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Reckless Driving on Social Media and Florida Highways

July 21, 2019

A 70-year-old Lakeland, Florida, man was recently arrested for reckless driving. He was barreling along I-4 while standing on the driver’s seat, much of his body protruding up through the moonroof of his Cadillac.

The incident received national attention, largely thanks to cellphone footage captured by a fellow motorist. Few casual observers would disagree with the reckless driving charge, even though most people are pretty unclear about what counts as “reckless driving.” In court, “I know it when I see it” is rarely an adequate standard.

Florida statutes are relatively clear about what it means, even if they provide two separate definitions.

Willful or Wanton Disregard

The first definition goes, “Any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving.”

Of these 23 words, only “willful or wanton disregard” might need a little explanation here.

A willful act involves the will, that is, it’s intentional, conscious and has a goal. A wanton act shows a grossly negligent lack of concern or heedlessness regard for the safety of others. Disregard is not caring or respecting something or someone.

So, we can assume law enforcement felt the motorist from Lakeland showed an intentional, conscious lack of concern and lack of respect for the safety of others.

Whether they are correct in this assessment can be left up to the judge, but of the two definitions in the statute, one the police had in mind.

Fleeing an Officer

It’s even easier to understand the second of the two definitions for “reckless driving” in the Florida statute: “Fleeing a law enforcement officer in a motor vehicle is reckless driving per se.”

The primary question may be about the meaning of “per se.” It’s a Latin phrase meaning “by itself” or “inherently.” So, no matter how or why you flee police in a vehicle, it’s reckless driving.

The statutes say you can get up to 90 days in jail and a fine of $25 to $500 on a first conviction. The punishments go up from there If you damage property, injure people, are under the influence or get caught doing it again.