Michigan law prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle in a "careless or negligent manner" on public roads. This is a very broad statute intended to cover a wide array of behavior when a driver is behind the wheel. But what exactly is "careless driving"?
MCL 257.626b states that "[a] person who operates a vehicle upon a highway or a frozen public lake, stream, or pond or other place open to the general public including an area designated for the parking of vehicles in a careless or negligent manner likely to endanger any person or property, but without wantonness or recklessness, is responsible for a civil infraction."
The absence of "wantonness or recklessness" is what separates careless driving from the more severe offense of reckless driving (a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine up to 93 days in jail, or a fine up to $500.00, or both, and a 90-day license suspension with six points added to driving record). "Reckless" driving means that the driver operated a motor vehicle in a way that a reasonable person knew or should have knew would likely cause property damage, injuries or death. "Careless" driving means that driver operated a motor vehicle in a manner that a reasonable person would not have under the same circumstances. While careless driving is not even considered a crime, it is ironically easier for the prosecutor to prove than reckless driving because he or she does not have to show the driver's intent or knowledge.
Careless driving is a civil infraction punishable by a fine and adds 3 points to the operator's Michigan driving record. Since careless driving is not a criminal act like reckless driving, it is not subject to a probationary sentence. People v Greenlee, 133 Mich App 734; 350 NW2d 313 (1984). However, since this is a three-point offense, the driver would not be eligible to avoid this assessment by taking an approved basic driver improvement course. Additionally, this offense is likely to cause the driver's insurance carrier to increase the premium rates on coverage because of the enhanced risk that the driver represents on the road.
Careless driving can include, but is not limited to, driving in excess of the speed limit or too fast for conditions, passing through a stop sign or steady red light without stopping, improper passing, failure to yield to bicyclists and emergency vehicles, and even operating a vehicle without illuminated lights when conditions were too dark.
A person accused of careless driving is not required to admit responsibility but rather can request a formal or informal hearing before a district court judge or magistrate. An experienced traffic attorney may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor for a plea to a lesser moving violation like speeding or even a non-moving violation like impeding traffic where points are not assessed. If the driver is represented at a hearing, the attorney may convince the judge that the vehicle was handled reasonably under the circumstances and cause a dismissal.
A small investment into an experienced attorney may help you avoid greater expense down the road. While it is tempting to simply admit responsibility to the offense and move on, the points on your license can add up and could result in license sanctions if too many accumulate. The advice of counsel is invaluable before admitting anything! If you are charged with careless driving or any other traffic offense, do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC.