A reckless driving charge in Virginia is not merely a moving violation or a simple speeding ticket. This is because Virginia makes reckless driving a criminal offense, and more specifically, a class one misdemeanor. For context, class one misdemeanors are the most serious misdemeanors in Virginia. They are punishable by up to 12 months in jail and also carry the potential of up to a $2,500 fine. Other examples of class one misdemeanors include petit larceny, assault and battery, and DUI.
If you drive at a speed of 20 miles per hour or more in excess of the speed limit or in excess of 85 miles per hour regardless of the applicable speed limit, you could be charged with reckless driving in Virginia. See Va. Code § 46.2-862. Unlike general speeding tickets, a reckless driving ticket cannot be prepaid and generally requires you to show up to court unless you retain an attorney who can typically handle the ticket for you. In many instances, out of state drivers who are cited in Virginia will hire an attorney to negotiate the ticket on their behalf. This makes it convenient for out of state drivers who do not want to return to Virginia for the hearing.
Other Penalties and Consequences
In addition to the penalties referenced above, a reckless driving by speed conviction carries other potential consequences including: 6 demerit points on your driving record, the conviction remaining on your driving record for 11 years, license suspension up to 6 months, and increased insurance premiums. For CDL drivers or other contract workers, a reckless driving conviction or license suspension could have detrimental effects on your employment.
It is also important to understand the practical consequences. Typically, judges do not order active jail time as a result of a reckless driving conviction (unless there are aggravating circumstances such as causing a severe accident, and/or traveling 90 miles per hour above the speed limit combined with a poor driving record).
Additionally, jurisdictions in Virginia vary significantly on procedure based on the judge’s practices and other policies. In most jurisdictions, reckless driving tickets are handled solely by the judge and the officer who issued the summons. However, in some jurisdictions, such as Prince William County, the Commonwealth prosecutes reckless driving matters. It is vital to know the practice common in the jurisdiction in which you were convicted.
During any trial for reckless driving, the officer (or Commonwealth) must prove each element of the offense. This means the state bears the burden of proving you were driving a motor vehicle, on the highway, in the county and at the speed charged on the summons. This may seem apparent but there are many technicalities that could arise to support a dismissal of your case. For example, for any questions regarding speed, the officer must be able to attest to the accuracy of the laser speed device, radar, microcomputer device, or photo speed monitoring device used in the traffic stop. Va. Code 46.2-882 specifically lays out certain requirements that must be met relative to the officer’s calibration. For example, the officer is required to have a certification as to the accuracy of the device which shall be valid for no longer than six months. See Va. Code 46.2-882. Drivers should keep this in mind before considering pleading guilty to a reckless driving ticket.
Mitigating Factors and Other Possibilities
Having a good driving record, being polite and cooperative with the officer, and taking a Virginia DMV-approved driving improvement class are all mitigating factors that could potentially increase the likelihood of receiving a more favorable outcome for your reckless driving ticket.
In some circumstances, having your vehicle’s speedometer calibrated could potentially serve as a possible defense as well.
Even if a dismissal is not possible, some drivers may be eligible to have their reckless driving charge reduced to regular speeding or even improper driving. Pursuant to Va. Code § 46.2-869, where the degree of culpability is slight, the judge or the Commonwealth has the discretion to reduce the reckless driving charge to improper driving. Improper driving is not a misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine of no more than $500 and carries only 3 demerit points.
Do not simply plead guilty to a reckless driving ticket. It is highly recommended that drivers charged with reckless driving by speed in Virginia be proactive in their defense and consult with an experienced attorney.