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Reckless Driving in California - Vehicle Code 23103 VC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jun 05, 2023

Every motorist on California roads is responsible for protecting other road users' safety. For this reason, reckless driving, such as driving with wanton disregard for safety, is a significant crime in California under Vehicle Code 23103 VC. The law applies to all roads within the state, including parking facilities.

Reckless Driving in California - Vehicle Code 23103 VC
VC 23103 reckless driving is defined as driving a motor vehicle with a wanton disregard for safety.

To convict you of violating the reckless driving law, a prosecutor must prove two specific elements of the crime. These include showing that you drove a vehicle on a highway or in an off-street parking facility and that you drove with a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

VC 23103 says, “(a) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

(b)  A person who drives a vehicle in an off-street parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.

(c) Except as otherwise provided in Section 40008, persons convicted of the offense of reckless driving shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days nor more than 90 days or by a fine of not less than $145 nor more than $1,000, by both that fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 23104 or 23105.”

As noted, being convicted of this crime can result in hefty fines, imprisonment, and other penalties. Let's review this state law further below.

What Is Reckless Driving?

The law defines reckless driving as driving a vehicle on a highway or an off-street parking facility with “wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

This law is often called “dry reckless” driving, as opposed to “wet reckless” per Vehicle Code 21303.5 VC, because defense attorneys frequently use it as a plea bargaining tool in DUI cases to try to downgrade the charges.

Let's take a closer look at the definitions behind this law:

  • For legal purposes, a “highway” in California refers to any publicly maintained road open for vehicle travel. This includes virtually any public road on which cars travel, from freeways to 2-lane highways to city streets. It does not include private roads.
  • An “off-street parking facility” refers to any area where vehicles are parked as long as it is open to the public. This includes publicly maintained parking lots or garages and privately-owned lots open to free retail public parking. It does not include private parking facilities, such as employee parking.
  • “Wanton disregard for safety” occurs when someone is aware that their actions present an unnecessary risk of harm but chooses to do those actions anyway. Wantonness involves a high degree of negligence and indifference to others' safety, with actions that may include excessive speed, weaving in and out of traffic lanes, running stop signs or lights, and other dangerous maneuvers.

Other things to know about this law:

  • You don't have to cause any damage to persons or property to be charged with this crime. You only have to drive in a way that endangers others and their property.
  • Prosecutors don't have to prove that you intended to cause damage to get a reckless driving conviction. They only need to show that you were showing wanton disregard for safety, not that you wanted to cause damage or injury.

What Are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: In the car, John is arguing intensely with his girlfriend, Anna. John angrily begins to speed excessively down city streets, running stop signs and screeching around corners out of rage to frighten Anna. John can be charged with reckless driving under VC 23103.

EXAMPLE 2: Susan is driving on the freeway during rush hour. She begins to weave in and out of traffic, cutting off other cars and nearly causing multiple collisions. Even though no one was injured, her actions still constitute reckless driving under VC 23103.

EXAMPLE 3: Kyle and his friends are hanging out in a parking lot at Wal-Mart. Kyle decides to do some “donuts” with his car in the parking lot to impress his friends, even though multiple vehicles are there. As a result, Kyle can face charges of reckless driving.

What Are the Related Crime?

Several California laws are related to Vehicle Code 23103 reckless driving, such as the following:

  • Vehicle Code 23103.5 VC – wet reckless;
  • Vehicle Code 23105 VC – reckless driving causing injury;
  • Vehicle Code 23109 VC – exhibition of speed;
  • Vehicle Code 23152(a) VC – driving under the influence (DUI);
  • Vehicle Code 23152(b) VC – driving with BAC .08% or higher;
  • Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC – DUI drugs;
  • Vehicle Code 23153 VC – DUI causing injury;
  • Vehicle Code 22348(b) VC – driving over 100mph on the freeway;
  • Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC – evading a police officer;
  • Vehicle Code 2800.2 VC – felony reckless evading.

What Are the Penalties for VC 23103?

A basic violation of VC 23103 is a misdemeanor under California law.

Penalties Reckless Driving in California
A VC 23103 reckless driving conviction carries fines, probation, jail, and points on your DMV record.

If you're convicted, you could face any/all of the following:

  • Between 5 and 90 days in county jail;
  • Fines ranging from $145 to $1000, not including court costs; and
  • Two points on your DMV driving record.

Judges frequently impose 1-5 years' probation as an alternative to jail time for these offenses. If your “dry reckless” conviction is part of a plea bargain to avoid more serious DUI penalties, you may also be required to attend DUI classes as part of your sentence.

Enhanced Penalties 

If your acts of reckless driving cause injury to someone, the charges may be more severe, along with the penalties.

  • For minor injuries: You'll still be charged with a misdemeanor, but you could face up to one year instead of a maximum of 90 days in jail.
  • For severe injuries: VC 21303 becomes a “wobbler” offense, which may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony at the prosecutor's discretion. If you're accused of a misdemeanor, you could face up to one year in jail. If you're charged with a felony, you could face up to three years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Legal Defenses to VC 23103

If you're charged with reckless driving under VC 23103, an experienced California defense attorney can employ several defense strategies to combat the charges. The common defenses are discussed below.

Defenses for Reckless Driving
Contact our defense lawyers for assistance.

Perhaps we can argue there was no wanton disregard. This term is ambiguous and may be difficult for the prosecution to prove. If your attorney can show that your actions don't meet the standards of wanton disregard for safety, the charges may be dismissed.

Perhaps we can argue that you are the victim of mistaken identity. For example, in some cases, you may be incorrectly identified as the driver in a reckless driving case. You can get the charges dropped if your attorney can show otherwise.

Perhaps we can make a necessity argument. This defense is available if you can show you drove recklessly to avoid an even greater danger, such as an emergency.

To review the details of your case, you can contact us by phone or using the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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