Virginia’s Reckless Driving Laws
Read about Virginia’s reckless driving laws and the consequences of a conviction.
Virginia has expansive reckless driving laws. A motorist can be convicted of reckless driving for operating a vehicle “at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.” (See also Va. Code Ann. §§ 46.2-852, 46.2-864 (2016).) But Virginia law also lists 13 different traffic violations that, if proven, automatically establish reckless driving. These include:
- driving without “proper control” of a vehicle or with faulty brakes (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-853 (2016))
- unsafe passing on a curve or crest of a hill (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-854 (2016))
- driving with so many people in the front seat that it interferes with the driver’s ability to see or operate the vehicle (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-855 (2016))
- passing two vehicles abreast on a road with less than three lanes in each direction (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-856 (2016))
- driving abreast of another vehicle on a single-lane road (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-857 (2016))
- passing at a railroad crossing on a single-lane road (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-858 (2016))
- failing to stop when approaching a stopped school bus (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-859 (2016))
- failing to use turn signals properly (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-860 (2016))
- exceeding a reasonable speed under the circumstances and traffic conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-861 (2016))
- exceeding the speed limit by at least 20 miles per hour or driving in excess of 80 miles per hour (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-862 (2016))
- failing to properly stop before entering a highway from a side street (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-863 (2016))
- racing another vehicle (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-865 (2016)), and
- entering a “HOT lane” (high-occupancy toll lane) by crossing a barrier, buffer, or other separator. (See also Va. Code Ann. § 33.2-503(5) (2016).)
Any of these violations constitute reckless driving, regardless of whether anyone or anything was actually endangered by the person’s driving.
Reckless Driving Penalties
The consequences of a reckless driving conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, reckless driving is a class 1 misdemeanor. Convicted motorists typically face up to six months in jail and/or a maximum $1,000 fine. And if the offense involved unlawful use of a cellphone while driving, there’s an additional $250 fine. (Va. Code Ann. §§ 18.2-11, 46.2-868 (2016).)
Generally, a judge can suspend the license of a reckless driving offender for up to six months. And depending on which type of reckless driving, the conviction will put four or six points on the motorist’s driving record. (Va. Code Ann. §§ 46.2-392, 46.2-393 (2016).)
For offenses involving street racing, the judge must suspend the driver’s license for six months to two years and may order vehicle forfeiture. (Va. Code Ann. §§ 46.2-865, 46.2-867 (2016).)
Virginia’s reckless driving laws may seem harsh, but judges do have some leeway: For offense where the “degree of culpability is slight,” a judge can find the driver guilty of “improper driving” instead of reckless driving. Improper driving is a traffic infraction and carries a fine of up to $500—jail time isn’t a possibility. (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-869 (2016).)
Reckless Driving and DUI Charges (“Wet Reckless”)
In Virginia, it’s possible for a driver who’s charged with driving under the influence (DUI) to plea bargain for a lesser charge. When a DUI is plea bargained down to a reckless driving charge, it’s sometimes called a “wet reckless.”
A wet reckless carries the same penalties as any other reckless driving conviction, except the court can, in addition to the other penalties, order the motorist to complete an “alcohol safety action program” as a condition of probation. (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-392 (2016).)
HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?
Generally speaking, sentencing law is complex and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including the severity of the damage at issue, credits for good in-custody behavior, and jail-alternative work programs.
If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.
Talk to an Attorney
The consequences of a reckless driving conviction in Virginia can be serious. If you’ve been arrested for or charged with reckless driving, get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A qualified attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on how best to handle your situation.