Reckless Driving Defense
Virginia holds drivers to a high standard and is tough in its penalties.
In Virginia, a reckless driving offense is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor criminal charge. A reckless driving conviction is in the same category as a DUI conviction! Depending on the reason the officer charged you with reckless driving in Virginia, you may face jail time, a very high fine, and up to 6 months loss of your driver’s license. A Class 1 misdemeanor can carry a penalty of confinement in jail for up to twelve months and a fine of up to $2,500, either or both. A conviction of reckless driving in Virginia will give you 6 points if you have a Virginia license and stays on your record for 11 years. While a conviction may increase your insurance premiums, most of my clients are primarily concerned about avoiding a criminal misdemeanor conviction, which can negatively impact employment opportunities and stays with you for life. If you are wondering if you really need a lawyer, read this article.
You can get a reckless driving in a number of ways, for example: reckless driving by speed or for failure to maintain control of your vehicle, passing a stopped school bus, or for endangering people or property (the broad catch-all category). Here are the most common types:
Reckless By Speed
A reckless driving charge by speed can be received for driving in excess of 85 mph or driving 20 mph or more above the posted speed limit. In some parts of Virginia with speed limits of 70 mph, all you need is 16 mph over the speed limit to get a reckless driving charge! For reckless driving by speed charges and other speeding charges, it is important to review the calibration evidence the law enforcement officer brings to the court regarding your speed. If the officer paced you to determine your speed, there may be other defenses. It may also be a good idea to get your vehicle’s speedometer calibrated.
“A person is guilty of reckless driving who drives a motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth (i) at a speed of 20 miles per hour or more in excess of the applicable maximum speed limit or (ii) in excess of 85 miles per hour regardless of the applicable maximum speed limit.” – VA Code § 46.2-862
Reckless Driving for Endangering Life and Limb (Reckless Driving Generally)
There is also a catch-all category. The code is very broad and allows an officer to cite you for reckless driving if the officer thinks you are driving in a fashion that endangers life, limb, or property.
“Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.” – VA Code § 46.2-852
Reckless Driving for Failure to Maintain Control of a Vehicle or Improper Brakes
A reckless driving charge for failure to maintain control of a vehicle is covered under VA Code § 46.2-853. For example, swerving would fall under this category.
“A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives a vehicle which is not under proper control or which has inadequate or improperly adjusted brakes on any highway in the Commonwealth.” – VA Code § 46.2-853
Reckless Driving for Passing a School Bus
A reckless driving charge for passing a stopped school bus is covered under VA Code § 46.2-859. The code requires certain elements to be proved, such as the color of the bus and the lettering size on the bus. You are allowed to pass if you are on the opposite side of traffic and there is a median dividing traffic. I have written more about Reckless Driving for passing a School Bus here.
Reckless Driving for Driving Two Abreast in a Single Lane
“A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives any motor vehicle so as to be abreast of another vehicle in a lane designed for one vehicle, or drives any motor vehicle so as to travel abreast of any other vehicle traveling in a lane designed for one vehicle.” – Va Code § 46.2-857.
Read more about Reckless Driving for Driving Two Abreast in a Single Lane here.
Reckless Driving for Passing Two Cars Abreast
“A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who passes or attempts to pass two other vehicles abreast, moving in the same direction, except on highways having separate roadways of three or more lanes for each direction of travel, or on designated one-way streets or highways.” – VA Code § 46.2-856.
Reckless Driving for Passing a Stationary Emergency Vehicle With Flashing Lights
Effective July 1, 2019, Virginia Code § 46.2-861.1 increases the penalties for failing to move over for an emergency vehicle that is displaying flashing, blinking, or alternating red, blue or amber lights. The change in law makes the offense a reckless driving charge, a class 1 misdemeanor, when applied to most emergency vehicles, which means that penalties now include the possibility of jail time, a license suspension of up to 6 months (or more in certain situations of injury or death), and a fine of up to $2,500. The law requires proof of certain elements which you can read about here but the safe thing to do when you see an emergency vehicle with flashing lights is to move over one lane when passing or slow down if it is unsafe to switch lanes.
Reckless Driving For Racing
Racing in Virginia is a type of reckless driving offense, which is a class 1 misdemeanor. This “contest of speed” between individuals can be proven circumstantially. Like all types of reckless driving, a judge has discretion to give jail time of up to 12 months and a fine of up to $2,500 for racing. However, the penalty for racing in Virginia comes with a required license suspension of between 6 months and 2 years. Learn more about what constitutes racing here.
Reckless Driving for Failure to Yield
A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who fails to bring his vehicle to a stop immediately before entering a highway from a side road when there is traffic approaching on such highway within 500 feet of such point of entrance, unless (i) a “Yield Right-of-Way” sign is posted or (ii) where such sign is posted, fails, upon entering such highway, to yield the right-of-way to the driver of a vehicle approaching on such highway from either direction. – VA Code § 46.2-863
Learn more about reckless driving for failure to yield here.
Often times, in accident cases, I am able to challenge the evidence that the court considers because the officer was not an eyewitness to the accident. Case law does not permit a judge to infer guilt just because an accident occurred. If the judge considers that the evidence is enough to find the defendant guilty of the reckless driving charge, there may still be opportunity for us to argue for your conviction to be lowered to a lower level offense. There may be mitigating factors in your case such as a good driving record, defective equipment, or a legitimate emergency. I have helped many clients get their charge reduced to improper driving, which only carries three DMV points, and is removed from a record after three years.
Improper driving is a remedy available to the courts, although police officers do not charge people with “improper driving.”
“Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this article, upon the trial of any person charged with reckless driving where the degree of culpability is slight, the court in its discretion may find the accused not guilty of reckless driving but guilty of improper driving. However, an attorney for the Commonwealth may reduce a charge of reckless driving to improper driving at any time prior to the court’s decision and shall notify the court of such change. Improper driving shall be punishable as a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of not more than $500.” – Virginia Code § 46.2-869
It is important that you consult with an attorney and get appropriate counsel before your trial.
Learn more about specific jurisdictions: Virginia Beach Reckless Driving Defense / Norfolk Reckless Driving Defense / Norfolk Federal Court Reckless Driving Defense / Chesapeake Reckless Driving Defense / Hampton Reckless Driving Defense / Newport News Reckless Driving Defense / Northampton Reckless Driving Defense / Accomack Reckless Driving Defense