Many people charged with reckless driving in Virginia are surprised to find out that a law enforcement officer can base a driver’s speed by following the target vehicle in their law enforcement vehicle.  This is called a pace. Usually, a driver’s reckless driving summons (that yellow sheet of paper) will state how the officer determined the driver’s speed, whether it be through the use of radar or lidar, or by conducting a pace. Pacing is particularly prone to error since the officer conducting the test needs to follow proper procedure. A law enforcement officer is often multitasking when he is conducting a pace. He is watching moving traffic, driving his vehicle, glancing at his odometer, and eyeing his speedometer. Here are the issues I look for when defending a reckless driving by speed case when a pace was used to determine a driver’s speed.

  • Did the officer follow the driver for the proper distance?  Admittedly, the officer is not required to follow you far, but the longer he follows you, the more likely he is able to assess your speed.
  • Did the distance between the two vehicles decrease while the officer was conducting his pace?  If the gap closed, either the target driver slowed down or the law enforcement officer sped up.
  • Did the officer have his vehicle’s speedometer calibrated within the time required by the code?  I wrote about Virginia code requirements for an officer’s equipment calibrations here.
  • Was there traffic between the two vehicles? A pace is most accurate when a law enforcement officer is right behind the target vehicle. Otherwise it is hard to judge the distance between the law enforcement vehicle and the target vehicle.
  • Did the officer maintain the same speed during the pace? Is the speed alleged the average or maximum speed? Maybe a driver used cruise control and his testimony would contradict an officer’s testimony or perhaps a driver was moving out of the officer’s way and the officer cited him for the highest speed at that very moment.

A particularly common scenario occurs at night or when there is an unmarked police car and a driver notices someone following closely on their tail.  The driver doesn’t realize a law enforcement officer is following them, but notices that a car seems to be tailgating them.  As the driver speeds up his or her vehicle to get out of the way, the officer notes the highest speed the driver was travelling, just before the law enforcement officer activates his sirens. If this scenario occurred, it is important that a traffic defense attorney know about it, so that it can be explained to the court.

If there is enough doubt that a pace was done properly, a judge may dismiss a reckless driving charge. But even if this is not the case, a judge may find mitigating evidence helpful and be able to give you a better disposition than a reckless driving conviction. I offer free consultations in traffic matters.

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