By Tracy Manzer, Senior Editor of Content Aug. 28, 2014 Commuters who rely on the I-66 Corridor may rejoice as the Virginia Department of Transportation has announced it is working to transform 25 miles of the clogged roadway so that it will move traffic more efficiently. The problem, of course, is that those improvements are […]
What is Virginia reckless driving?
Reckless driving is defined by the Code of Virginia, and though it deals with traffic infractions, it is a criminal offense rather than a moving violation.
According to Section 46.2-852:
“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.”
So what constitutes “reckless driving,” or driving “at a speed or in a manner [that] endanger[s] . . . life, limb, or property?”
Though subsequent sections of the Code of Virginia outline actions that specifically constitute reckless driving, the determination as to whether to cite you for driving recklessly ultimately lies with the police officer who stops you.
What driving behaviors are considered reckless driving in VA?
Several traffic violations are considered so serious under Virginia traffic law that they are charged as a criminal offense rather than a moving infraction. An officer may arrest you for reckless driving if he or she observes you:
- Driving a vehicle with improperly adjusted or faulty brakes
- Driving an overloaded vehicle that obstructs view or controls
- Driving next to another vehicle on a one lane roadway
- Failing to give proper signals
- Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions (regardless of the posted speed limit)
- Speeding over 20 mph in excess of the speed limit, or driving faster than 80 mph regardless of the posted speed limit
- Failing to yield right-of-way
- Endangering a person or property on driveways or parking lots open to the public
- Spinning wheels or “burning rubber”
- Illegally passing . . .
- on a crest of a hill or slope.
- when approaching a curve in the roadway.
- two vehicles at once.
- at a railroad crossing.
- at a highway intersection.
- when pedestrians are present.
- a stopped school bus.
I was stopped for speeding, but my ticket says “reckless driving.” Are speeding and reckless driving the same thing?
No. Speeding is only a traffic infraction, but reckless driving due to excessive speed is a criminal offense. If you are pulled over for speeding in excess of 20 mph above the posted limit, or in excess of 80 mph regardless of the posted limit, you may be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor. Reckless driving carries many of the same consequences of any misdemeanor criminal offense, including the possibility of jail time and a criminal record that is both permanent and publicly available. An experienced VA reckless driving lawyer will best be able to protect your interests while helping you try to avoid these criminal consequences.
What are the penalties for VA reckless driving?
Reckless driving is a class 1 misdemeanor. If you are convicted, you will receive:
- 6 points on your Virginia driving record
- Up to a $2500 fine
- Up to 1 year jail sentence
- Up to 6 months’ suspension of driving privileges
- A criminal record.
A conviction for reckless driving in Virginia may also result in increased auto insurance rates and sometimes ineligibility to rent cars. Often, a conviction also affects government security clearances and contract eligibility for military or law enforcement personnel, and must be disclosed when applying for U.S. citizenship.
When a judge is evaluating the appropriate sentence for your conviction, he or she will consider prior reckless driving convictions, your driving record or DMV point rating, whether or not your actions caused injury, and your demeanor with the officer and the court.
If your reckless driving charge is a result of racing, you face enhanced penalties, including a license suspension of up to 2 years and the possible permanent seizure of your vehicle.
Though reckless driving is generally prosecuted as a misdemeanor, you may be charged with a felony under certain situations. If a death occurs as a result of racing, you will be charged with a class 6 felony. Conviction of felony reckless driving causing death results in a license suspension of 1 to 3 years as well as a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Being charged with reckless driving with a suspended or revoked license is also a class 6 felony.
Will I really be sentenced to jail time for a Virginia reckless driving offense?
In some counties, judges may sentence you to 1 day in jail for every mile per hour over 90 that you were traveling. This practice is not specified in Virginia law, but some judges see it as necessary to “send a message” to the offending driver. Arlington, Alexandria, Prince William, Loudoun, and Fairfax counties have seen these sentences imposed in reckless driving by excessive speed cases. By hiring a qualified Virginia traffic lawyer you may be able to avoid jail time if circumstances permit.
