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You look down at the sports section for one second and Bang! You just rear-ended the Bentley in front of you! Or, you peer down momentarily to check your phone (never texting) and suddenly you hear the sound of cars piling up behind you. But, what exactly is Negligent Operation?
According to the Negligent Operation statute, RSA 265:79-B, whoever drives a vehicle negligently upon a "way" or to endanger any person or property shall be guilt of a violation and shall be fined not less than $250 for a first offense and not less than $500 for a second offense.
First, the State needs to prove that you operated on a "way." What constitutes a "way" is not always self-explanatory. Certainly Interstate 293 is a "way." However, some back roads that are privately maintained and posted as private do not necessarily constitute a "way."
Were you Criminally Negligent?
And what exactly does it mean to drive negligently for the purpose of the Negligent Driving statute? Hundreds of people are involved in accidents every day. Usually one party (or both) was somehow negligent. Why, then, are there not hundreds of negligent operation complaints issued daily, to correspond with every accident?
Well, the officer must think you were somehow criminally negligent – a completely subjective determination. Criminal Negligence and Civil Negligence are two separate animals. The standard for negligence in the civil context is lower than the standards for negligence in criminal cases. Proof of negligence in a criminal case requires evidence that the risk was more than an ordinary risk. Criminal Negligence "requires proof that the risk was substantial and unjustifiable and that the defendant's failure to become aware of the risk was a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would have acted in that same situation."
A Negligent Operation charge is a serious matter. In addition to mandatory fines, a Negligent Driving conviction is a "major" motor vehicle infraction towards becoming certified Habitual Offender.
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