Lately I have been seeing a lot of people charged with reckless driving in Ada and Canyon counties. It seems that the new ISP policy when there is a traffic accident is to charge the party the officer perceives to be at fault with either reckless or inattentive driving. The logic here is that if they make traffic accidents a criminal offense with more sever penalties than would otherwise be the case they believe this will cause people to drive with more care and thus reduce the number of traffic fatalities. While I am not sure if this is having any impact or not, I believe every case is unique and needs to be examined on its own not lumped into a group of somewhat similar incidents. A conviction for reckless driving can have far more serious consequences that law enforcement seems to be aware of.
The statute for reckless driving reads like this:
49-1401. Reckless driving. (1) Any person who drives or is in actual physical control of any vehicle upon a highway, or upon public or private property open to public use, carelessly and heedlessly or without due caution and circumspection, and at a speed or in a manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property, or who passes when there is a line in his lane indicating a sight distance restriction, shall be guilty of reckless driving and upon conviction shall be punished as provided in subsection (2) of this section.
(2) Every person who pleads guilty to or is found guilty of reckless driving for the first time is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be sentenced to jail for not more than six (6) months or may be fined not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or may be punished by both fine and imprisonment. Every person who pleads guilty to or is found guilty of reckless driving, who has previously been found guilty of or has pled guilty to reckless driving, or any substantially conforming foreign criminal violation within five (5) years, notwithstanding the form of the judgment(s) or withheld judgment(s), is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be sentenced to jail for not more than one (1) year or may be fined not more than two thousand dollars ($2,000), or may be punished by both fine and imprisonment. The department shall suspend the driver's license or privileges of any such person as provided in section 49-326, Idaho Code.
(3) Inattentive driving shall be considered a lesser offense than reckless driving and shall be applicable in those circumstances where the conduct of the operator has been inattentive, careless or imprudent, in light of the circumstances then existing, rather than heedless or wanton, or in those cases where the danger to persons or property by the motor vehicle operator's conduct is slight. Every person convicted of inattentive driving under this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and may be sentenced to jail for not more than ninety (90) days or may be fined not more than three hundred dollars ($300), or may be punished by both fine and imprisonment.
I have highlighted the key language for both crimes. As you can see, there are circumstances when an accident occurs but the driver is neither careless/headless nor inattentive/imprudent... that is why we use the term accident: these things happen and sometimes no one is at fault.
Recently, I had a case in Ada County where I was able to show the prosecutor that the facts did not match the charge. Was my client at fault for the accident, yes; did he change lanes faster than he should have, probably; however, the other vehicle was in his blind spot and even if he had waited a couple seconds longer it is unlikely that the crash would have been avoided. No one was hurt and insurance was covering the cost of repairs: it was an accident not a crime. The prosecutors agreed to reduce the charge to an infraction: Failure To Maintain Lane. My client paid the fine and made sure all the repairs were fully completed to the other individuals car. This was a just result and hopefully one we can duplicate many times in the future.