What Are the Differences Between Reckless Operation and Physical Control?

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Most people have an innate understanding of what reckless driving is, but the terms reckless operation and physical control become a little more obscure. After all, if you are driving a vehicle, then don’t you have physical control of it?

The answer is both yes and no. Yes, by the standards of the English language, you would have physical control. But if we were talking about it in a legal sense, then the answer would be no. We’re going to dive deep into this topic in order to clear up these important phrases.

We’ll begin by looking at reckless operation and how it works, then turn our attention to the issue of physical control. Once we have both of these sorted out, we’ll look at the penalties that can come alongside their presence.

What is Reckless Operation?

Reckless operation is the most straightforward of our two terms. Reckless operation and reckless driving are synonymous. But if we want to get more technical, Ohio law states that “No person shall operate a vehicle, trackless trolley, or streetcar on any street or highway in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property.”

In plain language, it means that you are to obey the rules of the road and not put others at risk. It is a more serious charge than just getting a traffic ticket. You can get a couple traffic tickets before it becomes a major problem. But a reckless driving charge is a misdemeanor and that means it has some serious consequences. We’ll get into those more in a moment.

The legal language is purposefully vague as to the exact meaning. This is on purpose as the primary concern is with the hazard the driver presents to their fellow Americans. So you can get charged with reckless operation for things like going more than 25 mph over the speed limit, running a red light, making unsafe lane changes, weaving through traffic, and other reckless behaviors that make you a risk to the wider community.

It is also a common practice to be charged with reckless driving after an accident. In this case, one of the officers on site would make a judgment call based on eyewitness testimony given to them at the time. If they deem that it is likely the accident was caused due to recklessness then they can level a charge, along with any others that they have reason to believe are accurate. This doesn’t mean that the charge itself is appropriate and in fact that points towards one possible line of defense against a charge in certain circumstances.

What is Physical Control?

Physical control has some to do with actual physical control of a vehicle but that is only one small part. What physical control is actually about is physically controlling a vehicle while intoxicated. If you are impaired by drugs or alcohol while “in the driver’s position of the front seat of a vehicle or in the driver’s position of a streetcar or trackless trolley and having possession of the vehicle’s, streetcar’s, or trackless trolley’s ignition key or other ignition device.”

It’s very important to take a moment and consider what is actually being said there and what is not. It does not say that the vehicle itself must be moving. It only states that you must be in the driver’s position and have control of the key.

Say you drive out to the bar to have a few drinks and you have a couple more than you intended to. Being a responsible driver, you call a cab to pick you up rather than commit a DUI to get home. But it’s cold out, so you hop in your car and turn it on to get the heat going. If a police officer witnesses this then they could charge you with physical control.

It doesn’t matter that you had no plan to actually drive. The fact that you were intoxicated and had physical control of the vehicle is the crime being charged. If you are intoxicated then it is better to never get behind the wheel of a vehicle, regardless of the intention. Certainly, you shouldn’t drink and drive. But sitting in the driver’s seat can be a legal risk in its own right. Best to avoid the chance of being charged whenever possible.

What are the Penalties for Reckless Operation or Physical Control?

Between reckless operation and physical control, reckless operation carries the less severe penalties. If you are found guilty of reckless operation than you could be facing:

  • A misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $150
  • Four points taken off of your license
  • If the conviction is for a repeat offense then it could be upgraded to include thirty days in jail and a fine of up to $250
  • If the conviction is the third offense within a year, then it could be upgraded to sixty days in jail and a fine of up to $500

A conviction for physical control, on the other hand, could have you facing:

  • Up to six months in jail
  • A fine of up to $1000
  • A driver’s license suspension of up to a year

Physical control does not take any points off of your license, though it could require you to attend a three-day driver’s intervention program.

Should I Contact an Attorney If I’m Charged with Reckless Operation or Physical Control?

Regardless of which of the two you have been charged with, it is highly recommended that you retain the services of an experienced attorney. Even if you feel that you are innocent, or perhaps especially because you do, the help of an attorney is important in convincing the courts of that innocence. It isn’t enough to be innocent of the crime, you need to prove to others that you are and an attorney is skilled at doing just that.

Speak to an attorney today to learn more about how they could help and represent you.

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