Drivers in North Carolina may get confused over the difference between reckless driving and aggressive driving. Both are criminal offenses that involve intentionally operating a motor vehicle without regard for the safety of others, and both can incur misdemeanor charges. Because the names sound similar, some people may think that the two charges are interchangeable, but this is not true.

Though related, reckless driving and aggressive driving are not exactly the same thing. Under North Carolina law, aggressive driving is a more serious charge that includes reckless driving as a lesser-included offense.

Lesser-included offense of reckless driving

According to Cornell Law School, a lesser-included offense involves some elements of a greater crime without which the greater offense cannot take place. For example, the law describes reckless driving as operating a motor vehicle heedlessly or carelessly without regard for others’ safety. These elements must be present to prosecute a charge of aggressive driving.

It is possible for reckless driving charges to exist without accompanying aggressive driving charges. However, the reverse is not possible because the latter charge necessarily includes elements of the former.

Additional requirements for aggressive driving

Because a charge of aggressive driving involves reckless driving as a lesser-included offense, additional elements must be present to make the distinction between the two. There are additional violations that a charge of aggressive driving can involve:

  • Following too closely
  • Failing to yield
  • Passing illegally
  • Running a stop sign
  • Running a red light

Two or more of these violations must be present to prosecute a charge of aggressive driving. A valid charge of aggressive driving involving the requisite violations is a Class 1 misdemeanor, while reckless driving is a Class 2 misdemeanor.