What is Reckless Driving in Virginia?
Reckless Driving in Virginia when someone drives his/her 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.” VA Code § 46.2-862. To drive recklessly in Virginia is to have a “disregard for the driver of a motor vehicle for the consequences of his act and an indifference to the safety of life, limb, or property.” Powers v. Commonwealth, 211 Va. 386, 388 (1970).
The statute sets up speeds at which the police officer or trooper can give you a Reckless Driving charge, regardless of how you are driving. Specifically, any speed 20 MPH over the limit, or over 85 MPH regardless of the speed limit, is Reckless Driving,
This means that no matter how light the traffic and no matter how under control your vehicle, it is still reckless driving to drive 85 mph, even in a 70 mph zone, or 20 mph or more over the speed limit. Around Northern Virginia this is a common offense on the I-495 beltway, where the speed limit can drop to 55 mph, even though the normal rate of traffic is at least 75 mph.
What are the maximum penalties for Reckless Driving in Virginia?
Reckless Driving in Virginia is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, which includes:
- Fines: Class 1 misdemeanors carry a fine of up to $2,500. However, the actual amount you will end up paying will vary depending on your specific situation including: your record, your speed, the judge hearing your case, the prosecutor, and the local court policy.
- Jail Time: Class 1 Misdemeanors include a possible sentence of 0-12 months in jail. Jail time, much like the fines, will vary depending on your speed, your record, and the locality. The higher your speed, the more likely jail time becomes. Specifically, for alleged speeds around 100+ MPH, jail time becomes a real possibility that needs to be addressed.
- Suspended License: Many people who receive reckless driving tickets also face a great risk of having their license suspended. This is particularly true if it is a particularly egregious speed or if it is a repeat offense.
- DMV points: A reckless driving conviction will give you 6 demerit driving points on a Virginia license.
- Lifetime Criminal record: In Virginia you cannot expunge a criminal record. If you are convicted of Reckless Driving in Virginia, you will have the misdemeanor conviction on your record for the rest of your life. Therefore, even if you do not get jail or a large fine, you will still end up with a criminal record, which can affect many areas of your life including immigration status, security clearance, and background checks for employment.
Reckless Driving in Federal Court- The Eastern District of Virginia
In Northern Virginia, it is not uncommon to find yourself in Federal Court. For Reckless Driving this is generally happens because you were driving on federal property such as a military establishment, or the G.W Parkway. In this circumstance, the nature of your charge is the same, but the procedure in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia is slightly different.
Should you just show up and Plead Guilty?
While it is certainly easiest to just show up, plead guilty, and pay the fine, you will have a Class 1 Misdemeanor on your permanent record–in addition to the other possible penalties mentioned above.
Likewise, showing up and admitting guilt but explaining your circumstances (you were passing another merging vehicle, you were running late for an important event, you were driving safely) will also likely end up in a guilty conviction. While the judge may appreciate your candor, it is still an admission of guilt. You should consult an attorney to see the range of mitigating factors that can help you get a reduced punishment or charge reduction.
It is also worthwhile to have your attorney explore possible alternative outcomes like amending the charge to speeding or Improper Driving.
Resolving or Fighting a Reckless Driving Charge
Our office highly recommends speaking with an attorney about the specific facts of your case to determine the best approach. One factor will be the specific jurisdiction that you are charged in, and how they generally handle these cases.
There are several steps we typically (though not always) advise Clients to do when facing a Reckless Driving charge. One is to get your speedometer calibrated at a Virginia auto shop. These shops should be able to provide you with a calibration sheet that can be used in Court. Not always, but frequently enough, a car speedometer can be off by several MPH, especially at higher speeds.
You can also look into taking a Driver’s Improvement Course, though that is best coordinated with your attorney.
Finally, your attorney can look into a possible amendment to Improper Driving. This can be handled by agreement with the prosecutor, or even done by the Judge after a trial. In short, Improper Driving is a civil violation that your Reckless Driving charge can be amended to. That means you won’t have a criminal charge on your record, and jail time is off the table, though you will likely receive a fine.
Should you get an attorney?
Yes, as mentioned, pleading guilty for reckless driving admits guilt to a Class 1 Misdemeanor. And in many Northern Virginia jurisdictions (like Fairfax County), the commonwealth’s attorney (the prosecutor) will not speak with a client who is not represented by counsel. This means that unfortunately you cannot show up at the court date in a County like Fairfax and try to negotiate the charge with the prosecutor.
Speaking to an attorney allows you to explore your specific circumstances surrounding your charge including but not limited to possible defenses, weaknesses in your case, reduced punishments, and even a reduced charge given your criminal and driving history.
Our office handles reckless driving cases across Northern Virginia state courts (Alexandria, Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William) and the Eastern District of Virginia federal district court.