Reckless driving in Virginia: a primer
When you think of reckless driving, you typically think of someone darting in and out of lanes of traffic while traveling at an excessive speed. Although this clearly poses a danger to other and constitutes reckless driving, in Virginia, you can be charged with reckless driving in many different contexts. As it is a serious criminal charge, it is important to be familiar with them. §46.2-852 through 46.2-868
Speeding is probably the most common offense that leads Virginia drivers to a reckless driving charge. Under the Virginia traffic laws, there are three instances where speeding can result in a reckless driving charge:
- Driving 20 miles-per-hour or more over the posted speed limit (§46.2-862);
- Driving 80 miles-per-hour regardless of the posted speed limit or (§46.2-862);
- Exceeding a speed that is reasonable under the prevailing circumstances and traffic conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit (§46.2-861).
The first two instances are fairly straightforward. If a police officer uses an approved method to determine that you are driving at an excessive speed-such as a radar or laser gun or by following you to determine your speed-you can be charged with reckless driving.
However, in the final instance, the police officer can ticket a driver for exceeding a reasonable speed under the conditions. Since the law does not define what may be reasonable under the circumstances, the police officer has broad discretion to determine whether your speed is reasonable, given the weather, road conditions and many other circumstances. In essence, it is up to the officer whether you will be charged with reckless driving.
Other traffic offenses
Besides speeding, under Virginia law, a person can also be charged with reckless driving if he or she drives in a manner as to endanger the life, limb or property of another person, regardless of the speed limit. In addition, there are several other contexts where the driver may also be charged:
· Driving a vehicle that is not under control or has faulty brakes (§46.2-853)
· Passing another vehicle while approaching a curve or hill in the road, except when on a highway with two or more lanes for each direction (§46.2-854)
· Attempting to pass two vehicles that are abreast, except on highways with
three or more lanes in each direction (46.2-856)
· Passing at a railroad crossing unless permitted (§46.2-858)
· Passing a school bus that has stopped for the loading or unloading of children (§46.2-859)
· Failing to give adequate turn signals (§46.2-860)
· Failing to yield the right-of-way while entering a highway (§46.2-863)
· Driving recklessly on a driveway or parking lot of a church, school, business or governmental property that is open to the public (§46.2-864)
· Racing other vehicles (§46.2-865, 46.2-865.1, 46.2-866)
The penalties for reckless driving in Virginia can be quite severe (§46.2-868). Any person who is convicted of reckless driving is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor-the most serious type of misdemeanor. This type of offense carries a sentence of up to a year and jail and fines of up to $2,500. In addition, the court has the discretion to suspend the driver’s license for up to six months. Finally, convicted offenders will be assessed six demerit points on their licenses, and be subject to higher insurance rates.
Given the stiff penalties, if you are charged with reckless driving, it is important to present a strong defense as early as possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney can review your options with you and ensure that your rights are protected.