Fairfax Criminal Lawyers | Virginia Defense Attorneys
Reckless Driving in Virginia Is Complicated
In Virginia, reckless driving can be complicated and confusing. There are 14 different types of reckless driving charges as well as many related lesser offenses. Consequently, two drivers who make the same mistake may be give two different tickets.
For example, a driver pulled over for driving 82 miles per hour (mph) in a 65 mph zone can be charged with reckless driving or, instead, be given a simple speeding ticket. Or a driver charged with reckless driving for passing a school bus (Va. Code §46.2-859) could have been issued a simple traffic citation for passing a stopped school bus (Va. Code § 46.2-844), which is only a $250 traffic ticket.
Whether a driver receives a traffic ticket or is issued a summons for reckless driving has everything to do with the officer who pulls over the driver and the circumstances surrounding the offense. Some law enforcement departments have hard and fast rules about when an officer must or must not issue a summons for reckless driving.
For example, in Fairfax County police officers will often write speeding tickets for driving 76 mph in a 55 mph zone, but the state troopers in Fairfax County will usually issue summons for reckless driving.
Specific circumstances can also affect who is charged with reckless driving and who receives a traffic ticket. Having a poor driving record, having a child in the car, having alcohol on one’s breath, irritating the police officer, causing or nearly causing an accident are examples of things that may cause a law enforcement officer to write a summons for reckless driving instead of a simple traffic ticket.
Just because a driver is issued a reckless driving ticket in Virginia does not necessarily mean the driver put anyone in danger or acted in a reckless manner. Reckless Driving is a name for a class of crimes in Virginia. For instance driving 75 mph in a 55 mph zone is reckless driving regardless of whether the driver was being “safe” or “dangerous”. Claiming that “No one was put in danger” or “I am a safe driver” are not defenses to some forms of reckless driving.
The following sections discuss the many ways a driver can be convicted of reckless driving.
A driver can be convicted of reckless driving by either 1) going 20 mph over the speed limit or 2) driving over 80 mph. Therefore, a person driving 35 mph in 15 mph zone is guilty of reckless driving, and a person driving 81 mph in a 70 mph zone is also guilty of reckless driving.
Driving at or below the speed limit can also be considered reckless driving if the road conditions are not safe enough for that speed. For example, a person driving 65 mph in a 65 mph zone during a snow storm or heavy rain could be charged with reckless driving if the road conditions are not safe enough for that speed. This is a very subjective code section and is much harder to prove than reckless driving by speed under 46.2-862.
Driving on a public road in a way that endangers the “life, limb, or property” of another person can be reckless driving (even if the only one in danger is the driver). This statute is a catch-all for any unsafe driving practices; such as, driving the wrong way down a one-way street, falling asleep at the wheel, driving while “buzzed”, swerving or changing lanes erratically, driving at a dangerous speed, and many other types of behavior.
Reckless driving cases under 46.2-852 are frequently incorrectly charged and prosecuted because the law is subjective and ambiguous. Reckless driving is often the criminal charge issued when there is an accident.
This statute covers driving that endangers “life, limb or property” on private property open to the public and on public roads under construction. The most common examples involve parking lots.
Passing a school bus that is equipped with warning signs and flashing lights while it is stopped to load or unload passengers is considered reckless driving. The driver must remain stopped until the passengers are all clear of the road or until the bus starts moving. This rule does not apply if there is a physical barrier separating the driver’s lane of traffic from the school bus.
Driving a vehicle that is not under proper control or has faulty brakes is considered reckless driving. Often, when an officer arrives on the scene of an accident, the driver will try to avoid responsibility by claiming that there was something wrong with the breaks or steering. The driver may be charged with reckless driving under 46.2-853.
However, case law indicates that a driver must have had notice that there was something wrong with the car before the accident. If something is wrong with the car and the driver ignores the danger and continues driving, it is reckless driving under 46.2-853. However, if a part of the car breaks and immediately causes an accident without any warning then there is a potential defense of reckless driving under 46.2-853.
