U.S. 14 CFR Part 91.13 Careless or reckless operation states:

(a) Aircraft operations for the purpose of air navigation. No person may operate an aircraft in a careless OR reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.(emphasis is mine)

Can a person be operating contrary to this regulation in both a "Careless" AND "Reckless" manner during the same operation or are these two separate offenses under single FAR (91.13 [a])?

This is an interesting article that discusses Is “Careless” Different From “Reckless” Under FAR 91.13(a)?

My question is certainly not, in general, a novel one. Maybe there is a knowledgeable person in the ASE community that can shed some light on this question.

After reading the comments and responses below (as of 5/11/2021), I have added some editorial information to my question: (probably far more than you want to read, but interesting nevertheless)

This link from SMU (Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX), entitled A Legal Analysis of 14 C.F.R. Part 91 See and Avoid Rules to Identify Provisions Focused on Pilot Responsibilities to See and Avoid in the National Airspace System (2015) provides some historical context regarding the evolution of FAR 91.13 (and its predecessor regulations).

It is a long read, but importantly, beginning on page 71 is a background and analysis of 91.13. Additionally, on page 81 para. 4, entitled "Reckless Standards," is an interesting discussion closely on point with my question (above).

Also, on page 84, para. c., discussing a case regarding a violation of FAR 91.155, "The administrative law judge (ALJ) and the Board uniformly characterized this..." (the actions of the pilot involved) "...as "intentional, reckless and deliberate behavior and prohibited the application of the Aviation Safety Reporting Program." (emphasis is mine)

It should be noted that in AC 00-46 (Aviation Safety Reporting Program - filing of a NASA Aviation Safety Report) no civil penalty or certificate suspension is imposed if the criteria for inclusion in the program are satisfied. However, one of the eligibility requirements for receiving the benefits of filing a NASA form is that the "violation was inadvertent and not deliberate." (see para. 12.3.1 in AC 00-46)

So, in the case mentioned in the SMU analysis (above) the ALJ and NTSB found the behavior of the pilot "reckless" and "deliberate" and, apparently on this basis denied benefits otherwise available when filing a NASA form under the Aviation Safety Reporting Program.

With all of the great responses and commentary taken together, there seems to be convincing information that 91.13 specifically provides for, but does not mandate, a distinction to be made between a "careless" operation and a "reckless" operation.

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    $\begingroup$ It may sound a bit obvious, but when it comes to legal details nuances can be important. If there's a separate definition of careless and reckless then an action could be one and/or the other. I think the downvotes are unfair. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall - I wrote this question because over the years I have heard many different opinions as to what the difference is between "careless" and "reckless" in the context of 91.13. I don't believe the terms are synonymous nor written into 91.13 arbitrarily (there is an "OR" between the words). I believe an operation can be "careless" but not rise to "reckless" in nature (and visa-versa). Perhaps "careless" is "should have known better" and "reckless" is "knew better but did it anyway." Smart people on ASE and I thought perhaps someone might have some definitive explanation on the subject. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall - Also, an interesting article that discusses this specific issue is here: shackelford.law/news-aviation/… .Perhaps a harsher penalty may be imposed for a "reckless" operation versus a "careless" operation. Or perhaps there might be a requirement for a different standard of proof depending on whether the operation is ultimately deemed careless or reckless. $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because this question would be better suited for law.stackexchange.com as the question is about exact meanings of the words that depends on their use in other parts of the federal laws and regulations of the USA. Laws tend to use words consistently, but the defining occurrence might be basically anywhere in the legal corpus. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 19:44
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    $\begingroup$ Upon further thought, I think it is a good question, and will vote to re-open if closed. See for example aviation.stackexchange.com/a/87090/34686 -- these points are far from obvious. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2021 at 23:16

2 Answers 2


From a legal perspective, 'careless' and 'reckless' sound similar but are quite different.

Careless is the antonym of prudent and careful. There is usually no attempt to analyze the state of mind of the offender (other than in defense to reduce a more serious charge to the less serious careless.)

