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?

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney Team

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 government offers Operating While Visibly Impaired as a plea bargain in many cases. 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.

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

Probation Differences

Although probation is ordered routinely with 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 gets 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 person with a professional license, such as a doctor or nurse, might only have a licensure issue with an OWVI conviction.


Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) and Operating While Visibly Impaired are 93-day misdemeanors. The crucial difference between them 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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Reckless v. Impaired

What is the difference between a DUI and Reckless Driving?

DUI or 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, an OWVI conviction can be used 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 2 years of probation.

What is an OWVI charge in Michigan?

OWVI or Operating While Visibly Impaired is a misdemeanor offense that occurs 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 2 years of probation.

How long does OWVI stay on record in Michigan?

An OWVI stays on a person’s record for life unless they seek and are granted an expungement.

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.

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.

Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

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, it might be possible to get an OWI reduced to OWVI or Reckless Driving, and maybe Careless Driving. Few lawyers, even those who claim to have extensive 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, which includes the collaborative efforts of several lawyers, all working together to build a successful defense strategy. If you want to get the best possible defense, call us for a free consultation. We will find a way to help you!

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

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