Common Examples of Reckless Driving Under Utah Traffic Laws

Reckless driving is more than just an annoyance – it’s a serious safety hazard that greatly increases the risk of a preventable car accident.  But what types of driving behaviors constitute reckless driving in Utah?  And when are drivers liable for a crash or collision?  In this article, Salt Lake City car accident lawyer Darwin Overson explains some basic points about recklessness, negligence, and fault.  If you or one of your loved ones was injured in a crash, you may be entitled to compensation depending on how and why the accident occurred.

Willful or Wanton Disregard: What is Considered Reckless Driving?

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Utah Code § 41-6a-528 provides two different definitions of what constitutes reckless driving:

  • Driving with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
  • Committing three or more traffic violations in a span of three miles or less.
    • It’s important to note that this form of reckless driving is also a The offender can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, a conviction of which can result in fines up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail – not to mention a criminal record.

The latter definition is clear and straightforward.  The former, however, is more ambiguous.  What, exactly, is meant by “willful or wanton disregard” for safety?

Let’s start with the “willful” component.  This means the driver intentionally ignores or violates traffic laws, a distinction which distinguishes recklessness from negligence.  When a driver is negligent, it means only that he or she failed to exercise adequate, reasonable precautions against causing foreseeable deaths or injuries – for instance, momentarily getting distracted by a text message or change of radio station.  By comparison, recklessness involves deliberate actions, like drag racing or choosing to drink while driving.

“Wanton” disregard, like negligence, is not necessarily malicious, but is still more severe than an accidental moment of carelessness.  Wanton disregard may be used as evidence that a driver acted with gross (extreme) negligence – for instance, driving through a crowded crosswalk full of cyclists and pedestrians.

The definition of what constitutes “willful and wanton disregard” is fairly subjective and ultimately, must be established by evidence such as accident photos, eyewitness testimony, and video footage.  That being said, some common examples of actions that may constitute reckless driving include:

  • Driving over medians
  • Driving the wrong way down a one-way street
  • Driving too fast for safety in poor weather conditions (e.g. speeding in dense fog that limits visibility)
  • Driving while intoxicated by alcohol or impaired by controlled substances
  • Excessive speeding
  • Failing to stop at a stop sign
  • Ignoring a police officer’s instructions to pull over
  • Ignoring the right-of-way, which can cause an intersection accident
  • Speeding up to run a red light
  • Weaving in and out of lanes

What Must an Injury Victim Prove in Order to Recover Compensation? What Are Punitive Damages?

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Both recklessness and negligence can be a cause of action, or grounds for filing a lawsuit, if they result in preventable personal injury or wrongful death.  When a driver commits an extreme act of recklessness or negligence, he or she may be ordered to pay “punitive” damages, which are meant to punish defendants for gross misconduct, in addition to “compensatory” damages, which are meant only to compensate the victim for costs, losses, and hardships resulting from the crash.  Utah Code § 78B-8-201 provides that “punitive damages may be awarded… if compensatory… damages are awarded and it is established by clear and convincing evidence that the acts or [failures to act of the driver at fault] are the result of… conduct that manifests a knowing and reckless indifference toward, and a disregard of, the rights of others.

In order to show that the other driver was at fault (liable) for the crash or collision, the injury victim must be able to demonstrate that four facts were true of the accident:

  • The at-fault driver owed the injury victim a “duty of care.” All motorists have an obligation to obey traffic laws and exercise caution when driving.
  • The at-fault driver breached their duty of care. This element is called “breach of duty.” Some examples include speeding, tailgating, and making improper turns.
  • The at-fault driver’s actions (or lack thereof) caused an otherwise preventable accident. This element is called “causation.”  “Actual” cause is the direct and literal cause of an accident (e.g. making an improper turn), while “proximate” cause is the indirect or legal cause (e.g. the driver’s underlying negligence or recklessness).
  • The victim was harmed as a result of the at-fault driver’s actions or failures to act. This element is called “damages.”

Our Utah Personal Injury Lawyers Have the Experience and Knowledge to Fight for You

If you or one of your family members was hit by a reckless driver in Salt Lake City or the surrounding area, you may be able to recover compensation for the resulting medical bills, income losses, and other hardships you’ve been burdened with due to the accident.  To set up a free, completely confidential legal consultation with an experienced Utah car accident lawyer call the law offices of Overson Law, LLC at (801) 895-3143 today.  Attorney Darwin Overson has more than 33 years of experience fighting for compensation on behalf of the victims of reckless and negligent motorists in Utah.


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