In Northern Virginia, our courts and legislature take Reckless Driving very seriously. Below we’ve provided important information that we think you need to know. Take some time to read, and then call an attorney to learn your options.
What is a Virginia Reckless Driving charge?
- Under Virginia law, Reckless Driving is a criminal charge. Unlike a speeding infraction, Reckless Driving will go on your criminal record, and you face similar collateral consequences of other criminal charges. For example, if convicted, you will be required to answer “yes” if ever asked, “have you been convicted of a criminal charge?” on a job or loan application.
- In Virginia, Reckless Driving is a Class I Misdemeanor. As such, you face up to one (1) year in jail and up to a fine of $2,500.00. Whether you will actually see jail time depends on the facts of your case. We’ll discuss the possiblity of jail time below. Make sure to read on because we aren’t trying to scare you!
- Under Virginia Code Section 46.2-393, you also face a possible license suspension of up to six (6) months. That means that you may lose your ability to drive for that period of time.
- You also face up to six (6) Demerit Points from the Virginia DMV. (Click here to learn more about Virginia DMV’s Point System).
What type of behavior constitutes Reckless Driving in Virginia? (Non-speeding cases).
There are two main ways you face a Reckless Driving charge in Virginia. The first is driving behavior that is independent of your speed. For example, Virginia Code Section 46.2-852 states:
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.
As you might notice, this statutory language is broad and can encompass many times of dangerous driving behavior.
The Virginia Code also provides other specific types of behavior that constitute Reckless Driving:
- § 46.2-853. Driving vehicle which is not under control; faulty brakes;
- § 46.2-854. Passing on or at the crest of a grade or on a curve;
- § 46.2-855. Driving with driver’s view obstructed or control impaired;
- § 46.2-856. Passing two vehicles abreast;
- § 46.2-857. Driving two abreast in a single lane;
- § 46.2-858. Passing at a railroad grade crossing;
- § 46.2-859. Passing a stopped school bus; prima facie evidence;
- § 46.2-860. Failing to give proper signals;
- § 46.2-861. Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions;
- § 46.2-861.1. Drivers to yield right-of-way or reduce speed when approaching stationary vehicles displaying certain warning lights on highways;
- § 46.2-863. Failure to yield right-of-way;
- § 46.2-864. Reckless driving on parking lots, etc.;
- § 46.2-865. Racing;
- § 46.2-865.1. Injuring another or causing the death of another while engaging in a race;
- § 46.2-866. Racing; aiders or abettors;
- § 46.2-867. Racing; seizure of motor vehicle;
- § 46.2-868.1. Aggressive driving
Reckless Driving by Speed.
Of course, you can also be charged with Reckless Driving for driving too fast. Virginia Code Section 46.2-862 provides:
A person is guilty of reckless driving who drives a motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth (i) at a speed of 20 miles per hour or more in excess of the applicable maximum speed limit or (ii) in excess of 85 miles per hour regardless of the applicable maximum speed limit.
As is clear from the language, if you were going more than 20 mph over the speed limit or going over 85 mph, you can be convicted of Reckless Driving. But you also need to be aware of the possible punishment, including jail time.
James, will I really go to jail for a Virginia Reckless Driving charge?!
To be clear, we are not trying to scare you into hiring us. Indeed, to be clear, most Reckless Driving cases do not involve active jail time. However, because Reckless Driving is a crime we do recommend that you hire an attorney (even if it’s not us!) Doing what you can to avoid a criminal conviction is worth the cost.
With that said, there are cases where active jail time is a real possibility. While not written in any code or rule, at least in Northern Virginia, you are facing a real possibility of jail if you were caught going over 90 mph. And it doesn’t matter who you are, judges can be harsh. For baseball fans, several years ago, Washington Nationals’ outfield Jayson Werth was sentenced to five days in jail for driving 105 mph/55 mph. (Of course, doing over 90 mph is not the only circumstance you may face jail, but it’s the most common scenario that we see. And also, your driving record will matter too).
Given that, our advice to you is to speak to an attorney about your options, particularly, if you were driving high speeds or driving in a manner that almost caused a crash.
How can the prosecutor prove that I was guilty of high speed Reckless Driving?
In Virginia, law enforcement establish your speed a couple of ways:
- RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging)
- LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)
For the two first methods, law enforcement essentially employ a Radar or Liard “gun”, which uses sound or light to detect your speed.
To obtain your speed by Pacing, law enforcement catches up to your vehicle and maintains a consistent distance from your vehicle for a period of time, thereby “pacing” you, and uses the speed of their own vehicle to establish your speed.
Are there any defenses to these methods?
When it comes to establishing your speed at trial, there are arguments that law enforcement must take steps to ensure the technology that they are using was accurate and properly calibrated when it was used to calculate your speed. While courts can differ on how exactly they can prove this at trial, a skilled defense attorney will investigate whether law enforcement did its job.
Should your case go to trial, your attorney will do his or her best to challenge the admission of that evidence at trial. To be clear, every case is different, and judges rule differently on the same issue. So, another part of your attorney’s job is to educate you on the players involved in your case (the prosecutors and judges) to give you a better indication about what may happen should you go to trial.
What steps can I take to increase my chances of a good outcome in my case?
If you’re facing a reckless driving charge, you need to speak with your attorney about the steps that you should take to prepare for court. However, here are some ideas that should be considered:
- Taking a Driving Improvement Course. (Check out our Community Resources Page to find courses).
- Obtaining your Driving Record from the Virginia DMV. (You can go here to obtain your record).
- Perform Community Service. (Check out our Community Resources Page to find community service providers).
- Have your vehicle’s Speedometer Calibrated. If it turns out that the speedometer was underreporting your speed (and you were actually going faster than you thought), a prosecutor may consider this when considering your culpability for speeding.
- Write a Apology Letter about what you’ve learned from your driving improvement course, the court proceedings, and the entire experience that demonstrates that you’ve learned from your mistake. (To be clear, this is for your attorney’s eyes only until it’s agreed that it should be shared with a prosecutor or the judge).
- Obtain Letters of Recommendation demonstrating your good moral character and safe driving.
As I tell all of my clients, none of the above is a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. But for cases where a prosecutor or judge is “on the fence,” your efforts can go a long way to obtain a better result. (Again, before doing any of these, talk with your attorney to get advice about what’s best for your circumstances).