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:
“A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives a motor vehicle on the highways in 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.”
This means that no matter how light the traffic and no matter how under control your vehicle, it is still reckless driving to drive 81 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 local rules. The higher your speed, the more likely jail time becomes.
- 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.
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 guilty. You should consult an attorney to see the range of mitigating factors that can help you get a reduced punishment or charge reduction.
Should you take a Drivers’ Improvement Class or Calibrate my Speedometer?
Our office highly recommends speaking with an attorney about the specific facts of your case before paying for a Drivers’ Improvement Class, or paying to have your speedometer calibrated, or before spending time or money on other mitigation efforts (such as community service). While these may be very necessary and important to defending your case, they also may be entirely unnecessary.
Depending on the speed, your criminal record, and the jurisdiction among other issues, you may not need to spend time or money on these efforts before your first court date.
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.
Contact the office today for a consultation regarding your reckless driving charge.