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Both negligent and reckless driving are prohibited by M.G.L. c. 90, § 24(2)(a).  The statute—which covers a number of motor vehicle offenses—is lengthy and difficult to read.    But the relevant section reads as follows:

Whoever upon any way or in any place to which the public has a right of access, or any place to which members of the public have access as invitees or licensees, operates a motor vehicle recklessly, or operates a vehicle negligently so that the lives or safety of the public might be endangered…shall be punished.

Reckless driving and negligent driving carry the same punishment.  However, it is far easier for prosecutors to prove that the defendant drove negligently.  Therefore, when a person is charged with violating M.G.L. c. 90, § 24, it will almost always be for negligent operation, rather than reckless operation of a motor vehicle.

To prove that a defendant drove negligently, the prosecution must prove the following:

  • first, the defendant drove a motor vehicle;
  • second, the driving took place on a public way or at a place where the public has access (e.g., a parking lot);
  • third, the defendant drove in a manner that might have endangered someone.

No one needs to be injured for the statute to be violated.  The jury instructions for negligent operation of a motor vehicle define “negligence” as follows:

A person acts negligently when he fails to use due care, that is, when he acts in a way that a reasonable person would not act. This can happen either by doing something that a reasonably prudent person would not do under those circumstances, or by failing to do something that a reasonably prudent person would do. The defendant acted negligently if he (she) drove in a way that a reasonable person would not have, and by doing so created an unnecessary danger to other people, a danger that he (she) could have avoided by driving more carefully.

Jury Instruction 5.240

Reckless driving, on the hand, requires the prosecution to show that the defendant drove in a more dangerous manner. 

It is not enough for the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant acted negligently — that is, acted in a way that a reasonably careful person would not. It must be shown that the defendant’s actions went beyond mere negligence and amounted to recklessness. The defendant was reckless if he (she) knew, or should have known, that such actions would pose a grave danger of death or serious injury to others, but he (she) chose, nevertheless, to run the risk and go ahead.

Jury Instruction 5.260

A conviction for either negligent or reckless driving is punishable by a fine between $20 and $200.  A defendant can also receive a jail sentence ranging from two weeks to two years.  And, in every case, the RMV will suspend the defendant’s license for 60 days.  The suspension will increase to one year, if the same defendant is convicted for negligent or reckless operation of a motor vehicle twice within a three-year period.