Updated June 11, 2020
CRS 42-4-1402 defines the Colorado crime of careless driving as operating a vehicle without proper regard for the road and surroundings. Driving carelessly is usually treated as a Class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense that carries a potential sentence of up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $300.00.
Careless driving is a less severe traffic offense than reckless driving. Reckless driving means consciously disregarding the safety of others.
CRS 42-4-1402 is the law that outlines careless driving in Colorado. It says:
A person who drives a motor vehicle, bicycle, electrical assisted bicycle, or low-power scooter in a careless and imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances, is guilty of careless driving.
- Meredith uses her knees to guide the steering wheel so she can eat breakfast.
- Tom drives 50 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone in a snowstorm.
There are legal defenses that people can use if they have been accused of careless driving. These defenses can lead to an acquittal or can reduce the penalties of a conviction. Some of the most common include:
- Your driving was not careless,
- You were not the driver, and
- Any injuries that resulted were not caused by your driving.
The penalties of a conviction for careless driving depend on whether anyone was hurt.
If no one was hurt, careless driving is a Class 2 traffic misdemeanor. A conviction carries:
- Between $150 and $300 in fines, and
- Between 10 and 90 days in jail.
If someone was hurt or killed by your careless driving, the charge becomes a Class 1 traffic misdemeanor. Convictions for these accusations carry:
- Fines of between $300 and $1,000, and
- Between 10 days and 1 year in jail.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorney will discuss:
- 1. What is careless driving under CRS 42-4-1402?
- 2. Common legal defenses to careless driving in Colorado
- 3. Penalties for a careless driving conviction under CRS 42-4-1402
- 4. Related offenses to careless driving in Colorado
1. What is careless driving under CRS 42-4-1402?
Careless driving is defined by CRS 42-4-1402 in Colorado. This statute prohibits driving a vehicle without proper regard for your surroundings.
1.1. What does it mean to be driving “carelessly”?
People drive carelessly when they do not pay proper attention to their surroundings. This includes people who drive negligently and put others at risk.1
Example: Dylan is driving 73 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone. He does not see the stop sign ahead and causes a crash in the intersection.2
1.2. What are the differences between careless driving and reckless driving?
Careless driving involves negligence and a lack of attention. Reckless driving, on the other hand, involves a conscious disregard for the risks.3 This makes careless driving less severe than reckless driving. A careless driver should have known the risks of their conduct on the road, but did not. A reckless driver knows the risks, but takes them, anyway.
Therefore, all reckless drivers are also being careless. However, careless drivers do not have the awareness to make them reckless.4
Example: Dylan goes 73 in a 55 mile per hour zone. He knows there is a stop sign ahead, but decides not to stop. He would likely be driving recklessly, not carelessly.
The difference between careless driving and recklessness is important. Colorado has a different law that prohibits reckless driving.5 The penalties for a conviction under that law are more severe than convictions for careless driving.
1.3. What if I was not driving a car?
You can drive vehicles other than cars in a careless manner. CRS 42-4-1402 covers:
- Motor vehicles, including cars, vans, trucks, or tractor-trailers,6
- Scooters, and
- Bicycles, including electric bicycles or e-bikes.
1.4 What if I was on private property?
Courts have repeatedly decided that CRS 42-4-1402 applies to private property.7 Driving carelessly on private property, then, can violate CRS 42-4-1402 and lead to a criminal charge.
Example: In a parking lot, Doug drives through the rows of parking spaces. He does not see Tom pulling out from a parking space behind a row of cars, and they crash into each other.
2. Common legal defenses to careless driving in Colorado
People who have been accused of careless driving under CRS 42-4-1402 can raise legal defenses to defend themselves. The specific facts of each case determine which defenses will be the most effective. However, the most common legal defenses to a charge of careless driving include:
- You were not driving carelessly,
- You were not the driver, at all, and
- You were driving carelessly, but that did not cause the other person’s injuries.
2.1 You were not driving carelessly
It is up to the prosecutor to prove to the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you were driving carelessly. In many cases, the line between proper driving and careless driving is vague. You can defend against a careless driving charge by showing you were safely driving your vehicle for the conditions.
Example: Mary is driving at the speed limit during a snowstorm.
2.2 You were not the driver
If someone else was driving your car, you should not be convicted for careless driving. In Colorado, this is known as the mistaken identity defense. It argues that the crime may have happened, but you were not the one who committed it.
