California Vehicle Code § [Section] 23103(a) – Reckless Driving
California Vehicle Code [CVC] §23103(a) – Reckless Driving – Vehicle Code Section 23103(a) makes it illegal to drive a vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of people or property. Violation of Section 23103(a) is punishable by up to ninety days in county jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
What Does California Vehicle Code §23103(a) [Reckless Driving] Prohibit?
In sum, to be guilty of Reckless Driving under CVC §23103(a), you must:
- Drive on a highway or in a parking facility; AND,
- Drive with wanton disregard for safety.
Defining “Reckless Driving” Under California Vehicle Code §23103(a)
To convict you under CVC §23103(a), the prosecutor must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Vehicle: You drove a vehicle; AND,
- Highway or Parking Facility: You drove on a highway or in an off-street parking facility; AND,
- Wanton Disregard…/Persons or Property: You drove with wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property; AND,
- Intention: You intended to drive as you did.
Note: The fact that you “drove faster than the legal speed limit” doesn't mean you “drove with wanton disregard for safety.” The jury or judge can consider “all the surrounding circumstances” in deciding whether you drove with wanton disregard.
Example: Defendant Dane is sleeping in the driver's seat of his car. He turns; his knee disengages the emergency brake. Soon Dane's car is rolling speedily down the sloped street. Police Officer sees the car careening along. It comes within inches of striking a parked vehicle. She turns on her siren, awakening Dane, pulls him over and arrests him for a violation of CVC §23103(a). Is Dane guilty on these facts?
Conclusion: Dane's vehicle moved along a highway in a manner that threatened property. These facts go to conviction. But Dane didn't intend on driving as he did; the car only moved because he unconsciously disengaged a brake. Neither did he “drive” the vehicle, nor even activate the engine, by that same logic. Since multiple elements of the offense can't be proven in court, Dane should be acquitted of the charge.
Penalties For Reckless Driving Under CVC §23103(a)
If convicted under Section 23103(a), you face up to ninety (90) days in a county jail, a fine of up to $1,000 (one-thousand dollars), or both a fine and imprisonment.
You'll serve a minimum of five (5) days if you're sentenced to jail time. If you're made to pay a fine, the minimum will be $145 (one-hundred and forty-five dollars).
Defenses To California Vehicle Code §23103(a) – Reckless Driving
Three common defenses against a charge of Reckless Driving under CVC §23103(a) are:
You Weren't Driving With Wanton Disregard
Example: Defendant David buys a new Corvette. He outfits it with tires specially designed for high speed travel. Then he decides to test his new purchase on Hollywood Boulevard. He's pulled over when Motorcycle Officer records him driving at 85 MPH (miles per hour) although the posted limit is 55 MPH. David admits he drove at excessive speed and wanted to do so. He says he can't be guilty of violating §23103(a), nonetheless, which is how he's being charged. Is David correct or should he be convicted?
Conclusion: Although David admits he drove at an excessive speed, the law does not term this conclusively “wanton” conduct. There needs to be more than willfully driving fast in order to violate the law. Yet the facts provide no evidence that David drove in a manner dangerous to anyone or anything. He should be acquitted because the facts present no reason to believe he drove with wanton disregard.
You Had No Choice But To Drive As You Did (aka “Necessity”)
Example: Defendant Dana is driving her car along Residential Street when Young Child appears, darts into the street, and forces Dana onto the sidewalk. She comes within inches of running into a fence before straightening out the car and returning to the road. Police Officer sees Dana steer onto the street, pulls her over, and arrests Dana for violating §23103(a). Dana doesn't see what else she should – or could – have done, under the circumstances. She insists she shouldn't be convicted. Is she correct?
Conclusion: Dana has the defense of Necessity available to her. Necessity applies when anyone acts in an emergency to prevent signiﬁcant harm to someone and has no adequate legal alternative. The act must not create a greater danger than the one avoided, the person acting must actually believe that the act is necessary to prevent the harm, which a reasonable person would also believe necessary under the circumstances, and the person couldn't have substantially contributed to the emergency. Turning to the facts, Dana responded to unanticipated potential harm to Young Child. She wasn't speeding at the time, nor was she recklessly driving; thus, she didn't contribute to the emergency. She also did no actual harm by driving from the sidewalk to the street – that is to say, the harm she did was not as great as the harm she avoided. Dana believed what she did was necessary. It's likely that reasonable people would agree with her. Finally, the facts don't suggest an adequate legal alternative to driving onto the sidewalk. Dana, it follows, is correct. She shouldn't be convicted because she had no choice but to drive as she did.
You Weren't Driving
Example: Defendant Dominica is shocked when Police Officer arrives at her home, announces that her vehicle was driven in a wanton manner earlier in the day, and arrests her violating CVC §23103(a). Dominica hadn't driven her vehicle at all. Teenage Daughter, however, often takes the vehicle without her mother's consent or knowledge and has been cited several times for moving violations. Dominica insists that she wasn't driving. Should Dominica be convicted anyway?
