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Texting While Driving

Minnesota’s New Reckless Driving Law

Much of the publicity about Minnesota’s new laws going into effect on August 1st is about the reduction of a person’s blood alcohol concentration from .20 to .16 as an aggravating factor in DWI cases. In the fine print of the same bill, Minnesota changed its Reckless Driving statute, 169.13, subdivision 1 (to read the bill in full, click here). Why? I am not entirely sure, but I suspect it has something to do with distracted driving – people on their cell phones. Which is probably why the new law is even broader than its predecessor.

In Minnesota, Reckless Driving is currently associated with road rage type incidents and people driving wildly at excessive speeds. The expiring statute indicates a person is guilty of Reckless Driving if they drive “any vehicle in such a manner as to indicate either a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

Under the new law, a person is guilty of Reckless Driving if they drive a motor vehicle “while aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the driving may result in harm to another or another’s property.” What is a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” you ask? The law goes on to state the “risk must be of such a nature and degree that disregard of it constitutes a significant deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.” There it is. The “reasonableness” standard. Every lawyer’s favorite arguing point. What is “reasonable” under the circumstances? In the Reckless Driving context, I suspect it will lead to a fair amount of arguments around the idea that a reasonable person would not operate a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds at high rates of speed while reading the latest posts on their favorite social media site.

Additionally, the legislature added clause (c), which makes Reckless Driving a Gross Misdemeanor if the person causes “great bodily harm” or “death” to another. Prosecutors will often charge these types of cases with injuries as Criminal Vehicular Operation or Criminal Vehicular Homicide (CVO / CVH). This new statute allows them to charge both CVO and Reckless with the addition of subdivision 3 (“nothing in this section . . . shall limit the power of the state to prosecute or punish a person for conduct that constitutes any other crime under any other law of this state”). Reckless Driving without any injuries is a Misdemeanor offense.

When charged with a DWI, people will often ask if they can get their DWI charge reduced to Reckless Driving. More commonly, however, in Minnesota, prosecutors will amend the charge from DWI to Careless Driving, not Reckless. Reckless used to be for more road rage type cases. Now it casts a wider net to catch the texters.

Robert H. Ambrose is the owner of Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC.  If you have been charged, or cited, with a crime contact our office for a consultation at no charge. 

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