Breaking it down
Reckless driving in Virginia encompasses both a general concept of driving behavior that endangers other people or their property, and a number of more specific behaviors deemed reckless, such as passing a stopped school bus or driving 20 mph over the speed limit.
- Reckless driving generally is a serious misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a maximum $2,500 fine, and a possible driver’s license suspension
- Racing is a more specific form of reckless driving that carries more severe penalties, including a mandatory minimum six-month license suspension
- A good driving history may convince a judge to reduce the charge to a lesser traffic infraction, or to reduce the penalties for a conviction
There’s a lot of subjectivity in Virginia law about what can be deemed reckless driving, from statutes as specific as allowing a reckless driving charge for passing a stopped school bus to the more general one that deems it reckless to drive too fast for highway conditions. If you’re hurrying to an appointment on an icy winter road, you might think you’re OK behind the wheel but a police officer might find your driving behavior reckless and pull you over even if you’re obeying the speed limit.
Reckless driving is a serious misdemeanor in Virginia that can result in jail time, hefty fines, and loss of driving privileges as well as a permanent criminal record if convicted. Because of the subjective nature of most reckless driving charges, there often may be room to challenge the facts of a charge or have a charge reduced to a less serious offense.
What is Reckless Driving?
Virginia Code §46.2-852 lays out the general rule that anyone who drives in a way that endangers anyone else’s life, limb or property is driving recklessly. Virginia courts have said that losing control of your car or being intoxicated by themselves do not prove you were driving recklessly — there has to be something about the way you were driving, such as swerving in and out of your lane.
The state’s courts also have said that if you get into an accident because you fell asleep, or you were spotted speeding or driving aggressively before a crash, this can result in a reckless driving charge.
There are a number of other specific actions considered reckless driving in Virginia. These include:
- Driving with bad brakes or a vehicle (Virginia Code §46.2-853)
- Passing another car on the crest of a grade or on a curve in the highway, unless there’s a passing lane or it’s a one-way road (Virginia Code §46.2-854)
- Driving with an overloaded car in which your view is obstructed or your control over the steering wheel is affected (Virginia Code §46.2-855)
- Passing two vehicles abreast, unless there are three lanes of the same direction of travel, or it’s a one-way street (Virginia Code §46.2-856)
- Driving next to another vehicle in the same lane (Virginia Code §46.2-857)
- Overtaking or passing another vehicle at a railroad grade crossing unless there are at least two lanes of the same direction of travel, or the crossing is marked as a passing zone (Virginia Code § 46.2-858)
- Passing a stopped school bus from any direction, unless you’re on the other side of a divided highway (Virginia Code §46.2-859)
- Failing to signal when you intend to turn, partly turn, slow down, or stop (Virginia Code §46.2-860)
- Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions (Virginia Code §46.2-861)
- Failing to stop before entering a highway when entering from a side road, or failing to yield at a yield sign (Virginia Code §46.2-863)
- Driving at a speed or in a way that threatens another person’s life, limb, or property, on the premises of a church, school, recreational facility, business, or governmental property open to the public, or at an industrial establishment’s public parking area, or on a highway under construction (Virginia Code §46.2-864)
- Passing an emergency vehicle that is using lights and sirens (Virginia Code §46.2-829)
Reckless Driving By Speed
Under Virginia Code §46.2-862, another way you may end up with a reckless driving charge is if you’re observed driving 20 mph or more over the posted speed limit, or faster than 80 regardless of the posted speed limit. Many of the reckless driving cases in the state’s court system involve allegations that the driver was speeding.
You can be charged with reckless driving under this statute for speeding without any other accompanying reckless behavior.
It’s important to note that driving faster than 80 mph still is the threshold for reckless driving even though many of Virginia’s highways now have a 70 mph speed limit. So you can be charged even though your speed is only 10 mph over the posted limit.
Reckless Driving Manslaughter
Virginia Code § 46.2-868(B) creates a specific penalty for reckless driving manslaughter. This provision says that if your license was suspended or revoked at the time of your reckless driving charge, and if your reckless driving caused someone’s death, that’s a felony crime that carries a potential prison sentence of one to five years, and a maximum $2,500 fine.
Penalties for Reckless Driving in Virginia
In general, reckless driving is treated a serious misdemeanor with penalties of up to a year in jail, a maximum $2,500 fine, and a possible driver’s license suspension. A conviction adds six demerit points to your driver’s license and stays on your record for 11 years.
If your reckless driving charge includes an allegation that you were texting or reading email or text messages while driving, you face a mandatory minimum fine of $250 if convicted.
Another consequence outside of the court-imposed penalties is that you may pay higher car insurance premiums if convicted of reckless driving.
Extra Penalties For Racing
Virginia Code §46.2-865 makes it illegal to race two or more motor vehicles on a public highway or on the premises of a church, school, recreational facility, or business open to the public.
Racing is treated more seriously as a form of reckless driving in Virginia. A conviction comes with a mandatory minimum six-month driver’s license suspension. The suspension can last for up to two years.
If reckless driving while racing results in another person’s serious injury, the crime becomes a felony with a penalty of one to five years in prison and a maximum $2,500 fine under Virginia Code §46.2-865.1.
When a death is caused by racing, the potential prison term is one to 20 years, including a mandatory sentence of at least one year.
If you’re convicted of causing an injury or death while racing, your driver’s license will be suspended for a mandatory minimum of one year, and for as long as three years.
Virginia Code §46.2-867 allows your vehicle to be seized and sold if you’re convicted of participating in a pre-arranged race.
Possible Defenses for Reckless Driving
To convict you of the general charge of reckless driving, a prosecutor has to prove that you drove in a way that endangered someone else’s life, limb or property, and that you were indifferent to that endangerment.
Evidence of general reckless driving often is subjective and depends on the arresting police officer’s perception of your driving. A skilled Roanoke criminal lawyer knows how to create doubt within the gray areas of that perception, or to demonstrate that you had valid reasons for the behavior the officer observed that he or she deemed reckless.
You may have a valid defense to a reckless driving charge stemming from your speed if your speedometer wasn’t working properly, or if the device the police officer used to clock your speed was improperly calibrated. A defense attorney with experience dealing with the technical issues related to speedometers or radar devices can help you spot whether there might be a problem with the equipment in your case.
You also may be able to challenge the reckless driving charge if your driving was the result of a legitimate emergency.
If you have a good driving record, a team of Roanoke criminal attorneys can argue on your behalf to attempt to reduce the charge to a lesser traffic infraction, such as improper driving, so that you may avoid having a criminal record, or reduce the penalties so you may pay less in fines and end up with fewer points on your license.
Facing Virginia reckless driving charges?
If you’ve been charged with reckless driving in Virginia, the experienced Roanoke criminal attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our Roanoke office, call us day or night at (540) 343-9349.