Will I be charged abusive driver fees?
No. The abusive driver laws in Virginia were recently repealed. Beginning in 2007, Virginia drivers convicted of reckless driving were forced to pay excessive fees ($750-$3,000) according to the law. However, the law was repealed a year later, and this is no longer a potential consequence.
How long does a reckless driving conviction in VA stay on my DMV record?
Reckless driving remains on your Virginia driving record for 11 years. However, if your Virginia traffic attorney is able to get the charge reduced, the reduced charge may remain on your record for a shorter period of time.
Can I represent myself? How does hiring an attorney help me?
Anyone may represent himself or herself in any criminal case, but it is not generally advised. Virginia reckless driving laws are complex, and if you are convicted, you face significant penalties. Upon conviction of reckless driving, your criminal record will permanently contain a misdemeanor criminal offense. An attorney experienced with VA reckless driving defense can help you prevent that outcome.
Experienced Virginia traffic defense lawyers can research your case, negotiate with the government prosecutors, and prepare to win at trial. In Virginia, your attorney may be able to arrange a plea agreement for a lesser charge or traffic infraction such as Improper Driving. In addition, each case typically encounters certain evidentiary, constitutional, and procedural issues, which if addressed appropriately can benefit your case.
In some cases, your VA reckless driving attorney can appear in court on your behalf, meaning you don’t even have to be present. This saves you time and money, and is only one of the numerous benefits of hiring a reputable Virginia defense lawyer.
How much does hiring a lawyer for reckless driving in VA cost?
Attorney fees and costs can vary depending on the nature of the charge and the circumstances of the case. Other factors that affect total costs include the type of defenses used and whether or not a trial is necessary. Consult with a Virginia reckless driving lawyer to get a clearer picture of what fees and costs may be associated with your case.
Should I just plead guilty and mail in the ticket with payment of the fine?
No. Since reckless driving in VA is a criminal offense, the penalties and long term consequences—such as a criminal record—can be severe. It is in your best interest to consult with a Virginia reckless driving attorney before making any decisions. You must fully understand the potential consequences for a conviction and the options that your lawyer can argue for in your defense. In addition, you may not prepay reckless driving citations in Virginia. Your appearance is necessary in court on the date listed on your ticket unless other arrangements are made between you and your Virginia reckless driving attorney.
I live out-of-state. What should I do?
You must answer the ticket in the same way as in-state offenders. If you do not have a VA defense lawyer, then you must appear in court in order to defend yourself. You cannot simply mail in the ticket. This is not a regular speeding ticket or traffic citation, but it is a misdemeanor crime. If you do not show up for your court date, you will be convicted in your absence and subsequently have a criminal record. Additional penalties for failing to appear may also apply.
You cannot mail in the ticket before court in Virginia because the judge has discretion in deciding your penalty depending on the facts and circumstances of your crime. Reckless driving in Virginia is a criminal misdemeanor offense and carries all the penalties of a class I misdemeanor.
We understand that returning to the state may be difficult and require significant time and expense. By hiring an attorney experienced in Virginia reckless driving law, they can petition the court to appear on your behalf and you may not have to be present. This reduces the costs and time you must spend addressing the matter and offers the opportunity to defend the charges against you in court.
It is in your best interest to contact an attorney that handles VA reckless driving cases for a consultation immediately after receiving the ticket.
Do the same penalties apply for out-of-state drivers?
Yes. Out of state drivers face the same reckless driving penalties as Virginia drivers. One exception is that your reckless driving conviction may not impact your driving privileges in your home state, and you may not receive points against your license. However, Virginia will report the offense and any imposed suspension or points to your home state. Your home state’s laws will determine whether any offense will apply to your driving record there. Virginia reckless driving consequences of large fines, jail sentences, increased insurance premiums, and the resulting criminal record remain the same for both local drivers and out of state drivers.
