What is negligent operation?

Negligent Operation of a motor vehicle is a crime in Massachusetts, punishable under M.G.L. c. 90, § 24(2)(a). A person acts negligently when they fail to use due care, or they act in a way that a reasonable person would not.

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90, Section 24(2)(a) makes it illegal to drive in a way that endangers the public—even if you did not intend to do so. Driving negligently means driving in a way that a reasonable person would not.

This post on “operating negligently so as to endanger” will answer some frequently asked questions.

What is negligent operation?

A defendant can be charged with “operating negligently so as to endanger”if he or she is operating a motor vehicle negligently in a manner that might endanger the public.

Massachusetts law officially states that:

“Whoever, upon any way or in any place which the public has a right of access or [in] any place to which members of the public have access as invitees or licensees, operates a motor vehicle…negligently so that the lives or safety of the public might be endangered…shall be punished…”

What does the government have to show to prove someone guilty of negligent operation?

In order to prove a defendant guilty of operating negligently so as to endanger, the Commonwealth must prove ALL three of the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. That the defendant operated a motor vehicle

2. That the defendant operated or did so either:

  • On a way
  • In a place where the public has a right of access
  • In a place where members of the public have access as invitees or licensees

3. That the defendant did so in a negligent manner so that the lives or safety of the public might have been endangered

Can I be guilty of negligent operation if there was no accident?

A person can be found to have driven negligently even if no accident resulted, and even if there was no one else actually on the road to be put in danger.

A person is legally considered negligent if he or she drives in a way that has the potential to cause an accident or to endanger anyone who might be on the road.

What does it mean to act negligently?

A person acts negligently when he or she fails to use due care. This means the person acts in a way that a reasonable person would not act.

A person can act negligently either by doing something a reasonably prudent person would NOT do under those circumstances, or by failing to do something that a reasonably prudent person would do.

In the case of “operating negligently so as to endanger”, the defendant acted negligently if he or she drove in a way that a reasonable person would not have, and by doing so created an unnecessary danger to other people —a danger that he or she could have avoided by driving more carefully.

Does an accident mean I'm guilty of negligent operation?

The fact that an accident occurred is NOT by itself evidence that the defendant was negligent. Jurors are required to examine all the evidence about how the accident happened in order to determine whether any negligence was involved, and if so, whether that negligence was the defendant’s.

Remember that an alleged victim of a defendant charged with operating so as to endanger may be permitted to testify as to the physical injuries sustained in the accident, since the nature and extent of such injuries are relevant to the issue of negligence.

What will the court consider when it determines if I operated negligently?

In determining whether the defendant drove negligently in a manner that might have endangered the public, jurors will likely take into account ALL of the following facts of the situation:

  • The defendant’s rate of speed and manner of operation
  • The defendant’s physical condition and how well he or she could see and control his or her vehicle
  • The condition of the defendant’s vehicle
  • What kind of road the vehicle was driven on and who else was on the road
  • What time of day it was
  • The weather and the condition of the road that day
  • What any other vehicles or pedestrians were doing
  • Any other factors that might be relevant

Note that all of these individual factors are not negligence per se but can be considered with other evidence in determining negligence.

Also note that regardless of the amount of other vehicles or pedestrians on the road in question, reckless operation can occur, even on a deserted street.

What if I didn't intend on driving negligently?

If jurors find that the defendant acted negligently, the defendant’s intent is NOT relevant in determining if the defendant operated negligently so as to endanger.

Note that jurors are not required to find that the defendant intended to act negligently or unlawfully. Public safety requires each driver to determine and adhere to an objective standard of reasonable behavior meaning the defendant’s subjective intent is irrelevant. The real issue is whether or not the person drove as a reasonable person would have under the existing circumstances.

What if the other driver was driving negligently or was drunk?

It is the job of jurors to determine what role a driver’s negligence or intoxication played in a case in which they have concluded the other drive was indeed negligent or intoxicated.

Remember that the other driver’s driving is irrelevant to the defendant’s guilt or innocence on the charge of operating negligently so as to endanger unless the other driver was the sole cause of what happened.

The defendant is not excused merely because the other driver was negligent or intoxicated, if the defendant’s negligence was the direct cause of what happened, and the other driver’s negligence or intoxication merely aggravated the result.

On the other hand, if the other driver’s negligence or intoxication was the sole cause of what happened and the defendant was not negligent, then the defendant must be found not guilty.

Note that a judge must admit evidence of another driver’s negligence if it would warrant a finding that the sole negligence was that of the other driver.

What if I was driving negligently because of an emergency?

In determining whether the defendant’s conduct was negligent, jurors may consider whether there was a sudden emergency that required a rapid decision. If there was, jurors must determine whether the defendant acted as a reasonable person would under similar emergency circumstances.



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