Reckless Driving in Virginia
The Most Common Basis: Speeding
The most common basis is to drive over the speed limit. You can be charged with reckless driving under the following conditions: driving over 80 MPH anywhere in Virginia, or at the discretion of a police officer who judges your driving as being a hazard to people or property
- Virginia Code 46.2-862 Exceeding the speed limit. A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives a motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth (i) at a speed of twenty miles per hour or more in excess of the applicable maximum speed limit or (ii) in excess of eighty miles per hour regardless of the applicable maximum speed limit.
- In Virginia, the maximum speed limit is 65 mph. Because of this, you can be charged with reckless driving at 80 mph, even though it's only 15 mph over the posted speed limit. There is some talk about changing the maximum speed in Virginia to 70 mph, but unless the reckless driving definition is also changed, you'd still be charged with reckless driving for going 80 mph--only 10 mph over the posted speed limit.
The maximum penalty for reckless driving is
- Twelve months in jail
- Six months suspension of your Virginia driver’s license
- Six months suspension of your privilege to operate a motor vehicle in Virginia if you are licensed elsewhere,
- A fine of up to $2,500.
If your license is suspended for any period of time, Virginia DMV will report the suspension to the state that issued your driver’s license. Most states now honor these suspensions and will suspend your license in the state where you license was issued.
- Driving over 100 mph is almost certain to include jail time.
- In many jurisdictions, license suspension for speeds over 85 mph are likely.
While speeding is the most common reason for being charged with reckless driving, there are many other infractions which can lead to reckless driving charges. They all carry the same Class 1 misdemeanor charge and penalties.
- Virginia Code 46.2-852 Catch-all reckless driving. A police officer can also charge you with reckless driving if you are driving in a way that is a danger to life 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.
- Passing a stopped, properly equipped school bus 46.2-859. A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children, the elderly, or mentally or physically handicapped persons, and to remain stopped until all the persons are clear of the highway, private road or school driveway and the bus is put in motion. The driver of a vehicle, however, need not stop when approaching a school bus if the school bus is stopped on the other roadway of a divided highway, on an access road, or on a driveway when the other roadway, access road, or driveway is separated from the roadway on which he is driving by a physical barrier or an unpaved area. The driver of a vehicle also need not stop when approaching a school bus which is loading or discharging passengers from or onto property immediately adjacent to a school if the driver is directed by a law-enforcement officer or other duly authorized uniformed school crossing guard to pass the school bus. This section shall apply to school buses which are equipped with warning devices prescribed in 46.2-1090 and are painted yellow with the words "School Bus" in black letters at least eight inches high on the front and rear thereof. Only school buses which are painted yellow and equipped with the required lettering and warning devices shall be identified as school buses.
- Overtaking/passing an emergency vehicle 46.2-829. Upon the approach of any emergency vehicle as defined in 46.2-920 giving audible signal by siren, exhaust whistle, or air horn designed to give automatically intermittent signals, and displaying a flashing, blinking, or alternating emergency light or lights as provided in 46.2-1022 through 1024, the driver of every other vehicle shall, as quickly as traffic and other highway conditions permit, drive to the nearest edge of the roadway, clear of any intersection of highways, and stop and remain there, unless otherwise directed by a law-enforcement officer, until the emergency vehicle has passed. This provision shall not relieve the driver of any such vehicle to which the right-of-way is to be yielded of the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway, nor shall it protect the driver of any such vehicle from the consequences of an arbitrary exercise of such right-of-way.
- Racing 46.2-865. Racing; penalty - Any person who engages in a race between two or more motor vehicles on the highways in the Commonwealth or on any driveway or premises of a church, school, recreational facility, or business property open to the public in the Commonwealth shall be guilty of reckless driving, unless authorized by the owner of the property or his agent. When any person is convicted of reckless driving under this section, in addition to any other penalties provided by law the driver's license of such person shall be suspended by the court for a period of not less than six months nor more than two years. In case of conviction the court shall order the surrender of the license to the court where it shall be disposed of in accordance with the provisions of 46.2-398.
- Improper brakes, or while vehicle not under proper control 46.2-853. Driving vehicle which is not under control; faulty brakes - 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.
- Driving to fast for traffic conditions: 46.2-861. Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions - A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who exceeds a reasonable speed under the circumstances and traffic conditions existing at the time, regardless of any posted speed limit.
- Passing a vehicle at a crest or a grade: 46.2-854. Passing on or at the crest of a grade or on a curve - A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who, while driving a vehicle, overtakes and passes another vehicle proceeding in the same direction, on or approaching the crest of a grade or on or approaching a curve in the highway, where the driver's view along the highway is obstructed, except where the overtaking vehicle is being operated on a highway having two or more designated lanes of roadway for each direction of travel or on a designated one-way roadway or highway.