An example might be failing to lower the landing gear because the pilot forgot -- this would very likely fit the definition of careless. Careless is usually not a criminal violation in American legal frameworks (such as careless driving) but may be when combined with a statute violation.

Careless is also used as a description of the violation of the standard of care that is a reasonable expectation of care from those acting in a professional capacity or while subjecting others to danger or under a common carrier standard of care. The FAA use of careless is purposely ambiguous to allow any fitting definition to be used.

Reckless involves the wanton or willful disregard of other people's safety and/or property. It is usually a crime. Flying under a bridge or buzzing your buddies house would likely fit the definition of reckless. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that state of mind of the defendant. HERE is a legal definition. HERE is the FAA's regulatory definition of what the FAA/ NTSB consider reckless.

Negligent would usually be considered between Careless and Reckless in severity and is usually the lowest level of criminal culpability. (Recall that FBI Director Comey's conclusion about Secretary Clinton's private email server rested on his definition of gross negligence vs extremely careless. The first is a crime with classified material; the second is not.)

The FAA likely uses Careless or Reckless in §91.13 to lower the bar that neither is tolerated and the difference between them will be dealt with in administration and penalties. It is a broad catch-all that includes negligent. If you go to the NTSB database of infractions, 91.13 is the most common. It is usually an add-on or derivative charge allowing for emergency revocation of a pilot's certificate. The applicable difference between the ALJ applying careless as opposed to reckless is the degree of penalty (license suspension vs license revocation) and, as you pointed out, whether the ARSP exemption to penalties apply.

Some examples of 91.13(a)claims; some of which parse through the difference of careless and reckless:

  1. A pilot forgot to remove the nose-wheel chock of a propeller aircraft. He asked his wife to remove the chock from the aircraft with the engine running. She was fatally injured. CASE

  2. Pilot wrongly declared a minimum fuel condition to ATC. CASE

  3. 'Buzzing' twice over a nude beach with a pilot on the beach as a witness. CASE

  4. Misunderstood ATC clearance causes breach of separation. CASE

  5. Helicopter pilot having sex with a passenger recorded on video. Martz case and ARTICLE

The Martz decision combined with the FAA definition of reckless can be derived into a standard of conduct that will likely ground you.

Under Martz, and previous cases, the standard of a finding careless or reckless is:

Regardless, as we have previously held, the Administrator need not establish actual danger, a flight suddenly in peril, in order to prevail in proving that a respondent has operated an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner. In Administrator v. Lorenz, NTSB Order No. EA-5205 at 2-3 (2006), we recognized that a showing of potential endangerment is sufficient to prove a violation of § 91.13(a), and cited several cases holding that proof of actual danger is unnecessary for a § 91.13(a) charge.

And the relevant FAA standard is:

The inspector can infer a deliberate and willful disregard of the regulations or safety standards from the circumstances surrounding a violation. [omited text] While there is no regulatory definition of the term, “reckless,” it has been defined in cases decided by the NTSB. A reckless operation results from the operation of an aircraft conducted with a deliberate or willful disregard of the regulations or accepted standards of safety so as to endanger the life or property of another either potentially or actually. Accordingly, any such reckless behavior violates § 91.13.

So potential of danger (not actual danger) that with a state of mind that can be inferred from the circumstances (not actual mens rea) is the applicable standard under § 91.13.

An excellent history of the development of 91.13 can be found HERE starting on p. 71 of the PDF.

Also keep in mind that the FAA is only dealing with administrative penalties; if you do something considered reckless there may be additional federal, local, or international criminal penalties as well as civil liability.

So to answer your question of Can a person be operating an aircraft in a “Careless” and “Reckless” manner at the same time? Or are these two different standards?

Since the spread between careless on the one hand and reckless on the other is large, one infraction is unlikely to be both simultaneously1. It is really more of an ambiguous spectrum of stupid and careless on the one extreme, to reckless and perhaps homicidal on the other extreme, with everything-we-don't-like in between. The difference between the two is largely the degree of the offense and the inferred state of mind of the offender.2

1 It very possible that an initial offense would be considered careless (such as forgetting to remove the nose chock) but the pilot's reaction is then judged to be reckless (sending his wife to remove the chock with a running engine resulting in her death.)

