Negligent Driving

What is Negligent Driving?

Negligent driving is generally defined by Washington law as operating a vehicle in a way that is (1) negligent, and (2) endangers or is likely to endanger a person or property.

"Negligent" means the failure to exercise ordinary care, and is the performance of some act that a reasonably careful person would not perform under the same or similar circumstances or the failure to do something that a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstances.

Negligent driving is an offense that can be considered either a misdemeanor or a traffic infraction, depending on the circumstances surrounding the charge.

Negligent Driving in the First Degree:

According to RCW §46.61.5249, a person is guilty of negligent driving in the first degree if he:

  1. Operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, AND
  2. Exhibits the effects of having consumed liquor or marijuana or any drug or exhibits the effects of having inhaled or ingested any chemical, whether or not a legal substance, for its intoxicating or hallucinatory effects.

Penalties for Negligent Driving in the First Degree:

Negligent driving in the first degree is considered a misdemeanor, which RCW §9A.20.021 defines as punishable by up to ninety days in jail, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both.

Also, a person who, within the past seven years, has been convicted of negligent driving in the first degree as a result of being under the influence is required to have an ignition interlock device installed on any vehicles he operates.

Negligent Driving in the Second Degree:

According to RCW §46.61.525, a person is guilty of negligent driving in the second degree if, under circumstances not constituting negligent driving in the first degree, he operates a motor vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property.

Penalties for Negligent Driving in the Second Degree:

Negligent driving in the second degree is considered a traffic infraction that can result in a fine of $250.

One defense for second-degree negligent driving is showing that the driver was operating the vehicle on private property with the owner's consent, and in a manner over which the owner consented.

Negligent Driving in the Second Degree with a Vulnerable User Victim:

According to RCW §46.61.526, a person commits negligent driving in the second degree with a vulnerable user victim if, under circumstances not constituting negligent driving in the first degree, he:

  1. Operates a vehicle in a manner that is both negligent and endangers or is likely to endanger any person or property, AND
  2. Proximately causes the death, great bodily harm, or substantial bodily harm of a vulnerable user of a public way.

The types of individuals who are considered vulnerable users of public ways include pedestrians, individuals who are riding animals and individuals riding certain types of vehicles (bicycles, electric-assisted bicycles, mopeds, etc.).

Penalties for Negligent Driving in the Second Degree with a Vulnerable User Victim in Washington:

Negligent driving in the second degree with a vulnerable user victim is considered a traffic infraction that, upon a finding of guilt, can result in a maximum fine of $5,000 (but no less than $1,000) and a ninety-day driver's license suspension.

However, if the person charged responds to the notice within fifteen days and does not contest the charge he may, instead, elect to (i) pay $250, (ii) attend traffic school, (iii) perform community service, and (iv) submit a certification that all of these criteria have been met within one year.

Defending a Negligent Driving Charge:

There are a number of ways to defend a negligent driving charge. Of course, the defense strategies available to you depend on the degree of the charge and the facts of your case. However, Washington State law provides defenses to negligent driving in both the first and second degrees. If you are charged with negligent driving in the first degree because you were driving negligently AND exhibiting the effects of a substance, you can argue that you had a valid prescription for the drug consumed, and have been consuming it according to the prescription directions and warnings. If you are charged with negligent driving in the second degree because you were driving negligently, you can argue that you were operating the motor vehicle on private property with the consent of the owner in a manner consistent with the owner's consent. These are just two examples of the defense strategies available. Your defense strategy is crucial, and the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney is strongly advised.