What is worse, Reckless Driving or Impaired Driving?

If you face Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) charges, you might have to decide whether you prefer a plea bargain to Reckless Driving or Impaired Driving (OWVI). Which is better?

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OWVI v. Reckless Driving

Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is either driving with a bodily alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more or if a person is operating a vehicle when their ability to drive is substantially impaired due to the consumption of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs. The prosecution often offers Operating While Visibly Impaired as a plea bargain. But what happens if they offer Reckless Driving and Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI)? It might be hard to know which option is the best choice.

OWVI (Impaired Driving) and Reckless Driving are misdemeanors and appear on a person’s public criminal history. These offenses are punishable by 93 days and 90 days, respectively. The key differences between OWVI and Reckless Driving are as follows:

OWVI (Impaired Driving)

  • Misdemeanor
  • Jail up to 93 days
  • Probation for up to 2 years
  • Fines up to $300
  • 90 days restricted driving
  • Up to 360 hours of community service
  • 4 points on your driving record
  • 3-year CPL suspension

Reckless Driving

  • Misdemeanor
  • Jail up to 90 days
  • Probation up to 2 years
  • Fine up to $500
  • 90 days HARD suspension
  • Community service as directed
  • 6 points on your driving record
  • 8-year CPL suspension

Likelihood of Jail for OWVI v. Reckless Driving

Unless extenuating circumstances apply, like an accident, a high BAC, or combative interactions with the police, jail is rarely imposed for a first offense of Impaired Driving. Similarly, few judges impose jail for a Reckless Driving conviction. On a statewide basis, jail is imposed more frequently on OWVI cases than Reckless Driving convictions.

Probation Differences

Although probation is ordered routinely for Reckless Driving, it is virtually always imposed for Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI). Additionally, the terms and conditions of probation for OWVI will probably be more significant for an alcohol or drug-related driving conviction, such as OWVI. Your OWI defense attorney will have to look closely at your case and consider the biases of the judge assigned to your case to give you a reliable prediction of the potential probation conditions. For example, a lenient judge might agree to impose a fine and no probation or jail for Reckless Driving. On the other hand, a harsh judge will impose the same sentence with either conviction. An experienced lawyer will know how to advise you based on the particulars of your case.

Driver’s License Penalties and Points

The license penalties for Reckless Driving exceed those of OWVI. For Reckless Driving, the defendant gets 6 points and will lose their driver’s license for 90 days, with no restricted license. Someone convicted of Operating While Visibly Impaired receives 4 points and a restricted driver’s license for 90 days. A restricted license permits the defendant to drive to, from, and during employment or school, back and forth from the court, probation, treatment, etc.

Civil Penalties and Collateral Consequences

A person convicted of either Impaired Driving or Reckless Driving will lose their CPL; however, it takes much longer to reacquire the right with a Reckless Driving Conviction (8 years v. 3 years). Although most employers do not inquire about misdemeanor convictions, a diligent potential employer might discover your misdemeanor record. Neither conviction is a bar to most jobs; however, an employer might be more reluctant to hire someone with an alcohol or drug-related driving conviction. Also, a professionally licensed person, such as a doctor or nurse, might have a licensure issue with an OWVI conviction, but no issue with a reckless driving offense.

The BIG Difference Between Impaired or Drunk Driving and Reckless Driving

Reckless Driving and a first-offense alcohol-related offense, such as OWI or OWVI, can be expunged as part of the Clean Slate Legislation. But the standards and time frames are far different. You can apply to expunge or move to set aside a reckless driving conviction after three (3) years from the date of the plea. You must wait five (5) years after sentencing for an OWI. In either case, the person moving to set aside the conviction must demonstrate that they’ve been rehabilitated. For the alcohol-related driving conviction, the movant must also prove that any alcohol or drug problems have been sufficiently treated and addressed.

A reckless driving conviction is also subject to automatic expungement after seven (7) years, with some exceptions. An OWI or OWVI conviction will never automatically expunge or drop from someone’s criminal history. It is best to consult with a criminal defense attorney familiar with expungements to understand any options available to you better.


Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and Operating While Visibly Impaired are 93-day misdemeanors. The crucial difference is that OWI carries more severe license sanctions (30 days hard suspension followed by 150 days of restricted driving). There are minor differences relative to points and fines.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Reckless v. Impaired

What is the difference between a DUI and Reckless Driving?

DUI, OWI, Operating While Visibly Impaired, and Reckless Driving have similar criminal penalties. Reckless Driving carries a more severe license sanction (suspension of license, instead of restricted license). Impaired Driving carries more significant collateral consequences, such as an impact on professional licenses and immigration consequences. Also, a prosecutor can use an OWVI conviction to increase the severity of a subsequent OWI charge.

Is Reckless Driving a misdemeanor in Michigan?

In Michigan, Reckless Driving is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and two (2) years of probation.

What is an OWVI charge in Michigan?

OWVI, or Operating While Visibly Impaired, is a misdemeanor offense occurring when a driver consumes alcohol or another intoxicating substance and their ability to operate a motor vehicle is visibly impaired (affected by the intoxication).

Is OWVI a misdemeanor in Michigan?

OWVI is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 93 days in jail and two (2) years of probation.

How long does OWVI stay on record in Michigan?

An OWVI first offense stays on a person’s record for life unless they seek and a judge grants an expungement. A second or subsequent offense is permanent, and a judge cannot set it aside.

Can I get an OWVI expunged in Michigan?

A first alcohol or drug-related driving conviction, such as OWVI or OWI, is subject to expungement if the defendant qualifies. The person must have only one prior OWI conviction (or Impaired Driving or any similar offense), wait a minimum of five years after any probationary term has ended, no one was injured or killed in the offense, adequate measures must have been taken to rehabilitate, and setting aside the conviction must be in the public welfare. Reckless driving is also eligible for expungement.

A “first violation OWI” includes the following offenses:

  • OWI
  • Operating with a Combination of Alcohol and Drugs
  • OWI High BAC (“Superdrunk”)
  • Allowing an Intoxicated Person to Operate
  • OWVI (“Visibly Impaired”)
  • Minor with any BAC (“Zero Tolerance”)
  • Operating with the Presence of a Controlled Substance conviction.

The following first-offense DUI violations cannot be expunged:

  • OWI/OWVI/Combo Causing Serious Impairment of a Bodily Function,
  • OWI/OWVI/Combo Causing Death
  • OWI w/Child under 16-Years (“Child Endangerment”).
  • OWI Commercial Vehicle

What is Reckless Driving in Michigan?

The Michigan statute defines Reckless Driving as driving on a highway, road, or another place open to the general public (including parking lots) in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

What if Careless Driving is offered as an alternative to OWVI?

If Careless Driving is offered as a plea bargain, take it! Careless Driving is a 3-point civil infraction carrying a fine. It is not criminal and does not result in a criminal conviction. Careless Driving is a better alternative to OWI, Impaired Driving, and Reckless Driving.

Are the immigration consequences the same for OWI and reckless driving?

An OWI or any other alcohol or drug-related driving conviction can complicate someone’s application for citizenship or lawful status in the United States. Reckless driving is unlikely to have any immigration consequences.

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Aggressive and Effective Michigan Drunk Driving Defense

When you face OWI, Impaired Driving, or other drunken driving charges, the potential consequences and navigating the court system can be daunting. With a strong defense, getting an OWI reduced to OWVI, Reckless Driving, and maybe Careless Driving might be possible. Few lawyers, even those with experience, have the skill and savvy to mount a robust, credible defense. The Defense Team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has decades of experience successfully defending OWI, OWVI, and related offenses in courts throughout Michigan. We’ve achieved extraordinary success utilizing a unique team approach, including several lawyers’ collaborative efforts, all working together to build a successful defense strategy. Call us for a free consultation if you want the best possible defense. We will find a way to help you!

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

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