The Definition and Consequences of Reckless Driving in Virginia

You may have been pulled over for speeding in Virginia and noticed your citation requires you to appear in court or it says “RECKLESS” on its face.  You then may have wondered what this meant?  Here is an overview of the common ways you can receive a reckless driving citation and the consequences. 

What Is Considered “Reckless Driving” in Virginia?

    In Virginia, there are multiple reckless driving statutes.  The general “catch-all” reckless driving rule is codified in section 46.2-852 of the Code of Virginia which simply 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.”  This rule is a catch-all because it is subjective, allowing a police officer to make his own determination of whether your actions on the road are deemed “reckless.”  Among many activities, this could include erratic driving, unsafe lane changes, watching movies on your phone while driving, eating while driving, shaving while driving, etc.  

    The most frequently issued reckless driving citation is under section 46.2-862 of the Code of Virginia, which states “a person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives a motor vehicle on the highways of the Commonwealth (i) at a speed of twenty miles per hour or more in excess of the applicable maximum speed limit or (ii) in excess of eighty miles per hour regardless of the applicable maximum speed limit.”   

The first part of this code section makes it a reckless offense to drive 20 miles per hour or more over the speed limit; so if you are driving 75 in a 55 mile per hour zone, you are driving recklessly and can issued a citation for such a violation.  

The second part of this code section makes it a reckless offense to drive 81 miles per hour or higher on any road in the Commonwealth of Virginia, even if the speed limit is 70 miles per hour.  This second section catches a lot of travelers on I-95 when the speed limit is 70 and everyone is driving much faster than the speed limit.  When the speed limit is 70, driving 81 does not seem “reckless” because you are only travelling 11 miles per hour over the legal limit; but in Virginia, this is citable as reckless driving. 

 

    The following additional activities are also considered reckless under the Code of Virginia: 

driving a vehicle which is not under proper control or which has inadequate or improperly adjusted breaks (§ 46.2-853)
passing another vehicle approaching the crest of a hill or a curve in the highway where the driver’s view is obstructed (§ 46.2-854)
driving a vehicle when it is so loaded as to obstruct the view of the driver or to interfere with the driver’s control of the driving mechanism of the vehicle (§ 46.2-855)
Passing or attempting to pass two other vehicles abreast (§ 46.2-856)
Driving so as to be abreast of another vehicle in a lane designated for one vehicle (§ 46.2-857)
Passing a vehicle at any intersection or railroad crossing (§ 46.2-858)
Failing to give adequate and timely signals turn and brake signals (§ 46.2-860)
Exceeding a reasonable speed under the current circumstances and traffic conditions, regardless of the speed limit (§ 46.2-861)
Failing to bring vehicle to a stop immediately before entering a highway from a side road when there is traffic approaching within 500 feet (§ 46.2-863)
Operating any motor vehicle at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person on certain driveways or premises or highway under construction (§ 46.2-864)
Racing motor vehicles on highways or certain driveways or premises (§ 46.2-865)
     

What Are the Possible Penalties for a Reckless Driving Citation? 

    First and foremost, under section 46.2-868 of the Code of Virginia, if you are convicted of reckless driving you are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Because of this classification, the judge is free to sentence you to jail time if convicted.  A Class 1 misdemeanor can carry a penalty of twelve months in jail and a $2,500 fine.  For instance, some judges will send you to jail for a day for each mile per hour you were driving over 90 miles per hour.  The judge can also suspend your license up to six months.  If you drive for a living, this can carry serious consequences for employment.   

In fact, when a police officer pulls you over for a reckless violation, he can take you to jail right then and there and require you to post bond.

If the judge finds you guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for reckless driving, the conviction goes on your criminal record and stays on your criminal record for life.  This can carry heavy consequences for employment, college and post-graduate applications, security clearances, and insurance.  

This also means that reckless driving is a “must appear” offense.  For other traffic infractions and for reckless driving in some states you can forego appearing in court by mailing in your fine; however, in Virginia, because reckless driving is a criminal offense, you must appear in court.  This is unfortunate for out-of-state residents who happened to be coming from northern states for a vacation down south, drove recklessly, and now must drive back down to Virginia on a work day to appear in court. 

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Reckless Driving on the Eastern Shore of Virginia 

    On the Eastern Shore of Virginia (Accomack and Northampton Counties), travelling via Route 13, it is easy for drivers to drive reckless under this statute due to the frequent changes in speed limits.  On Route 13 from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to the Maryland-Virginia line south of Pocomoke, the speed limit fluctuates from 55 miles per hour to 45 miles per hour multiple times and many drivers are passing through from other states unaware of these fluctuations in towns such as New Church, Oak Hall, Temperanceville, Mappsville, Onley, Melfa, Painter, and Exmore.  Many drivers traveling at 65 miles per hour in the 55 miles per hour zone fail to notice the speed limit drop to 45 miles per hour and fail to notice they are travelling at 20 miles per hour over the speed limit – reckless under section 46.2-862(i).  

    Many out-of-state drivers also get pulled over on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel because they are unaware that officers run radar on the bridge.  If you are pulled over on the bridge for reckless driving, you must appear in Northampton County General District Court located on the Eastern Shore.

Why Hire an Attorney? 

    For any charge that carries criminal penalties it is smart to hire an attorney.  Not only does the attorney know the law and the penalties, an attorney knows the procedural rules and the local unwritten rules of the courthouse.

If you are from afar, it is important to understand that some courts allow reckless drivers to forego appearing in court by hiring a lawyer to make an appearance on their behalf.  This is beneficial to those travelling from out-of-state who wish to enter a plea in hopes the judge will reduce their sentence.  

If you want to exercise your right to a trial and prove your innocence, you may need to appear, regardless of whether you hired counsel because the court may require your testimony on your behalf – but most of the time this is not the case.  Most reckless driving tickets are the result of driving too fast, which is proven by an officer and his radar/laser gun results, which is hard to disprove if the gun was calibrated correctly. Therefore, hiring an attorney to make an appearance to argue a reduction of your sentence – avoiding a misdemeanor charge and avoiding an appearance in court – can save you time and money, especially if you live hundreds of miles away.  Having your reckless driving citation reduced to improper driving can alleviate many of the consequences that come with a brief error in judgment on the road.  

If you wish to speak to an attorney to learn more details about reckless driving in Virginia, please contact us.