Example: Josh drives Mary’s car to school. A police officer sees him driving carelessly and tracks the license plate to Mary.
2.3 Your careless driving was not the cause of someone’s injuries
If there was a car crash, showing that your careless driving was not the cause of the other person’s injuries can be crucial. Careless driving becomes much more severe if it causes an accident and hurts someone else. A charge turns from a Class 2 traffic misdemeanor into a Class 1 traffic misdemeanor. Evidence that the other person got hurt for a different reason can keep this from happening.
Example: Suzie makes a careless turn at an intersection, making a pedestrian jump out of the way. A speeding biker then hits and seriously hurts the pedestrian.
3. Penalties for a careless driving conviction under CRS 42-4-1402
The penalties for careless driving in Colorado depend on whether someone got hurt.
If no one got hurt, careless driving is a Class 2 traffic misdemeanor. Convictions can carry:
- Between $150 and $300 in fines, and
- Between 10 and 90 days in jail.
However, if someone was hurt or died because of the careless driving, the penalties increase. The charge becomes a Class 1 traffic misdemeanor that carries:
- Between $300 and $1,000 in fines, and
- Between 10 days and 1 year in jail.8
In addition to fines and jail time, convictions for careless driving come with other penalties, as well:
- 4 points to your driving record, unless you were riding a bike or e-bike,9
- Community service,10 and
- Payment of restitution to anyone who got hurt.11
3.1. Careless driving convictions and civil lawsuits
If you are charged with careless driving after a car accident, a conviction can be used against you if the other driver sues you.
After a car accident in Colorado, anyone who got hurt can choose to file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver who caused the crash. If you were charged with careless driving under CRS 42-4-1402, that charge can influence the lawsuit. A conviction for careless driving is proof that you were not driving safely. The conviction can be used to show that you were acting per se negligent in the personal injury lawsuit.12 This can make the lawsuit very difficult to defend against.
4. Related offenses to careless driving in Colorado
There are some offenses in Colorado that are related to careless driving under CRS 42-4-1402. Some of these are often filed along with careless driving charges. They include:
- Reckless driving (CRS 42-4-1401). If you were driving with a conscious disregard for the risks, you could face reckless driving charges, as well. Prosecutors often file these along with careless driving charges.
- Negligent homicide (CRS 18-3-105). If you were driving with extreme negligence and caused a crash that killed someone, you could be charged with negligent homicide.
- Third-degree assault (CRS 18-3-204). Hurting someone with a deadly weapon while acting with criminal negligence can lead to assault charges. A car can be a deadly weapon.
- Speed contests and exhibitions (CRS 42-4-1105). Colorado law prohibits knowingly engaging in racing on a highway.
- Speeding (CRS 42-4-1101). Exceeding the speed limit can be a traffic infraction or traffic misdemeanor.
- Unsafe lane changes (CRS 42-4-1007) -- This offense is a class A traffic infraction, carrying fines and DMV points.
- Failure to yield right-of-way (CRS 42-4-703) -- This offense is also a class A traffic infraction, carrying a civil fine and DMV points.
In California? See our article about dry reckless.
In Nevada? See our article about careless driving.
- People v. Chapman, 557 P.2d 1211 (1977) (“the mental element of careless driving is, in essence, negligence”).
- People v. Zweygardt, 298 P.3d 1018 (Colo. App. 2012).
- People v. Chapman, Supra.
- People v. Chapman, Supra (“One who commits reckless driving necessarily has been guilty of careless driving, for the greater degree of negligence includes the lesser.” This makes careless driving a lesser included offense of reckless driving in Colorado).
- C.R.S. § 42-4-1401.
- See C.R.S. § 42-1-102(58).
- See Clark v. Bunnell, 470 P.2d 42 (1970); People v. Millican, 474 P.2d 789 (1970); People v. Erb, 475 P.2d 330 (1970); and Gustad v. Allen, 520 P.2d 594 (Colo. App. 1974).
- See C.R.S. § 42-4-1402(2) and C.R.S. § 42-4-1701(3)(a)(II)(A)
- C.R.S. § 42-4-1402(1) and C.R.S. § 42-2-127.
- C.R.S. § 42-4-1701(3)(II)(B).
- See C.R.S. § 16-18.5-107 and C.R.S. § 42-4-1701(3)(II)(B).
- Pyles-Knutzen v. Board of County Commissioners, 781 P.2d 164 (Colo. App. 1989).