Updated May 19, 2020
Careless driving is the Nevada traffic crime of operating a motor vehicle without full attention. Legislated on a local instead of state level, careless driving is a misdemeanor that carries up to 6 months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines. Certain misdemeanor DUI charges can get reduced to careless driving as part of a plea bargain.
In this article, our Las Vegas DUI defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is careless driving in Nevada?
- 2. Can DUI charges get reduced?
- 3. How do DUI charges get reduced?
- 4. What are the benefits of a careless driving plea?
- 5. Can felony DUI charges be reduced?
- 6. What are the penalties?
- 7. Will my driver’s license get suspended?
- 8. How many demerit points does careless driving carry?
Driving carelessly is a moving violation generally defined as driving without giving it full attention. It is a misdemeanor in Nevada that is as minor as an ordinary traffic ticket.
Unlike reckless driving, careless driving is legislated by local city and county codes and ordinances, not state law. Therefore, the exact wording of the law varies with each jurisdiction.1
Example: Tommy is driving on the I-15 in North Las Vegas when a patrol officer from the North Las Vegas Police Department sees Tommy fiddling with his briefcase on the passenger seat for several seconds while keeping his eyes off the road. Since Tommy is not paying attention while driving, the police officer pulls him over and cites him for the North Las Vegas traffic violation of driving carelessly.2
Note that it is irrelevant that Tommy did not have an accident. He can still be convicted of driving carelessly even if there are no adverse consequences to his actions.
Also note that Nevada has a specific traffic offense statute forbidding texting while driving (NRS 484B.165).
Yes, but it is not easy. Nevada traffic laws prohibit prosecutors from lowering or dismissing DUI charges unless they know -- or it is apparent that -- there is insufficient evidence to sustain a DUI conviction.3 So it is the defense attorney’s job to convince prosecutors they do not have a winnable DUI case.
Most misdemeanor DUI charge reductions involve pleading to reckless driving (NRS 484B.653).4 Scoring a reckless driving conviction is a huge victory because the consequences are less harsh than for DUI convictions.
But in a select few cases, the D.A. may agree to reduce the charge even lower than reckless driving: To careless driving. This is usually the best-case scenario, second to a dismissal.
Defense attorneys execute painstaking investigations of all the evidence in an attempt to uncover contradictions and errors in the prosecution’s case. A few of the issues defense attorneys look for include whether:
- There are eyewitnesses or surveillance video of the incident;
- Law enforcement conducted an illegal traffic stop while pulling over the defendant;
- Law enforcement followed correct protocols while questioning the defendant and conducting the field sobriety tests (FSTs);
- The breath-testing or blood-testing devices were broken or utilized incorrectly;
- The defendant had a medical condition or had taken a medication that skewed the results of the FSTs, blood- or breath-tests; and/or
- The police officer(s) in the case will be present at trial
Note that the D.A. bears the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, prosecutors can lessen a DUI charge to driving carelessly if the defense attorney can demonstrate that the state’s case is too inadequate, holey, or otherwise problematic to sustain a drunk driving conviction.
If the D.A. agrees to lessen a drunk driving charge to careless driving, the defendant will typically still enter a plea of guilty (or no contest) to DUI at first. Then if the court accepts the plea deal, the judge will suspend judgment and impose a sentence. Once the defendant finishes carrying out the terms of the sentence, the judge will adjudicate the defendant guilty of driving carelessly instead of drunk driving.
Four of the primary “pros” to having a DUI charge lessened to careless driving include:
- Less serious criminal record.
- Laxer penalties on future DUIs
- Availability of record seals six years earlier
- No mandatory license suspension (in some cases)
4.1. Less serious criminal record
Getting a job is much harder with a DUI on the applicant’s criminal record. Background checks that show only “careless driving” do not turn off employers as much.
4.2. Laxer penalties on future DUIs
DUI penalties grow harsher with each successive conviction. So if a defendant’s prior DUI charge was reduced to driving carelessly, any future DUI charge will proceed as if the prior DUI charge never happened.
Example: The Henderson Police arrest George for drunk driving. The D.A. charges him with DUI before his defense lawyer manages to get it reduced to driving carelessly. Two years later George gets busted for DUI again, and this time he pleads to DUI. So although this is the second time he was arrested for DUI, it is his first DUI conviction. Consequently, the court imposes only first-time DUI penalties on George, which are substantially laxer than second-time DUI punishments.
If George in the above example never has his first drunk driving case reduced to careless driving, his second DUI case would have been prosecuted as a “DUI-second.” Therefore, he would receive the harsher DUI-second penalties. Read more about Nevada DUI penalties.
