In Florida, there is a critical difference between careless driving and reckless driving, and that difference can be significant when it comes to what the state can do to punish a driver based on his/her driving. Careless driving in Florida is not defined well, but the statute discusses the obligation to drive in a careful and prudent manner with regard to all of the circumstances so as not to endanger the life, limb or property of another person. Reckless driving in Florida is defined as driving in a manner that knowingly disregards the safety of other people and property. For driving to be reckless, the manner of driving must be likely to cause death or serious bodily injury to another. Based on those definitions, it is hard to get a clear picture of the difference between careless driving and reckless driving. However, the effects can be severe.
If we are just talking about the driving, careless driving is a simple traffic ticket and a fine. Reckless driving is a criminal charge that can come with jail time. The state often considers driving careless driving when a person violates one or two traffic laws or possibly causes an accident while violating one traffic law. Reckless driving normally requires much more egregious driving. However, when a serious accident involving injuries or a death is involved, the state is more likely to err on the side of a criminal charge, i.e. reckless driving. This is where the difference can become very serious. If a person is driving recklessly and causes an accident that results in death, he/she will likely be charged with vehicular manslaughter which is very likely to result in prison time. Careless driving that results in a serious accident and death may only come with fines and driving school.
So, the question is: what is the practical difference between careless driving that has minimal punishments and reckless driving that can result in a felony conviction and a lengthy prison sentence if the accident is serious enough? It just depends on the circumstances. In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was driving 83 miles per hour on a two lane road where the speed limit was 55 miles per hour. He crashed into a vehicle making a left turn in front of him and killed one of the occupants. The state charged him with vehicular manslaughter alleging that driving that fast on that road was reckless driving. The court ultimately discharged the vehicular manslaughter charge because merely speeding in that area was not sufficient to prove reckless driving. Therefore, the defendant could not be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
Speeding alone is not likely to form the basis of a reckless driving or vehicular manslaughter charge. However, it depends on the circumstances. Driving 90 mph on the highway when the speed limit is 60 mph is probably not reckless driving. On the other hand, driving 50 mph in a residential neighborhood where the speed limit is 15 mph and kids are around may very well be reckless. Of course, other factors can contribute to a reckless driving charge (i.e. swerving, cell phone use, driving a large vehicle, curvy roads, trying to pass another vehicle, etc.). Likewise, as most people know, drunk driving is considered reckless driving under Florida law, and causing an accident while drunk driving is a near certain way to end up with a DUI and a manslaughter charge.