Reckless driving is a legal term referring to a number of different traffic crimes. It is broadly defined as driving in a “manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.” Va. Code § 46.2-852. It is applicable both to public roads as well as the parking lots of government buildings, apartment complexes, and private businesses. Id.; Va. Code § 46.2-864. This gives police officers a lot of discretion in deciding whether to charge someone with reckless driving.
Avoid a reckless driving charge in Virginia by understanding the associated laws and safety responsibilities.
Specific conduct that is considered reckless driving
In addition to any driving that the police officer felt “endangered life, limb, or property”, there are many other scenarios under which a person could face a reckless driving charge:
- Driving a vehicle which was not under proper control or which had inadequate or improperly adjusted brakes. Va. Code § 46.2-853. This means that nearly any car accident, even one that involved only a single vehicle where no one was hurt, could result in a reckless driving charge.
- Passing a car on the crest of a steep hill where the driver’s view of the highway ahead ws obstructed. Va. Code § 46.2-854.
- Driving a car so overloaded with so much cargo in the front seats, or so many people in the car, that the driver’s ability to see out the front or sides, or operate the vehicle, was impaired. Va. Code § 46.2-855.
- Passing two vehicles that are driving next to one another, unless there are 3 of more lanes of travel in that direction. Va. Code § 46.2-856.
- Driving next to another vehicle in the same lane. This section usually targets motorcycles. Va. Code § 46.2-857.
- Passing another vehicle at a railroad crossing. Va. Code § 46.2-858.
- Passing a school bus that was stopped to take on or let off passengers. The bus driver will indicate this by turning on a flashing light and extending a STOP bar. Va. Code § 46.2-859. Many buses are equipped with video cameras that record cars illegally passing.
- Not giving an adequate and timely signal of one’s intention to turn. Va. Code § 46.2-860. While failing to signal is normally just a traffic infraction (Va. Code § 46.2-848), the officer has discretion to charge reckless driving instead (e.g., if this resulted in a collision).
- Driving too fast for highway conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit. Va. Code § 46.2-861. The police may charge this if someone wrecked in rainy or snowy weather, even if the driver claimed to have been going under the limit.
- Failing to move over or slow down when approaching a stopping police or emergency vehicle with its flashing lights on. Va. Code § 46.2-861.1.
- Traveling more than 80 mph or 20 or more mph above the posted speed limit. This means driving 81 mph anywhere in the state is reckless driving. But so is driving 46 mph in a posted 25 mph residential neighborhood. Va. Code § 46.2-862. This is the most commonly charged type of reckless driving in Virginia by far.
- Failing to stop when entering the highway from a side road when traffic is approaching within 500 feet. Va. Code § 46.2-863.
- Racing with other cars, regardless of whether it is on public roads or the parking lots of government buildings, apartment complexes, and private businesses. Va. Code § 46.2-865. One who assists with racing, even if she or he did not drive, is equally culpable. Va. Code § 46.2-866.
Penalties for reckless driving
Reckless driving is a criminal offense. It is a class one misdemeanor in Virginia. Va. Code § 46.2-868. With rare exceptions, reckless driving is NOT a pre-payable offense. Technically, anyone charged with this offense must appear in person in the Virginia court – no matter how far away he or she lives. Individuals convicted of reckless driving will receive six demerit points on their state driving record and a license suspension of up to six months. This crime also carries fines of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail. If the driver was texting while driving recklessly, there is a mandatory minimum fine of $250. Id. Some Virginia judges tend to sentence reckless drivers to one day in jail for every mph they were traveling over 90 mph. Having this charge on one’s record will affect background checks and employment security clearances.
Drivers convicted of reckless driving, who did not have a valid license and killed someone, face a class 6 felony (up to 5 years in prison). Va. Code § 46.2-868.
Drivers convicted of racing are subject to a 6 month to 2 year license suspension. Va. Code § 46.2-865. If it was an organized race, the police will seize the vehicle and it will be forfeited to the state and sold off. Va. Code § 46.2-867. If the racing was done in a manner showing “reckless disregard for human life”, the driver faces even more punishment. His or her license will be taken for 1 to 3 years. Further, the punishment rises to a class 6 felony (up to 5 years in prison) if another is seriously hurt. Va. Code § 46.2-865.1. If the driver killed another, he or should could receive a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Id.
Because Virginia has some of the nation’s toughest reckless driving penalties, it is important to hire an attorney protect your rights when charged with this crime. There are ways to challenge the evidence to have the charge reduced to a non-criminal infraction or even dismissed.