Conclusion: Dominica, as the facts make clear, didn't drive the car. Teenage Daughter should likely be charged instead. Presuming that Dominica can establish that her daughter often takes her car, and that she drives poorly, Dominica can create enough reasonable doubt to require that a judge or jury acquit her. (She wasn't even behind the wheel when she was arrested, after all.) Dominica, therefore, should be acquitted because she wasn't driving.
Note: The crimes below are described generally as “related” because they're frequently charged with CVC §23103(a) and/or have common elements the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
The California Vehicle Code includes multiple offenses related to Reckless Driving: Reckless Driving Resulting in Serious Injuries (CVC §§23105(a),(b)), “Wet Reckless” (CVC §23103.5), Exhibition of Speed (CVC §23109(a)), Driving Under the Influence (CVC §23152) and Speeding (CVC §22350).
Reckless Driving Resulting in Serious Injuries
Reckless Driving Resulting in Serious Injuries (CVC §§23105(a),(b)) involves being convicted of reckless driving causing an injury specified in subdivision (b) to someone other than the driver. Since Reckless Driving Resulting in Serious Injuries may be charged as a Misdemeanor or Felony, the crime is a “wobbler” under California law. The offense is related to Reckless Driving because reckless driving accidents can generate serious injuries.
If you're convicted of the Felony form of CVC §§23105(a),(b), the penalty may be:
- A term of up to three (3) years in a state prison; OR,
- A fine of up to $10,000 (ten-thousand dollars); OR,
- Both a fine and imprisonment.
Note: California's “Three Strikes” law may also apply to a conviction under CVC §§23105(a),(b). Reckless Driving Resulting in Serious Injuries may trigger application of CPC §1170(h). In the event that you receive three “strikes,” you'll be sentenced to at least twenty-five years in a state prison.
California Criminal Jury Instructions – Reckless Driving Resulting in Serious Injuries
To convict you under CVC §§23105(a),(b), the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
You drove a vehicle on a highway or in an off-street parking facility. You intentionally drove with wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. As a result, an injury of the kind described in Section (b) occurred to some person.
Example: Defendant Derrick is having fun. He speeds his Maserati down a neighborhood street in a wild, zigzag fashion. As a result, Derrick doesn't see Young Neighbor enter the street while riding her bicycle. Young Neighbor must swerve to avoid being hit by Derrick. She falls onto the concrete, scrapes her arm, and suffers a one-half inch cut requiring four stitches. Young Neighbor's Parents learn what happened, report Derrick to police, and have Derrick arrested for violating CVC §§23105(a),(b)(5). Is he guilty?
Conclusion: Derrick intentionally drove his vehicle in a wanton manner along a public highway. This is all the prosecution would have to prove - were Derrick charged with ordinary Reckless Driving. But Derrick has been charged with driving recklessly so as to produce serious injury. Thus it's significant that Young Neighbor suffered a wound that had to be stitched. But the statute (Section (b)(5)) refers to wounds “requiring extensive suturing.” It's unlikely that a reasonable person would call the remedy necessary for a one-half inch cut that closes with four stitches “extensive.” Therefore, since reasonable doubts must be resolved in the defendant's favor in all US courts, Derrick should be acquitted of the offense.
California's law on the so-called “Wet Reckless” (CVC §23103.5) applies whenever a Reckless Driving conviction follows from a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) plea bargain. The courts must include a notation on the defendant's record which states that drugs and/or alcohol were involved in the conviction. However, the “Wet Reckless” is a common form of DUI reduction, not its own crime.
If you're convicted of a “Wet Reckless,” the penalty may be:
- A term of up to ninety (90) days in a county jail; OR,
- A fine of up to $1,000 (one-thousand dollars); OR,
- Both a fine and imprisonment.
Note: You'll serve a minimum of five (5) days if you're sentenced to jail time. If you're made to pay a fine, the minimum will be $145 (one-hundred forty-five dollars).
You can find more information in the California DUI Negotiated Pleas Lawyers section of the Kann California Law Group's website. Feel free to contact the Kann Defense Group offices in Santa Clarita, Ventura, Encino, Pasadena or Los Angeles/Los Angeles County. Your call will go directly to a lawyer. We always guarantee it.
California Criminal Jury Instructions – “Wet Reckless”
To convict you under CVC §23103.5, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
You pled guilty or nolo contendere to a Reckless Driving charge in satisfaction of, or as a substitute for, an original charge of a violation of Section 23152 (DUI). The prosecution stated for the record a factual basis for the satisfaction or substitution, including whether there had been consumption of alcohol or a drug, or both, in connection with the offense. The statement set forth facts showing whether there was actual consumption of alcohol or ingestion of a drug. Finally, the prosecution agreed to your plea.
