RECKLESS DRIVING - ELEMENTS
No person may be convicted of reckless driving unless the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the crime. These elements are:
Second, a motor vehicle;
Third, in a careless or wanton manner;
Fourth, (without regard for the safety of persons or property)/(that violated lawful speed limits)/(that [failed to attain]/exceeded the speed that a careful and prudent person would have considered reasonable and proper having due regard for the traffic, surface, and width of the highway, and other conditions)/(that exceeded the speed that a careful and prudent person would have considered reasonable and proper in order to stop within the assured clear distance ahead).
Statutory Authority: 47 O.S. 1991, § 11-901.
The first and second elements of this misdemeanor present no difficulty and need no explanation. The gravamen of the crime of reckless driving is found in the third and fourth elements.
The fourth element lists four alternatives. Proof of any one of the alternatives is sufficient to permit conviction, if the other three elements of the crime can be shown.
The first alternative, "without regard for the safety of persons or property," restates the statutory language of section 11-901. This language seems to indicate that the defendant must have had a conscious awareness of dangers to the safety of persons or property. In the opinion of the Commission, no such subjective mens rea is required for conviction for the crime of reckless driving. To establish the first alternative, it is necessary to prove only that the acts and conduct of the defendant, as judged by an objective reasonable-and-prudent-person standard, created dangers for the safety of persons or property. Lamb v. State, 70 Okl. Cr. 236, 105 P.2d 799 (1940).
The three other alternatives of the fourth element list violations of the conditions of 47 O.S. 1991, § 11-801. Subdivision (a) of section 11-801 has a general rule concerning the expected appropriate conduct of drivers with regard to the speed at which they should drive. The provisions of the general rules are reflected in the last two alternatives of the fourth element. The remaining subdivisions of section 11-801 set specific speed limits for various situations and types of vehicles. Violation of speed limits is the second alternative. The Commission has stated the violations of section 11-801, rather than using the statutory language of section 11-901, in order to avoid the necessity for a separate definitional instruction for the violations of section 11-801.
It should be stressed that proof that the defendant has driven in a manner which disregards the safety of persons or property, or which violates the conditions of section 11-801, is not enough by itself to convict the defendant of the crime of reckless driving. The State must also prove that the defendant was driving in the "careless or wanton manner" of the third element. For example, the defendant must not only be speeding, but also must be speeding to such an extent that his conduct would constitute culpable negligence. A "careless or wanton manner" signifies more than simply a violation of the speeding laws; it signifies culpable negligence. Chappell v. State, 462 P.2d 325 (Okl. Cr. 1969); Scott v. State, 71 Okl. Cr. 54, 108 P.2d 189 (1941).
The Commission has decided that the best way to understand the coverage of the reckless-driving crime of section 11-901 was to compare the facts of cases in which the Court of Criminal Appeals has indicated that a reckless-driving conviction is proper with the facts of cases in which the Court of Criminal Appeals has reversed a reckless driving conviction for insufficient evidence. Conviction proper: Wolf v. State, 375 P.2d 283 (Okl. Cr. 1966) (intoxicated driver forcing other drivers off the road); Matchen v. State, 349 P.2d 28 (Okl. Cr. 1960) (speeding at 100-105 m.p.h.); Hooper v. State, 348 P.2d 191 (Okl. Cr. 1959) (driving up behind cars then skidding sideways and passing in face of oncoming traffic, thereby forcing other cars off the road); Sullivan v. State, 333 P.2d 591 (Okl. Cr. 1958) ("three beers" and 80-85 in a 55 m.p.h. zone, resulting in accident); Allen v. State, 273 P.2d 152 (Okl. Cr. 1954) ("three beers" and accident); Hoover v. State, 94 Okl. Cr. 227, 233 P.2d 327 (1951) (passing in the face of oncoming traffic, causing accident). Conviction not proper: Herman v. City of Oklahoma City, 501 P.2d 1111, 1112 (Okl. Cr. 1972) (no evidence of speed of vehicle); Scott, supra, (backing out of driveway into road and a collision occurred).