John C. Youngman, John C. Gault, and Candor, Youngman & Gibson, Williamsport, for appellant.
Daniel F. Knittle, Asst. Dist. Atty., and Markin R. Knight, Dist. Atty., Williamsport, for appellee.
Before Rhodes, P. J., and Hirt, Reno, Dithrich, Ross, Arnold and Gunther, JJ.
[ 172 Pa. Super. Page 66]
Defendant was operating a trailer-truck on West Third Street in the City of Williamsport. A collision with a fire truck occurred when he drove his vehicle into the intersection of West Third and Campbell Streets. The lower court found the defendant guilty of reckless driving in violation of Art. X, § 1001(a) of the Motor Vehicle Code, as amended by the Act of August 24, 1951, P.L. 1368, 75 P.S. § 481. In the present appeal from the judgment of sentence by the court it is contended that the testimony is insufficient to convict the defendant of the charge. The question involves a construction of the above section of the Act in the light of the prior legislation which it supplanted.
Section 1001(a) of the 1951 amendment provides: 'Reckless driving is unlawful, and, for the purpose of this act, is construed to include the following: (a) Any person who drives any vehicle or street car or trackless trolley omnibus upon a highway carelessly disregarding the rights or safety of others, or in a manner so as to endanger any person or property'. In § 1001(a) of the prior amendment of June 29, 1937, P.L. 2329, repealed by the 1951 Act, reckless driving was stated to include the following: 'Any person who drives any vehicle or street car or trackless trolley omnibus
[ 172 Pa. Super. Page 67]
upon a highway carelessly and wilfully, or wantonly disregarding the rights or safety of others, or in a manner so as to endanger any person or property'.
The 1951 amendment redefined reckless driving by eliminating wilful or wanton conduct in the operation of a vehicle as an essential element of the offense. But in so doing it is clear that the legislature did not intend to increase a driver's responsibility for ordinary negligence by reclassifying mere negligence as reckless driving. What was contemplated in the language 'carelessly disregarding the rights or safety of others, or in a manner so as to endanger any person or property' was to set the minimal requisite of the statutory offense of reckless driving at less than wilful and wanton conduct on the one hand and, on the other, something more than ordinary negligence or the mere absence of care under the circumstances.
There is an analogy between the quality of negligence necessary to characterize reckless driving as culpable negligence under the 1951 Act, and the degree of negligence amounting to unlawful conduct which will support a conviction of involuntary manslaughter. Commonwealth v. Aurick, 342 Pa. 282, 288, 19 A.2d 920, 923, clearly distinguished culpable negligence on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, from excusable conduct, as these excerpts from the opinion in that case will demonstrate: 'The unlawfulness of the act in connection with which the killing occurs is the element which distinguishes involuntary manslaughter from a killing excusable as by accident or misfortune. * * * While the basis of a charge of involuntary manslaughter is the causing of another's death by one's negligent act * * * the proof of negligence that will support that charge must be something more than the slight negligence which will support a civil action for damages based on negligence * * *. The facts must be
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such that the fatal consequence of the negligent act could reasonably have been foreseen. It must appear that the death was not the result of misadventure, but the natural and probable result of a reckless or culpably negligent act'. And further: 'On the other hand, the proof of negligence to support a charge of involuntary manslaughter need not be proof of acts * * * exhibiting reckless, wicked and wanton disregard of the safety of others. Negligence of that high degree will support a charge of murder in the second degree, as this court recognized in Commonwealth v. McLaughlin, 293 Pa. 218, 142 A. 213.' (Emphasis indicated in the above opinion has been omitted.) Cf. ...