Reckless and Negligent Driving in Georgia: What’s the Difference?

negligent driving georgia

Understanding the state of Georgia’s traffic laws can be confusing, especially when it comes to fine-tuned distinctions between what would appear to be relatively similar acts. Indeed, such is the case with reckless and negligent driving; the two actions are different per Georgia code, and have different legal (and potential civil) consequences as well. Here’s what you need to know:

Defining Reckless Driving in Georgia

As found in Georgia Code Title 40 – Motor Vehicles and Traffic, Section 40-6-390, a person commits an act of reckless driving when they operate their vehicle with “reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property.” In most cases, this is interpreted to mean that the offending party shows a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of others. Some common actions that are often considered to be reckless include:

  • Excessive speeding;
  • Evading a police officer; and
  • Racing.

What’s the Difference Between Reckless and Negligent Driving?

The state of Georgia’s code does not specifically address “negligent” driving. However, negligence is a common cause of accidents, and is typically the basis on which civil cases are formed. Negligence is defined by the Legal Information Institute of Cornell University Law School as the “failure to behave with the level of care that somebody of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”

While negligence itself may not be outlawed per Georgia law, various negligent acts, like speeding, illegally changing lanes, and running a red light are against traffic code. As such, an individual could be given a traffic ticket for their negligent behavior, or be held liable for damages caused to another party (property damage, personal injury, etc.) as a result of negligence.

Reckless vs. Negligent – What’s Next?

Typically, the penalties associated with a reckless driving charge are much more severe than are the penalties associated with an act of negligence, like rolling through a stop sign. In fact, the same section of Georgia code cited above states that a person who commits an act of reckless driving will be found guilty of a misdemeanor, and could be subject to an incarceration period of up to 12 months, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

In the eyes of a civil court, however, an individual can be held liable for damages incurred by another by virtue of their reckless or negligent actions, so long as the plaintiff can prove that their injuries would not have been sustained but for the actions of the defendant. The difference may lie in whether or not a civil court will award punitive damages.

Contact an Attorney for More Questions

If you have more questions about the differences between reckless driving and negligent driving, or how either may have an effect on your ability to pursue a civil suit, or penalties that you might face, you should contact an experienced attorney near you. A Georgia attorney knowledgeable in traffic code can provide you with accurate answers.

The foregoing answer is not legal advice and is merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation. Feel free to send comments or questions to: of Apolinsky & Associates, LLC, or call (404) 377-9191.


About the Author

Stephen Apolinsky

Stephen D. Apolinsky is a Personal Injury Attorney who specializes in representing individuals and families concerning wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases. Stephen is licensed to practice in Georgia, Alabama, and the District of Columbia. With over 33 years of experience representing personal injury victims, Stephen has successfully tried over 80 cases to verdict before judges or juries, and has negotiated over 300 cases to out-of-court settlements. Stephen has been recognized as a Georgia Super Lawyer, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association.