Example: Defendant Deirdre, having been arrested on a DUI charge for the third time, wants to plead down the charge facing her to a “Wet Reckless.” She knows this is done and she's familiar with how to do it. Deirdre tells Defense Attorney to enter a nolo contendre (no contest) plea to violating §23103 on her behalf. Then, thinking she'll only serve five days or so, she prepares to be taken into custody. But, much to Deirdre's shock, prosecutors instead pursue a DUI charge against her. Now she's facing far longer in a county jail. Deidre insists that the state can't do this because of her plea. Is Deirdre correct?
Conclusion: Deidre was correct in thinking that the DUI is sometimes pleaded down to a so-called “Wet Reckless.” Deidre was also correct in instructing Defense Attorney to enter a plea of nolo contendre to a charge of Reckless Driving, consistent with her desire to be sentenced under CVC §23103.5 instead of §23152. However, the facts include no statement by the prosecution indicating the facts supporting the conviction. The facts also do not state whether Deidre used drugs or alcohol in connection with the Reckless Driving charge. This makes sense, however, considering that the facts don't state whether the prosecution agreed to accept the plea at all. This is essential. Absent assent to the lessening of charges, prosecutors are free to pursue DUI allegations in court. Therefore, although Deirdre intended a pleading under CVC §23103.5, she should prepare herself for the possibility of being sentenced under §23152.
Exhibition of Speed
Exhibition of Speed (CVC § 23109(a)) involves racing against another vehicle, a clock, or any other timing device while on a highway. Remarkably enough, conviction requires showing that the accused “intended to show off or impress someone,” but the prosecution is “not required to prove that the defendant intended to show off to or impress any particular person.” Exhibition of Speed is related to Reckless Driving because driving recklessly while engaged in a speed exhibition can give rise to charges for both crimes in the same trial.
Since Exhibition of Speed may be charged as a Misdemeanor or Felony, depending upon the facts, the crime is a “wobbler” under state law. If you're convicted of Exhibition of Speed, the penalty may be:
- A term of up to three (3) years in a state prison; OR,
- A fine of up to $10,000 (ten-thousand dollars); OR,
- Both a fine and imprisonment.
Note: California's “Three Strikes” law may also apply to a conviction under CVC § 23109(a). In the event that you receive three “strikes,” you'll be sentenced to at least twenty-five years in a state prison.
California Criminal Jury Instructions – Exhibition of Speed
To convict you under CVC §23109, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
You drove a motor vehicle on a highway and willfully engaged in an exhibition of speed.
Example: Defendant Dale wants to test the limits of his newly acquired Lamborghini's engine. He takes the car onto San Fernando Road one night and pauses at a red light. Dale revs the engine and prepares to drive as fast as he can when the light turns green. But, unbeknownst to him, Street Racer, flanking Dale, takes this as a challenge. When the light turns green, Dale instantly finds himself neck-and-neck with Street Racer. Dale tries to escape him but fails. When they pass Motorcycle Cop, Dale is targeted, arrested and charged under CVC §23109. He insists he never intended on racing with Street Racer and didn't really do so anyway. Should Dale be convicted of the charge?
Conclusion: Dale willfully drove his vehicle at an excessive rate of speed. This is a violation of the Vehicle Code. But the facts make it clear that Dale never intended on racing with anyone. In fact, as soon as it became obvious to Dale that he was in a race, Dale tried to escape Street Racer altogether. Thus, while Dale did intend on driving in an unlawful manner, Dale did not intend on exhibiting his speed to Street Racer (or anyone else) when speeding. Dale is correct, it follows, and should be acquitted of the charge.
Driving Under the Influence
Driving Under the Influence [DUI] (CVC §23152) involves driving while under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug. One is considered ‘under the influence' if one's “mental or physical abilities are so impaired that” one “is no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.” The offense is related to Reckless Driving because being under the influence often leads to driving recklessly, which can give rise to charges of committing both.
While DUIs are normally prosecuted as Misdemeanors, you face Felony prosecution for committing four or more DUIs or a DUI in which a person was injured. If you're convicted of a DUI involving injury, the penalty may be:
- A term of up to four (4) years in a state prison; AND,
- A fine of up to $5,000 (five-thousand dollars); AND,
- Loss of your driving privileges.
Note: “The manner in which a person drives is not enough by itself to establish whether the person is or is not under the inﬂuence of an alcoholic beverage or a drug or under the combined inﬂuence of an alcoholic beverage and a drug.”
You can find more information in the California DUI Law section of the Kann California Law Group's website. Feel free to contact the Kann Defense Group offices in Santa Clarita, Ventura, Encino, Pasadena or Los Angeles/Los Angeles County. Your call will go directly to a lawyer. That is always guaranteed.
