Laws regarding careless driving charges vary from state to state—including the name of the offense and its definition. This offense generally requires that the government (prosecution) prove the driver was carelessly or negligently disregarding the rules of the road or failing to operate the motor vehicle in a careful and prudent manner. A driver who fails to stop at a stop sign or to signal a turn or lane change or is texting while driving, for example, may be cited for careless driving.
Careless driving is generally a less serious infraction or offense than reckless driving, and which offense a driver is cited for may be determined by the degree of the violation and whether it caused an accident.
As with many traffic violations, the officer issuing the citation and the prosecutor have significant discretion in determining whether there was a violation of a traffic law and whether the violation constitutes a certain offense, as defined by the state legislature in the traffic code or in a municipal ordinance.
This discretion to issue a ticket or citation and prosecute the charge against the driver is balanced by the discretion of the jury or judge in determining whether the prosecution met its burden of proof sufficient to convict the driver (for a criminal offense) or find the driver responsible (for a civil infraction, violation, or offense).