Out-of-state drivers may also lose their privilege to drive in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This means that if you drive anywhere in Virginia while suspended you may be charged with the additional crime of driving on a suspended license, which is a misdemeanor crime punishable by jail time and extensive fines.
What are some reckless driving defense strategies that could help me?
Defenses to reckless driving charges may include:
- Acting under the instruction of a traffic enforcement officer or directing officer
- Roadway markings clearly indicate permission to pass
- Highways had the appropriate number of lanes to permit the act
- Your vehicle’s speedometer was not calibrated properly, or the radar/Lidar device was not calibrated properly
- You passed only a motorcycle, moped, or bicycle
- You did not pass at a crest or curve
- Racing was on private property or with permission from the landowner
Mitigating factors which may allow for a reduced sentence or reduced charge include:
- A clean driving record and character references
- Taking a driver education course
- An emergency situation
- Roadway conditions
- Improperly marked roadways or vehicles
- School bus was stopped for a reason other than loading or unloading
- You were unaware of your vehicle’s defects and had them repaired soon thereafter
The Virginia reckless driving laws include some specific circumstances that can be used to argue for dismissal or reduction of the charge. Your experienced Virginia traffic law attorney will know when one of these circumstances was present and apply it in your defense. For this reason, it is important that you provide your attorney with full and honest disclosure of the events leading up to the charge.
Can I get my reckless driving ticket in VA get dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge?
Possibly. Your Virginia reckless driving defense attorney can help you accomplish this.
What can I do to help get the best result in my VA reckless driving case?
There are several things you can do before your court date to improve your chances of a reduced charge or dismissal. First, obtain a certified copy of your driving record from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. If you are an out-of-state driver, obtain a certified copy from your respective state administrative agency. If you have an otherwise clean driving record, your Virginia traffic attorney can use that as mitigating evidence in the reckless driving case. Second, discuss with your attorney whether you should take a driver education or driver improvement course. Showing the court evidence of this may also help your case. Next, get your vehicle’s speedometer checked or calibrated and provide the results to your defense lawyer. If your speedometer was off in your favor this could be used to mount your defense. Consult with an experienced Virginia reckless driving lawyer who can advise you of the best steps to take for your defense.
Where do police officers most often look for reckless drivers?
Reckless driving tickets can be received anywhere, but drivers are most at risk on major highways because excessive speeding is more widespread. Interstate 95, I-66, I-81, Dulles Airport Toll Road, and Dulles Greenway each produce a large number of reckless driving charges by speed. This is one reason why out-of-state drivers are often charged with reckless driving offenses in Virginia.
Can I appeal a VA reckless driving conviction?
Yes. However, an appeal from reckless driving in Virginia must be filed within 10 days of the conviction. In Virginia, you have the automatic right to appeal any finding by the general district court. However, if you plead guilty and then are unhappy with the result of your plea, you may have already waived your right to appeal. It is in your best interest to have a Virginia attorney who is experienced in reckless driving laws file the appeal for you and represent you throughout the process. Many times a successful appeal will result in having to try the case again, and you should have legal representation by a qualified Virginia traffic lawyer when that occurs.
What is Aggressive Driving?
Aggressive driving is driving which causes a hazard to another person or which is intended to “harass, intimidate, injure, or obstruct” another person. While reckless driving is a class 1 misdemeanor, aggressive driving is a class 2 misdemeanor; however, aggressive driving with the intent to injure another person is charged as a class 1 misdemeanor.
Va. Code § 46.2-868.1.
Acts of aggressive driving include:
- Driving on the wrong side of the road
- Driving outside of designated lanes
- Failing to follow traffic signals or signs
- Failing to stop or yield right-of-way
- Illegal passing
- Stopping on a highway
In the metro Washington, D.C. region, task forces sometimes use traffic-imaging technology to check for aggressive drivers. If convicted, you may be required to complete an aggressive driver program. If you have been stopped for aggressive driving, consult a qualified Virginia traffic lawyer who can explain your options.