- Overloaded vehicle such as to obstruct/interfere with drivers control; 46.2-855. Driving with driver's view obstructed or control impaired - A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives a vehicle when it is so loaded, or when there are in the front seat such number of persons, as to obstruct the view of the driver to the front or sides of the vehicle or to interfere with the driver's control over the driving mechanism of the vehicle.
- Passing another vehicle at a railroad grade crossing; 46.2-858. Passing at a railroad grade crossing - A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who overtakes or passes any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction at any railroad grade crossing or at any intersection of highways unless such vehicles are being operated on a highway having two or more designated lanes of roadway for each direction of travel or unless such intersection is designated and marked as a passing zone or on a designated one-way street or highway, or while pedestrians are passing or about to pass in front of either of such vehicles, unless permitted so to do by a traffic light or law-enforcement officer.
- Failing to give proper signal: 46.2-860. Failing to give proper signals - A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who fails to give adequate and timely signals of intention to turn, partly turn, slow down, or stop, as required by Article 6 (46.2-848 et seq.) of this chapter.
- Failure to yield right-of-way when merging onto highway: 46.2-863. Failure to yield right-of-way - 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.
- Passing two vehicles abreast: 46.2-856. Passing two vehicles 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. This section shall not apply, however, to a motor vehicle passing two other vehicles when one or both of such other vehicles is a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped; nor shall this section apply to a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped passing two other vehicles.
- Driving two abreast in a single lane: 46.2-857. Driving two abreast in a single lane - A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives any motor vehicle, including any motorcycle, so as to be abreast of another vehicle in a lane designed for one vehicle, or drives any motor vehicle, including any motorcycle, so as to travel abreast of any other vehicle traveling in a lane designed for one vehicle. However, this section shall not apply to any validly authorized parade, motorcade, or motorcycle escort, nor shall it apply to a motor vehicle traveling in the same lane of traffic as a bicycle, electric personal assistive mobility device, electric power-assisted bicycle, or moped.
- 46.2-864. Reckless driving on parking lots, etc. A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who operates any motor vehicle at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person: On any driveway or premises of a church, school, recreational facility, or business property open to the public; or On the premises of any industrial establishment providing parking space for customers, patrons, or employees; or On any highway under construction or not yet open to the public.
Reckless driving will result in 6 points added to your license. This is a significant number and is likely to result in a steep rise in your insurance premiums for many years to come.
Ten days after your conviction you lose your ability to appeal your case and after 21 days the judge cannot change his or her ruling. Because of such time-urgency, the best time to take care of a reckless driving charge in Virginia is before your court date. However, if that time is past then you should no delay at all and contact a qualified attorney about your case immediately.
There are some possible mitigating circumstances which may help you get a reckless driving charge reduced to speeding (without reckless driving).
- Good driving record
- Speedometer reading incorrectly
- Radar calibration issues
- Legitimate emergency
Other factors can also play into some circumstances of reckless driving charges. A skilled attorney might be able to reduce the charges or lessen your potential punishment. You should expect to do the following:
- Get a copy of your driving record
- Have your speedometer calibrated
- Take a driver education class
Excuses you should never use to defend yourself in a reckless driving--or any--case
There are also many arguments which are not effective in court. If fact, they may even hurt your case. These attempts at a defense are almost like telling the judge that you should be found guilty as charged and punished accordingly. These excuses include the following:
- I was passing another car.
- I was trying to get around a tractor-trailer.
- Everyone was driving that fast and I was driving with the flow of traffic.
- I really, really had to go to the bathroom.
- I was driving someone else’s car that I wasn’t accustomed to.
- My cruise control was set to a lower speed than what I'm charged with.
The excuse that is probably the worst to ever use is:
- I just didn’t notice how fast I was going.
Ignorance of the law is not protection from the law nor is following the laws at your personal discretion or convenience.
Having reckless driving charges reduced to improper driving
For some reckless driving circumstances, it may be possible to have the charges reduced to improper driving. These charges do not carry the class 1 misdemeanor penalties and add only three points to your driving record, instead of the six you'd get with reckless driving.
Virginia Code 46.2-869. Improper driving; penalty
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.
Such a reduction in charges may be done with the prosecutor outside of the courtroom. The new charges are then entered to the record in place of the original charge of reckless driving.
Do I have to show up for court in Virginia if I'm from out of state and charged with reckless driving?
If you fail to appear in court, some judges will issue a bench warrant for your arrest. Once this happens, getting pulled over again in Virginia could result in immediate incarceration without bail.