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What Does Driving With 'Due Care' Mean?

Most state driving laws include language that addresses variable driving conditions and your responsibility to operate your vehicle accordingly. These are often referred to as “due care" laws. Although many states' traffic statutes use this term, the legal expectations for drivers vary from state to state.

If you drive regularly, you will likely encounter different conditions and hazards. Weather, traffic, and road conditions can vary greatly. These factors require you to change your driving and act defensively to keep yourself and others safe.

What Is Due Care?

Because driving conditions can change quickly and drastically, drivers are legally responsible for considering what hazards may be present.

Sometimes, the legal terms due care and careless driving are used interchangeably. Like driving without due care, careless driving involves a lack of attention or failure to use reasonable care. The specific terminology and definitions vary by state. Conversely, reckless driving is a more serious misdemeanor offense with more severe penalties.

Each state sets its own laws defining what it considers due care, and some states' definitions are broader than others. For example, Minnesota traffic law says drivers must regulate their speed enough to prevent car accidents. In contrast, Tennessee state code specifies acceptable behavior in much greater detail, dictating how drivers must behave around "any child or any confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway."

Some other examples of due care laws across the nation include:

  • Drivers must use due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian, and warn by honking the vehicle horn if necessary (Colorado)
  • Drivers must exercise due care to avoid collisions with pedestrians, cyclists, bicyclists, or any other device propelled by human power (Illinois)
  • A driver of a motor vehicle must decrease speed when approaching an intersection, curve, hill crest, narrow or winding highway, or any other special hazard (Nevada)
  • Drivers may only drive at a speed that doesn't endanger the property, life, or limb of any person (Missouri)

Tips for Drivers

At their core, due care laws aim to prevent accidents and mitigate hazards. There are some general lessons all drivers can take away from the various state regulations:

  • Drive defensively and consider hazards before they arise
  • Adjust driving to the weather and road conditions
  • Always yield to emergency vehicles
  • Slow down in school zones, safety zones, and construction areas
  • Always obey traffic control devices and signals

Being a responsible, alert driver is the best way to ensure you follow due care rules.

Penalties for Driving Without Due Care

Penalties for driving without due care vary by jurisdiction, as traffic laws are regulated at the state level. Penalties for these offenses most often include:

A citation for driving without due care will also likely increase your auto insurance rates. These types of offenses are typically reported to insurance companies which in turn can increase your premium costs.

Penalties can be contingent on the severity of the offense, any resulting damage or injuries, and your driving record. Expect consequences for a second or third offense to be more severe than that of a first offense.

To know the specific penalties for driving without care, check your state's traffic laws.

Failure to Exercise Due Care Traffic Citations

The language around due care laws is often general enough that law enforcement officers have significant freedoms when ticketing drivers for traffic violations.

An officer may believe your driving is hazardous because of the conditions, even if that behavior is not explicitly illegal in that state, like talking on your phone while driving or traveling at certain speeds.

Most due care citations are moving violations. This type of infraction occurs when a vehicle is in motion. Some other common moving violations include running a red light, failure to yield to the right-of-way, and exceeding the posted speed limit.

Traffic Ticket? Get Legal Help

If a police officer has ticketed you for failure to use due care, you have legal options. If you suspect your ticket is unjustified, you may be able to contest the ticket. You can do this alone, but working with a traffic law attorney in your area can greatly increase your chances of getting the ticket dismissed.

An experienced attorney can review your state's due care laws and your citation to help you build a strong defense to clear your record of the charge.

If you are facing a more serious traffic charge, like driving under the influence (DUI) or hit and run, consider talking to a criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

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