2Administrative legal procedures, such as FAA or NTSB enforcement actions, have significantly reduced burden of proof compared to criminal actions. See the FAA standard that allows intent to be inferred from the circumstances of the violation. See FSIM § 8900.1 CHG 422 14-3-5-1

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    $\begingroup$ Just when you thought you had "heard it all" -- "respondent’s contention that the law judge erred in allowing Inspector Goldfluss to testify that respondent would have been distracted or could have incorrectly manipulated the controls of the aircraft in the event of a “biological reaction” to the activities during the flight is unpersuasive" -- !! $\endgroup$ Commented May 11, 2021 at 0:43
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    $\begingroup$ The first link in your answer is labeled "layman's legal definition" of "careless", while the second link in your answer is labeled "layman's definition" of "reckless". Both go to the same source, which is a dictionary. The sentences could be improved to be 1) be more parallel in construction, and 2) (possibly?) to avoid implying that this dictionary definition is legally significant? (Not so sure about that last bit.) I.e., just change both to read "dictionary definition of ..." $\endgroup$ Commented May 11, 2021 at 2:24
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    $\begingroup$ "Careless driving" is certainly a criminal violation in the UK (and some European countries as well). It is a catch-all offence to cover actions which don't violate a specific law. "Reckless driving" is the same general principle, but more serious. $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ @user1937198: The beauty of the way 91.13 is written is that it does not matter; the Administrator charges that offense and they then consider where you fall on the spectrum to decide your punishment. The difference is mens rea of your actions; whether you knowing did what you did. $\endgroup$
    – dawg
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ I accepted your answer..thanks for your research. Your answer and analysis were good and align very closely to my thinking after considering all of the commentary and research. However, I think the wording of 91.13 "careless OR reckless" as opposed to "careless AND reckless" purposely defined two different standards of behavior and the ultimate decision and any action against a pilot would likely be specifically shaped based on either a mere careless action OR a deliberate disregard for the regs/safety [reckless] (not both or somewhere in between). $\endgroup$
    – user22445
    Commented May 13, 2021 at 4:47

In aviation law and elsewhere, these terms have clearly defined meanings that make them distinct.

Here is an excerpt from a law firm analysis on the distinction as it pertains to motor vehicles:

The biggest difference between the terms “careless” and “reckless” comes from the motive behind the hazardous, negligent or unsafe driving. Someone driving recklessly has the intent to harm person or property, whereas the careless driver does not.

According to this other analysis, there is a huge difference in severity:

The main difference between reckless driving and careless driving, is that one is a criminal offense while the other is a civil citation. Reckless driving is a criminal offense because it involves the willful disregard for the safety of persons or property. Careless driving, however, is a civil traffic citation.

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    $\begingroup$ When you look at Arizona speeding laws, the distinction gets blurry. The slower of 85 mph or 20 mph over the posted limit is the same Class III misdemeanor as reckless driving. $\endgroup$
    – dawg
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 12:26
  • $\begingroup$ "one is a criminal offense while the other is a civil citation. " Don't assume that the rules in your jurisdiction apply to the rest of the world. (The statement is false in the UK, for example). $\endgroup$
    – alephzero
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ @alephzero: With a discussion of US regulatory law it is not a stretch to refer to parallel US motor vehicle law or maritime law. The FAA concept of 'careless or reckless' are not universal either around the world. $\endgroup$
    – dawg
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ "Someone driving recklessly has the intent to harm person or property"-- interesting. I'd say that implication of intent doesn't hold in common speech-- I'd say that "reckless" pretty much means "extremely careless, so much so that it should be obvious to anyone including the committer of the act that accepted rules of prudent conduct are being violated, and there is great potential for harm"-- or something like that. Along the same lines, I don't see a "willful disregard" as being the same as an intent to commit harm-- $\endgroup$ Commented May 11, 2021 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ @quietflyer: Read the links I have on mens rea and careless vs negligent vs reckless. Years of legal scholarship and many court precedences are in the debate of how they are different. $\endgroup$
    – dawg
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 17:52

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