Driving while passengers obstruct the driver’s front or side view, or impair the driver’s ability to operate the vehicle, is reckless driving. Often, law enforcement officers charge drivers with this form of reckless driving when there are more passengers than seat belts in the front seats regardless of whether the driver’s view was actually obstructed.
Passing a car on the crest of hill, on a curve, or anywhere with an obstructed view of oncoming traffic is a form of reckless driving.
Reckless driving can also include passing two vehicles at the same time by driving on the shoulder or in the on-coming traffic lane(s) on a highway with two or more lanes of traffic in each direction.
It is considered reckless driving for two vehicles (other than bikes, motorcycles, or similar vehicles) to travel in the same lane, or for one vehicle to pass another without completely leaving the original lane.
If a driver passes another vehicle at a railroad crossing or while a pedestrian is crossing in front of the passed vehicle, the driver may be charged for reckless driving. There is an exception to this rule if there are multiple lanes dedicated for passing or if the road is marked for passing with a dashed yellow line.
It is considered reckless driving to turn, slow down, or stop without giving a proper signal. When turning, the driver must continuously signal for 50 feet before turning if the posted speed limit is 35 mph or less. Otherwise, the driver must signal for 100 feet.
Reckless driving also includes cutting off a vehicle on a highway when entering from a side road. If a driver enters a highway from a side road without a yield sign the driver 1) must come to a stop before entering the highway, and 2) must not pull in front of a vehicle that is less than 500 feet away.
Racing vehicles on public property at any time or on private property open to the public (such as parking lots) without permission is reckless driving. Reckless by Racing also comes with an elevated punishment that includes suspension of the driver’s license for at least six months and up to two years.
The prosecution (or occasionally the judge) may amend the charge of reckless driving to speeding. Speeding usually carries a maximum fine of $250 (plus about $62 in court costs) and is not a criminal charge (though fines may be doubled in some areas such as construction zones and Highway Safety Corridors.). However, a speeding ticket for more than 20 mph over the limit generally has the same effects on insurance as reckless driving at the same speed and carries -6 points which can lead to a DMV administrative suspension if a driver has a bad driving record.
Tickets for speeding less than 20 mph over the limit result in fewer points and generally fewer insurance consequences.
At the discretion of the prosecutor, reckless driving may be reduced to improper driving, which is a traffic violation and not a criminal charge. The maximum fine for improper driving is $500 (plus $62 in court costs). Fines may be doubled in some areas such as Highway Safety Corridors. However, improper driving has much less of an effect on insurance premiums and carries only -3 points.
Speeding and some other offenses which may be considered Reckless Driving may also constitute Failure To Obey A Highway Sign. The highway sign in question may be a speed limit sign, a “no U-Turns sign”, a “One Way” sign or any other sign. Failure To Obey A Highway Sign is a -3 point violation in Virginia and carries a maximum fine of $250. It is also usually considered a minor traffic infraction by insurance companies as well.
This code section is almost exactly the same as the reckless version of the same offense only this is a traffic infraction not a criminal charge.
Each County and town can choose to write their own reckless driving laws. For example, the Fairfax County Code sections 82-4-1 through 82-4-5 all deal with Fairfax County’s version of the Reckless Driving laws. However, a driver charged with reckless driving in Fairfax County will not automatically be charged under the Fairfax County Codes.
Being charged with the local version of a traffic offense may have a strong positive or negative impact on a driver’s case and an attorney who is not familiar with the local codes may make a costly mistake. A driver charged with reckless driving should be sure to hire a reckless driving attorney who is familiar with the local codes and ordinances and should let their attorney know if they are charged under any statute outside of the Virginia state code.
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Police sometimes issue a charge for reckless driving when a driver has been drinking but is not intoxicated to the point required for a DUI. Drug or alcohol consumption can play a major role in a reckless driving case even if the charge is not related to intoxication.
If an officer claims that you have the odor of alcohol, that you look intoxicated, or if an officer has you perform any tests, contact a reckless driving attorney immediately. Even though you were not charged with DUI you may still be facing severe consequences similar to those of a DUI, including forced attendance of an alcohol safety action (ASAP) program, ignition interlock, license suspension and jail time.
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