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South Carolina
Judicial Department
South Carolina Bench Book for Summary Court Judges - Traffic Section

Reckless Driving

1. Reckless Driving

The offense of reckless driving is found in S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2920. This section relates to any person driving any vehicle in such a manner to indicate a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. A suggested instruction to the jury about reckless driving is as follows:

Reckless Driving: Suggested Instruction to the Jury

The defendant in this case is charged with reckless driving, a traffic offense. S.C. Code Ann. § 56-5-2920 of the S.C. Code of Laws states that "any person who drives any vehicle in such a manner as to indicate either a willfull or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving."

Willfull can be defined as doing something deliberately. Wanton is to act unruly or without any checks or limitations. As a general rule, what constitutes reckless driving is to be determined from all the surrounding circumstances where the statute does not specifically declare what particular acts shall comprise the offense. What constitutes reckless driving under some conditions may not be such under other conditions. As a general rule, something more than mere negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle is necessary to constitute the offense of reckless driving. Generally, the offense denotes operation of a vehicle under such circumstances, and in such manner, as to show a willfull or reckless disregard of consequences.

"Recklessness implies the doing of a negligent act knowingly. When a man actually acts negligently and he realizes that he is acting negligently, the law says he is reckless or willfull and wanton, whichever term you prefer, they all mean the same thing, that is, the conscious failure to exercise due care." State v Rachels, 218 S.C. 1, 61 S.E. 2nd 249 (1950).

For example only, if a motorist unthinkingly or ignorantly passes a school bus without stopping, but driving carefully, slowly, and with a lookout for school children who might be injured, he is guilty of "passing a school bus", regardless of the fact that he was careful. But, he is not guilty of "reckless driving". On the other hand, if the same motorist passes the same bus at a high rate of speed, without being on the lookout for children who might be injured by his act, the law says he either knew or should have known that his acts endangered others, and although he is guilty of "passing a school bus", he is also guilty of "reckless driving", and a jury may find him guilty of the greater offense only; that is, reckless driving.

On the other hand, it is not necessary that a motorist violate a traffic law to be guilty of reckless driving. A driver who continues to drive after dozing off at the wheel, disregarding the fact the he is very sleepy, has shown a wanton disregard for the safety of persons and property and is, therefore, guilty of reckless driving.

This court cannot, of course, literally look into the mind of a person to determine whether or not he was heedless or without regard to the safety of others; which is to say, reckless. We must do that by a judgment of his action, and it is by this defendant’s acts that you shall know him. The law permits you to judge whether or not the defendant was reckless, by his acts. Otherwise, neither you nor any other jury would have a basis for making such decision. Secondly, it is not necessary that you find that he knew his acts endangered the safety of others; that is, that he was actually conscious of the fact. It is necessary only that you find that he should have known in light of the circumstances.

NOTE to Judges:

To avoid confusing the jury about what is in evidence, it is suggested that the school bus or dozing off example not be used if the actual case involves either passing a school bus or dozing off at the wheel.