Maybe you had a brief lapse in judgment at the worst time. Perhaps it was just bad luck. Either way, if you’re charged after a car accident that resulted in someone’s serious injury or death, you could be in a world of trouble. In this guide, you will learn how careless driving is defined and penalized, especially when it results in serious bodily harm or death. You will also learn some ways to defend yourself against careless driving charges.
In this Guide:
- What is Careless Driving?
- How Careless Driving Differs from Reckless Driving
- Potential Defenses Against a Careless Driving Charge
What is Careless Driving?
Colorado defines careless driving as operating a motorized vehicle without proper regard for your surroundings. The statute goes into greater detail:
“Any person who drives any motor vehicle, bicycle, or motorized bicycle in a careless and imprudent manner, without due regard for the width, grade, curves, corners, traffic, and use of the streets and highways and all other attendant circumstances, is guilty of careless driving.” C.R.S 42-4-1402
Careless driving can include:
- getting in a single or multi-car accident
- speeding or participating in speed contests
- driving while distracted
- following too closely to the vehicle in front
- operating a dangerously loaded or poorly maintained vehicle
- driving while sleepy or impaired by medication or a physical condition
- going too fast or too slow for traffic conditions
What are the Penalties for Careless Driving?
Colorado law enforcement treats careless driving seriously enough that each ticket warrants a 4-point penalty on your driver’s license, even when no accident occurs. Other penalties after conviction depend on whether the offense caused an accident with serious injuries or death to another.
- Careless driving without serious bodily injury or death is a class 2 misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $300.
- Careless driving causing serious bodily injury or death is a class 1 misdemeanor. This is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. If a person dies in the accident, then the offender receives 12 points on their license and a one-year driving suspension.
Colorado law defines bodily injury as “physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical or mental condition. C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(c). In the context of Careless Driving Causing Bodily Injury, an injury to yourself does not count–rather, it is only Careless Driving Causing Bodily Injury if you cause bodily injury to another, whether they are a passenger in your vehicle, in or on another vehicle, or are a pedestrian.
Depending on the results of an investigation following a car accident, a Careless Driving Causing Injury charge may be enhanced to Vehicular Assault, a Class 4 or 5 felony depending on circumstances. A Careless Driving Causing Death charge may be enhanced to Vehicular Homicide, which may be charged as either a Class 3 or 4 felony.
Punishments can also include restitution (if there was property damage), community service, and up to a year of probation.
How Careless Driving Differs from Reckless Driving
Many people use these terms interchangeably, however, the law makes a clear distinction between careless and reckless driving based on the driver’s state of mind.
Careless driving involves a degree of criminal negligence and a lack of due attention. This could be something as minor as momentarily failing to adjust to a change in road conditions or as blatant as prolonged interaction with a smartphone.
Reckless driving is operating a motor vehicle “in such a manner as to indicate a wanton or a willful disregard for the safety of persons or property …” as defined in C.R.S 42-4-1401.
A motor vehicle operator who is careless doesn’t pay attention to potential risks. A reckless driver knows the risks and disregards them. A common example of reckless driving is when a motorist aggressively changes lanes in busy interstate traffic.
Other Offenses Related to Careless Driving
Careless driving has been known as a “catch-all” used by officers after an accident when no other specific charge fits the situation. However, some offenses do fit and can be added to a careless driving charge. They include:
- failure to yield to or show due caution to emergency or maintenance vehicles R.S 42-4-1402 (2) (b) and (c)
- unsafe lane changes R.S 42-4-1007
- speeding R.S 42-4-1101
- failing to yield the right-of-way R.S 42-4-703
- texting and driving R.S 42-4-239
Potential Defenses Against a Careless Driving Charge
You were a driver in a car accident that seriously injured another person. Worse, the police say it was mostly your fault, so you’re probably looking at criminal charges. What can you do?
Once you’ve explained the accident to an experienced criminal defense lawyer, a number of defenses could be available to you. Here are some common approaches.
You Were Not the Driver
You should not be convicted if you weren’t the one behind the wheel. Yes, an accident happened. Yes, your car was involved. But somebody else was driving it.
You Did Not Drive Carelessly
The prosecution has the burden of proof. The district attorney’s office must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you operated your motor vehicle in a careless manner. The line between proper driving and carelessness is rather thin, especially when you factor in weather, traffic, road conditions, sightlines, sun glare, etc. Yes, an accident happened, but it does not mean you were careless.
Your Driving Did Not Cause the Injuries
Colorado law C.R.S 42-4-1402 (2) makes clear that the sentence enhancer for serious bodily injury or death applies only if the defendant’s careless driving was the “proximate cause” of the harm.
If there is evidence the other person’s injuries were the result of other factors — such as failing to wear a seatbelt — then the charge cannot be promoted to the more serious class 1 misdemeanor. Yes, an accident happened. Yes, a brief lapse in your attention contributed to it. But the injuries resulted more from the injured person’s carelessness.
An Important Tip: Do Not Admit Fault
Be mindful of what you say to the other driver, their passengers, your passengers, the police, and insurance adjusters. Never admit fault after an automobile accident. It’s not a determination you should make, and it can be unhelpful to you if you do. Be sympathetic and cooperative after an accident. However, any admission of responsibility before speaking to your lawyer can be used against you — in criminal and civil cases.
Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you face charges after an accident resulting in another person’s death or serious injury, it’s imperative to seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney. The information in this legal guide is meant to be helpful, but only an experienced criminal defense attorney can look at the details of your case and mount an effective defense against prosecution. Call 303-688-0944 for your free case assessment.