Virginia's Reckless and Improper Driving Laws and Penalties

Read about Virginia’s reckless driving laws and the consequences of a conviction.

Virginia has expansive reckless driving laws. All kinds of traffic violations and unsafe driving can lead to reckless driving charges. This article explains the circumstances that can result in reckless driving charges and the penalties you'll face for a conviction.

What's Considered "Reckless Driving" in Virginia?

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."

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
  • unsafe passing on a curve or crest of a hill
  • driving with so many people in the front seat that it interferes with the driver's ability to see or operate the vehicle
  • passing two vehicles abreast on a road with less than three lanes in each direction
  • driving abreast of another vehicle on a single-lane road
  • passing at a railroad crossing on a single-lane road
  • failing to stop when approaching a stopped school bus
  • failing to use turn signals properly
  • exceeding a reasonable speed under the circumstances and traffic conditions, regardless of the posted speed limit
  • exceeding the speed limit by at least 20 miles per hour or driving in excess of 80 miles per hour
  • failing to properly stop before entering a highway from a side street
  • racing another vehicle,
  • failing to move over a lane when approaching emergency vehicles with lights flashing on a highway with at least four lanes (or failing to proceed with due caution if the lane change would be unreasonable or unsafe) and,
  • entering a "HOT lane" (high-occupancy toll lane) by crossing a barrier, buffer, or other separator.

Any of these violations constitute reckless driving, regardless of whether anyone or anything was actually endangered by the person's driving. (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-852 through § 46.2-867.)

Virginia's 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.

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.

For offenses involving street racing, the judge must suspend the driver's license for six months to two years and may order vehicle forfeiture.

What's Considered "Improper Driving" in Virginia?

Virginia's reckless driving laws may seem harsh, but judges do have some leeway: For an offense where the "degree of culpability is slight," a judge can find the driver guilty of "improper driving" instead of reckless driving. (Va. Code Ann. § 46.2-869.)

Virginia's Improper Driving Penalties

Improper driving is a traffic infraction and carries a fine of up to $500—jail time isn't a possibility.

Reckless Driving and DUI Charges ("Wet Reckless") in Virginia

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.

Talk to a Virginia Defense 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.

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