California Criminal Jury Instructions – Driving Under the Influence
To convict you under CVC §23152, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
You drove a vehicle while you were under the inﬂuence of an alcoholic beverage, a drug, or the combined inﬂuence of an alcoholic beverage and a drug.
Example: Defendant Davida drinks several nonalcoholic beverages at a party and begins to drive home late that night. Only then does she realize that she's starting to hallucinate because someone drugged one of her drinks. Davida pulls over and reclines in the driver's seat. Police Officer sees this, approaches her car, and determines that Davida is driving while under the influence of LSD. She arrests Davida. Now Davida faces charges under CVC §23152(f). Davida swears she didn't know that she'd ingested a drug before getting behind the wheel. Is she guilty on these facts?
Conclusion: Davida drove a vehicle while under the influence of a drug. These are the elements of the offense as charged. But involuntary intoxication is a defense to a charge under CVC §23152(f). The facts make it clear that Davida didn't intend on taking LSD; it was administered by someone at the party, with neither her consent nor her knowledge. Therefore, though she committed the acts qualifying for conviction, Davida should be excused because she did not intend on being intoxicated.
Speeding (CVC §22350) occurs when anyone drives a vehicle on a public highway at a speed greater than is reasonable. Drivers should have regard for weather, visibility, the traffic, the surface and the width of the highway when proceeding. They may never drive “at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.” The crime is related to Reckless Driving because people who violate CVC §22350 often commit Reckless Driving as well.
If you're convicted of Speeding, an Infraction, the penalty may be:
- A fine of up to $250 (two-hundred-fifty dollars).
Note: The fine does not include additional fees, if any.
California Criminal Jury Instructions – Speeding
To convict you under CVC §22350, the prosecution must prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
You drove a vehicle on a highway at a speed greater than was reasonable or prudent, having due regard for weather, visibility, traffic, the surface and the width of the highway or you drove at a speed which endangers the safety of persons or property.
Example: Defendant Deke has a long stretch of dirt road on his property. He often entertains himself by driving his car along it at a speed exceeding the legal limit. But Deke starts to tire of this. He decides to take his car onto a public street adjacent to his property. While he does drive faster than the limit, Deke drives slower than he does on his property. Nonetheless, having been seen by Police Officer, Deke is pulled over and ticketed for violating CVC §22350. “But I drive faster than that on my own land all the time!” Deke protests. “I shouldn't be ticketed at all, man!” Is Deke correct?
Conclusion: Deke drove his vehicle on a public highway at a speed greater than the limit. The facts do not suggest reasons requiring Deke to do so, nor do they suggest that his speed was reasonable under the circumstances. He simply drove in a manner that was unlawful. That Deke drives differently on his own land (which is not, by definition, a “public highway”) is of no importance. Thus, Deke is incorrect.
What Can I Do If I'm Charged With Reckless Driving?
The State of California regards Reckless Driving as a serious offense. If you're charged with Reckless Driving, it's essential that you retain a skilled, dedicated criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your rights, freedom, and livelihood are at stake.
Remember, a professional criminal defense attorney may be able to:
- Negotiate a lesser charge in a plea bargain;
- Reduce your sentence;
- Or even get charges dismissed completely.
The attorneys at the Kann California Law Group have an excellent understanding of the local courts and an extensive knowledge of California's criminal justice system. We can represent you in Ventura, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles, Encino, Pasadena and many other Southern California cities.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for, or charged with, Reckless Driving, our attorneys will analyze the facts of your case and plan a strategy that will help you obtain the best possible outcome.
Contact the Kann California Law Group today to schedule your free and confidential consultation.
 “A vehicle is a device by which people or things may be moved on a road or highway. A vehicle does not include a device that is moved only by human power or used only on stationary rails or tracks.” See California Criminal Jury Instructions 2200 (CALCRIM) (2017).
 “The term highway describes any area publicly maintained and open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel and includes a street.” See above.
 “An off-street parking facility is an off-street facility open for use by the public for parking vehicles. It includes a facility open to retail customers, where no fee is charged for parking.” See above.
 “A person acts with wanton disregard for safety 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. The person does not, however, have to intend to cause damage.” See above. (Emphasis added.)
 See California Criminal Jury Instructions 2200 (CALCRIM) (2017).
 See “Wobbler” definition at USLegal.com.
 See CPC §672.
 See CPC §1192.7 (c) (8).
 See CPC §667 (2) (A) (ii).
 See version Amended by Stats. 2016, Ch. 783, Sec. 24.
 See Endnote 6.
 See above.
 See Endnote 8.
 See Endnote 9.
 See Endnote 10.
 See Endnote 12.
 See CVC §23566 (a).
 See Endnote 21.
 See CVC §22350.
 See CVC §40021 (a) (3).