By Zachary J. Thornley

Everyone speeds from time to time. Whether on purpose or by accident, it happens. Often speeding is a minor civil violation. While a civil violation may cost you your hard-earned money, it is not considered criminal and does not go onto your permanent criminal record. Over the years I have had clients ask, “Will this stay on my record?” The answer is, if it’s criminal, and you’re found guilty, it will follow you for the rest of your life with few exceptions. Although most of the time speeding is civil in nature, Arizona can charge you as a criminal for speeding.

Here are five ways in which you can become a criminal just by speeding.
1. Speeding more than 20 miles per hour over the posted speed limit on freeways, residential districts, and business districts can get you a criminal speeding ticket.

2. Exceeding 35 miles per hour while approaching and going through a school zone. I think everyone frowns upon speeding past children, and Arizona can charge you as a criminal for doing so.

3. If you are aggressively driving in such a manner that you violate multiple civil traffic laws, it is possible for you to be charged criminally with aggressive driving. An aggressive driving charge includes speeding and a combination of two of the following: a) Failure to obey traffic control devices, b) Overtaking and passing another vehicle on the right side of shoulder of a road or highway, c) unsafe lane change, d) following another vehicle too closely, or e) failure to yield the right-of-way. In addition to the criminal charge, you could lose your privilege to drive for 30 days.

4. Driving recklessly is slightly more vague but easy enough to figure out. If you drive in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property, then you could get charged with a class 2 misdemeanor. Reckless refers to a mental state of mind. Arizona defines this as being aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk and making the decision to ignore the risk.

One example I have seen prosecutors pursue before would be using drugs and then driving. But wait a second – wouldn’t that be Driving Under the Influence (DUI)? Yes, but you can also be simultaneously charged with reckless driving because the state of Arizona recognizes these as two distinct and separate crimes. Reckless driving can also be combined with our next way to become a criminal while driving.

5. Racing. Humans love competitions involving speed, whether it is horses and chariots, NASCAR, or just a souped-up Mustang and everything in-between. Personally, I love watching supercross and really any dirt bike related races. All sanctioned races take place on a closed course. A closed course is closed to the public and the risk of racing stays with those who are racing. When a person decides to race down a public roadway or highway it is a criminal act. Racing doesn’t necessarily equal speeding. The statute states that if you participate in any manner, you can be charged. This means that even if you spin your tires at a stop light in anticipation of racing the person next to you it could result in a criminal charge.

Any time someone faces the implications of a criminal charge it is important to consult with an experienced attorney.

Zachary J. Thornley is a trial attorney licensed in the state of Arizona. To learn more, visit The information contained herein does not constitute legal advice and in no way creates an attorney-client relationship. Contact an experienced attorney in your area for advice on your specific situation.