driving in violation of VC §23103 will result in 2 points being added to your driving record by the DMV.  Insurance companies sometimes use negligent operator points to increase the cost to insure a driver.

Inmate Handcuffed

A judge can also order that the defendant be imprisoned in jail as a condition of probation. 

3.  What are some common defenses to reckless driving charges?

There are many defenses a skilled criminal lawyer can use to defend someone accused of reckless driving.  Some common defenses to reckless driving include:

Lack of Intent –

As previously discussed, reckless driving requires the prosecutor to prove the defendant drove with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others.  If the defendant can demonstrate that he was not aware of the risks created by his or her driving, then the driver cannot be found guilty of reckless driving.

Emergency Situations –

Occasionally, there is an emergency that warrants driving in a reckless manner.  If the driver's actions were a response to an emergency, such as avoiding a collision or responding to a sudden medical issue, this may be raised as a defense.

Misidentification –

Another common defense to reckless driving is misidentification.  The defense may argue that there was an error or misidentification in attributing the reckless behavior to the accused driver. This could involve presenting evidence that someone else was responsible for the actions in question.

High Speed Chase

A high speed chase will almost certainly be considered a wanton disregard for the safety of others. 

Challenging Officer’s Observations –

Reckless driving charges often rely on the observations of law enforcement officers. A good criminal defense lawyer will always question the accuracy of the officer’s observations, citing poor visibility, weather conditions, or other factors that may have affected the officer's perception.

It is important to remember that every case is different. The viability of these defenses depends on the specific facts of the case and the applicable laws in the jurisdiction. Consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help determine the most effective defense strategy based on the circumstances surrounding the reckless driving charge.

4.  Is a conviction for reckless driving eligible for an expungement?

California recognizes that a criminal conviction can have devastating effects on a person’s ability to find housing and employment.  To alleviate some of the burdens of a criminal conviction, California permits some defendants convicted of reckless driving to petition for an expungement under Penal Code §1203.4.


An expungement is the legal process that allows a person to petition the court to set aside a conviction and dismiss a criminal case. An expungement will not erase the conviction but can be beneficial for individuals seeking employment or housing, as it will allow them to legally answer that they have not been convicted of the offense.


A conviction for reckless driving under VC §23103 is eligible for expungement.  Visit the dedicated expungements page to learn more about the eligibility requirements for an expungement in California. 

5.  Is it necessary to hire a lawyer for reckless driving charges?

It is not always necessary to hire a criminal lawyer to defend a reckless driving charge. However, there are many benefits of obtaining private legal representation when facing charges for reckless driving. Some key advantages of hiring a criminal lawyer include:

Knowledge & Experience –

Criminal lawyers are trained and experienced in criminal law. They understand the legal system, know the relevant laws, and are familiar with courtroom procedures. This knowledge is crucial for building a strong defense.

Defense Strategy –

Criminal lawyers can develop an effective defense strategy tailored to the specifics of your case. This may involve challenging evidence, questioning the legality of searches or arrests, or presenting alternative explanations for the events in question.

Mitigate Penalties –

If a conviction is likely, a criminal lawyer can work to mitigate the potential penalties, such as reducing fines, minimizing jail time, or exploring alternatives like probation or community service.  

While hiring a criminal lawyer involves costs, the benefits it brings to your defense and the potential impact on the outcome of your case can be well worth the investment. It's important to consult with an attorney early in the legal process to ensure that your rights are protected and that you have the best possible defense strategy.

Contact An Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer 

Before pleading guilty, it’s important you contact an experienced attorney who will take the time to review the facts of your case and fight for you. Just because you have been charged with a crime doesn’t mean you’re guilty. Unlock new opportunities and regain control of your future.


Get help from an experienced criminal defense lawyer who understands the complexities of the legal system and is dedicated to helping you. With personalized attention and a strategic approach, JPLaw, P.C. aims to minimize the impact of past mistakes.


Enjoy the benefits of reduced penalties, enhanced employment prospects, and a chance for a fresh start. Take the first step toward a brighter future – contact JPLaw, P.C. today to schedule a FREE consultation.


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JPLaw, P.C.

Orange County Law Office

Old Town Orange Office

410 N Clark St.
Orange, CA 92868

Phone: (949) 991-7057

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