Colorado Reckless Driving Laws
(42-4-1401 CRS)

CRS 42-4-1401 is the Colorado statute that defines the crime of reckless driving. Someone who drives with a disregard for the safety of other people is driving recklessly. This crime is classified as a Class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense.

Reckless driving is slightly more severe than careless driving. Careless driving means not having enough regard for the driver's surroundings.

The statute that forbids reckless driving in Colorado is CRS 42-4-1401. The important part of that statute reads:

A person who drives a motor vehicle, bicycle, electrical assisted bicycle, or low-power scooter in such a manner as to indicate either a wanton or a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

Examples

  • Kyle's house has a driveway that is hidden from the road. He leaves at 20 miles per hour without looking both ways.
  • George is driving on the highway. He takes his eyes off the road for 10 seconds so he can shave.

Legal defenses

People who have been accused of reckless driving have several legal defenses they can raise. Successfully arguing one of these defenses can reduce the penalties of a conviction. They can even lead to the charges being dropped or an acquittal at trial. Common defenses to a charge of reckless driving include:

  • The car was stationary when police accused you of behaving recklessly,
  • You were not the driver, and
  • Your driving was careless, not reckless.

Penalties

The penalties for a first conviction for reckless driving include:

  • Between 10 and 90 days in jail, and
  • Up to $300 in fines.

Subsequent convictions for reckless driving carry more severe penalties:

  • 10 days to 6 months in jail, and
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.

In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys will explain:

colorado driver reckless driving

1. What is reckless driving under CRS 42-4-1401?

In Colorado, CRS 42-4-1401 sets out the crime of reckless driving. The law forbids driving a vehicle in a way that shows a wanton or willful disregard for the safety of other people or property.

1.1 What kind of driving is considered “reckless”?

Driving is considered to be reckless if it willfully disregards the safety of others. This disregard for the safety of others does not have to be intentional.1 It does, however, require the driver to be aware of the risks.

Wanton disregard for the safety of others can also amount to reckless driving.2 Wanton behavior in a car includes a conscious choice to do something dangerous. If a normal person would know they are creating a strong chance of hurting someone, it can lead to a reckless driving charge.3

Example: Ezequiel leads police on a high speed car chase. He runs red lights and ignores stop signs.4

1.2 How is recklessness different from carelessness?

Reckless driving involves an active disregard of the risks. Driving is only careless if it is done without due regard to the risks. Reckless drivers know, or at least should know, that they are a danger to others. However, reckless drivers choose to ignore that danger. Careless drivers, on the other hand, fail to understand the risks they pose.5

Therefore, reckless driving is worse than careless driving. All drivers who are being reckless are also being careless.6

The difference matters because Colorado has one law that prohibits reckless driving and another that prohibits careless driving.7 The penalties for a conviction for reckless driving can be higher.

1.3 Can I be arrested for driving something other than a car?

Reckless driving charges can be filed against anyone operating a:

  • Motor vehicle, including a car, truck, or van,8
  • Bicycle,
  • Electric bicycle, or e-bike, or
  • Scooter.
attorney preparing legal documents

2. What are legal defenses to a reckless driving charge under CRS 42-4-1401?

If you have been accused of reckless driving in Colorado, you can raise several legal defenses. Other defense arguments could also work, depending on the facts of your case. Some of the most common defenses include:

  • You were not driving the vehicle,
  • The vehicle was being driven, but by someone else, and
  • Your driving was careless, but not reckless.

2.1 You were not operating the vehicle

You can only violate CRS 42-4-1401 if you were driving the vehicle. The prosecutor has to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. If the vehicle was stationary or you were not operating it, this can be a strong defense to a reckless driving charge.

Example: Mark parallel parks on a hill but leaves his emergency break off. His car begins rolling away.

2.2 Someone else was driving the vehicle

You can also argue that it was someone else who was driving the vehicle. This is the mistaken identity defense in Colorado.

Example: Diane lets Dave drive her car. Dave drives recklessly but avoids an arrest. Diane gets accused of reckless driving because she owns the car.

2.3 The driving was careless but not reckless

Proving that your driving was careless, but not reckless, can reduce the charges. While this legal defense is not a complete one – it will not end in an acquittal – it can reduce the penalties you face.

Example: Joan swerves in and out of traffic. She is arrested and accused of reckless driving. She claims it was only careless because she was abiding by the speed limit.

3. Penalties of a conviction for reckless driving under CRS 42-4-1401

The penalties of a conviction for reckless driving depend on if you have had a prior conviction. All convictions, however, are Class 2 misdemeanors.

If the reckless driving charge is your first one, a conviction can carry the following penalties:

  • Between 10 and 90 days in jail, and
  • Up to $300 in fines.

If you have been convicted of reckless driving before, the maximum penalties increase to:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, and
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.

Additionally, a conviction for reckless driving adds 8 points to your driving record, unless you were riding a bike or an e-bike.9 You can also be made to pay restitution to anyone who was hurt,10 and perform community service.11

4. Related offenses to reckless driving

Some traffic offenses are related to reckless driving. In some cases, these related offenses can be charged alongside a reckless driving allegation. They include:

  • Careless driving (CRS 42-4-1402). Prosecutors often file careless driving charges alongside reckless driving charges. If they fail to prove you acted recklessly, they can still convict you on the lesser offense of careless driving.
  • Eluding police (CRS 18-9-116.5 or CRS 42-4-1413). Eluding police can be a misdemeanor or a felony. Both laws prohibit fleeing from police in a car. Felony eluding also requires proof that you drove recklessly.
  • Vehicular assault (CRS 18-3-205). This law prohibits driving recklessly or while under the influence and causing a serious injury to someone else.
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Legal References:

  1. People v. Chapman, 557 P. 2d 1211 (1977).

  2. Martin v. People, 495 P. 2d 537 (1972) (reckless conduct involves willful or wanton conduct).

  3. Martin v. People, Supra.

  4. People v. Esparza-Treto, 282 P. 3d 471 (Colo. App. 2011).

  5. People v. Pena, 962 P. 2d 285 (Colo. App. 1997).

  6. People v. Chapman, Supra (careless driving is a lesser included offense of reckless driving: “one who commits reckless driving necessarily has been guilty of careless driving, for the greater degree of negligence includes the lesser.”)

  7. C.R.S. § 42-4-1402.

  8. See C.R.S. § 42-1-102(58).

  9. C.R.S. § 42-4-1401(2) and C.R.S. § 42-2-127.

  10. See C.R.S. § 16-18.5-107 and C.R.S. § 42-4-1701(3)(II)(B).

  11. C.R.S. § 42-4-1701(3)(II)(B).

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