4.3. Availability of record seals six years earlier
Under Nevada law, there is a seven (7)-year waiting period after a DUI case closes to get the conviction sealed. In contrast, the waiting period to seal careless driving convictions is only one (1) year after the case is closed. Therefore, reducing a drunk driving case to careless driving permits the defendant to get a clean slate six years earlier.
Read more about sealing a DUI criminal record in Nevada.
4.4. No mandatory license suspension (in some cases)
As opposed to DUI penalties, careless driving penalties do not include a driver’s license suspension. But simply being arrested for a DUI may still cause the Nevada DMV to suspend the person’s license whether or not the DUI charge gets lowered to careless driving. The reason for this is discussed below in question 7.
Usually not to careless driving. It is far more likely for a felony DUI charge such as third-time DUI or DUI causing substantial bodily harm or death (NRS 484C.430) to get lessened to a felony reckless driving charge. Both felony DUI and felony reckless driving carry time in Nevada State Prison. But felony reckless driving convictions may be sealed after five (5) years. Felony DUI convictions may not be sealed at all.
Note that defendants facing felony DUI charges might be allowed to attend felony DUI Court instead of prison and have the charge reduced to a misdemeanor after completing the program. Learn more about felony DUI in Nevada.
As a misdemeanor, carelessly driving carries up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines in Nevada. But DUI defendants who get their charge reduced to careless driving as part of a plea bargain may still have to serve standard DUI penalties.
The typical penalties in Nevada for first-time misdemeanor DUI include:
- 2 days to 6 months in county jail, or 24 hours to 96 hours of community service (note that the court typically imposes a suspended jail sentence of 6 months)
- DUI School (an alcohol awareness traffic school)
- Fines of $400 to $1,000 plus court costs
- A Victim Impact Panel (such as a MADD lecture)
- If the defendant was younger than 21 or had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.18% or greater, the additional penalty of an alcohol/drug dependency evaluation
- If the defendant’s BAC was 0.18% or greater, an alcohol or drug abuse treatment program
For more go to our article on first offense drunk driving in Nevada.
In some circumstances, defendants who score a DUI-to-careless driving plea already have a prior DUI conviction on their record. If that past DUI case occurred within seven (7) years of the current case, the court may hand down typical second-time misdemeanor DUI penalties:
- 10 days to 6 months in jail or residential confinement
- Fines from $750 to $1,000 or community service
- A Victim Impact Panel
- An alcohol/drug dependency evaluation
- An intensive alcohol or drug abuse treatment program (such as misdemeanor DUI Court)
- A Breath Interlock Device in the defendant’s cars for up to 36 months
Read more about second offense drunk driving in Nevada.
If the defendant does not complete the sentencing terms, the judge will adjudicate the defendant guilty of DUI. Depending on the case, the court may also hand down punishments such as fines and incarceration.5
Possibly. Driver’s license suspensions are regulated by the DMV and not criminal courts in the state of Nevada. Consequently, the same defendant can have their DUI charge reduced by a criminal court but still be found liable for drunk driving by the DMV.
In any case, everyone has a right to a DMV hearing to contest a DUI license suspension. DMV hearings are similar to miniature trials where a criminal defense attorney can offer evidence and compel witness testimony. However, DMV hearings are even harder to win than criminal trials. The DMV judge just has to find some evidence that the defendant drove drunk or high. This is a much lower burden than in criminal court, where the court has to find proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Note that a driver’s license suspension in Nevada for a first-time DUI is 185 days (though the motorist may be able to get a restricted license immediately with an ignition interlock device). For a second-time DUI, the suspension is one year. And for a third-time DUI, the license suspension is three years (a restricted license may be available after one year).6
A careless driving conviction causes six (6) demerit points to be added to the defendant’s driver’s license. Demerit points remain on a person’s record for one (1) year. If drivers ever amass twelve (12) or more demerit points in any one-year period, the DMV will suspend their license for six (6) months.7 Read more about DMV demerit points.
In California? Learn about dry reckless (VC 23103).
In Colorado? Learn about carelessly driving (CRS 42-4-1402).
- Clark County Code 14.60.190 -- Full Attention to Driving. It is unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle upon a highway without giving full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle. Las Vegas Municipal Code 11.22.010 -- Full time and attention. A person shall, when operating a vehicle, give his full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle. Washoe County Code 70.3877 -- Careless driving. 1. It is unlawful for any person to drive a motor vehicle in careless disregard of the safety of person or property on a public road or highway or on premises to which the public has access. 2. A violation of this section constitutes careless driving. See Nevada v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 116 Nev. 127, 994 P.2d 692 (2000).
- North Las Vegas City Code 10.20.010 -- Full time and attention. A person shall, when operating a vehicle, give his full time and attention to the operation of the same.
- NRS 484C.420.
- NRS 484B.653 (reckless driving includes unauthorized speed contests).
- NRS 484C.400.
- NRS 484C.460.
- NRS 483.475.