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What is Careless Driving (39:4-97) in NJ?

Careless Driving In New Jersey 39:4-97

In New Jersey careless driving is not a serious offense, but it can have collateral consequences.    Particularly, if the violation involves a motor vehicle accident causing personal injury or property damage to another.  With motor vehicle accidents you have to keep in mind that anything you say can be used against you in a subsequent superior court lawsuit over money damages.  Your conviction would be proof that you caused the accident.  So if you are involved in an auto accident you should request what is called a civil reservation.

If you have been charged with careless driving, you face a fine of $50 to $200, up to 15 days in jail, $33 court costs, and 2 points on your license. I rarely recommend that you accept an amendment of careless driving to unsafe operation (39:4-97.2), unless other tickets are also being dismissed.  Unsafe operation is a zero point offense but it is a much higher fine.  You can only have two unsafe operations in a five year period, so it rarely makes sense to amend a two-point ticket to a zero-point ticket given how rarely you can use this option.

What does the State have to prove to convict you of careless driving?

The State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you drove “carelessly, or without due caution and circumspection, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property.”  This can be difficult to prove.  If there was an accident, the officer typically arrives after the accident.  It is rare that the accident happens right in front of the police officer.  Generally, the only way for the State to prove its case against you is for the witnesses to come to court and testify against you.   If no witnesses come to court, the charges will likely be dismissed.

What if I am an immigrant?

Any encounter with law enforcement when you are an undocumented immigrant could create serious problems for you. If careless driving resulted in injury to another person or if it was in conjunction with a DUI or driving without a license, you could be in danger of being detained and deported. Even if it does not immediately result in your arrest, these kinds of citations could lead to future immigration problems.

What can I do?

If you have received a traffic ticket in Monmouth or Ocean County, especially one that arose out of an accident, you can contact me through our website. I will be happy to review your situation and advise you on your legal options.