These three “lesser-known” Virginia reckless driving laws sometimes take drivers by surprise.
Many people incorrectly assume speeding is the only way a driver can be charged with reckless driving in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The truth is, speeding is but one out of the more than dozen driving behaviors deemed to be reckless. Our own expert analysis has revealed several somewhat common, ableit lesser-known forms of this criminal Class 1 misdemeanor.
Due to the well-known nature of the “speeding” version of reckless driving in Virginia, you will find contained in this article a brief discussion following this list.
1. Maintain Control (Failure) or Operating a Vehicle with Faulty Brakes
“[Driving] a vehicle which is not under proper control or which has inadequate or improperly adjusted brakes… “
This charge often follows a car accident. But oftentimes, the officer arrives to the scene late (and thus, does not witness the accident). This will lead to a situation in which an officer may seek statements from witnesses, or from the driver. But if there are no witnesses, and if the driver makes no incriminating statement, then there is a good argument to be made in court that the prosecution cannot meet their burden of proof. Remember: in no event does a person have to testify. This is a fundamental Constitutional right. Unfortunately, people often make statements to police officers and do not realize they are making an incriminating statement.
It is particularly important to take a reckless driving charge seriously, primarily due to the fact that it is a criminal offense… not a mere traffic infraction. In Virginia, a criminal conviction will remain on an adult’s criminal record for life.
2. Passing Vehicle (When Approaching a Curve or Hill)
This particular offense applies when the driver’s view along the road is obstructed. This does not apply if the road has more than one lane in the direction that the driver is traveling, nor does it apply on “designated one-way roadways or highways.”
To illustrate, consider this example:
As you approach the top of a hill (one that you cannot see over), a driver from your rear crosses over the double-solid yellow line and speeds up to pass. Since you cannot quite see what is over the crest, the driver passing you surely cannot safely see. If there is an oncoming car in that driver’s lane, he will possibly strike it in a head-on collision.
3. Obstructed View (Ever seen a mattress on top of someone’s roof)?
This offense is sometimes charged when a person innocently makes an attempt to transport a large, bulky object (i.e., a mattress, lumber, etc..). Other times, it is an offense charged when too many people are in a vehicle. For example, if a person is sitting on the console between a driver and passenger, then it is possible that the driver’s view may be “obstructed,” or blocked.
A Note on Reckless Driving by way of Speed
Most reckless driving charges in Virginia are a result of a driver speeding. But not just any speed qualifies as “reckless.” There are two distinct ways in which a driver may be charged with reckless driving; one is actually somewhat controversial.
- 20 mph or more above the limit.
- “in excess” of 80 mph, regardless of limit.
The first type (speeding 20 mph or more over the limit) is the less controversial form of reckless driving by speed. The controversey is due to the “regardless of limit” language. For example, a driver who is speeding 81 mph on a highway with a limit of 70 mph can be charged and convicted of reckless driving, despite the fact that he or she was only traveling 11 mph over the limit. When it comes to speed, however, there are several defenses which may apply in some cases.
Careful! These Poor Excuses Typically Fail
It is common for unrepresented drivers to make poor, but logical excuses. Some examples of such excuses are:
- “I had to use the bathroom.”
- “I was going with the flow of traffic.”
- “I was late to an interview.”
- “Someone was trying to race me.”
There are, however, viable defenses in some cases. For example, in Virginia, if there is a dispute as to speed (and a radar or laser device was used by the arresting officer), then the officer must show a valid calibration certificate in court. If the certificate is outdated, then the case is dismissed.
“What Fines am I Facing?”
Regardless of the form of reckless driving a person is accused of violating, all are Class 1 misdemeanor criminal offenses in Virginia:
- up to 12 months in jail,
- a fine up to $2,500, and
- loss of driving privileges.
The actual punishment(s) you face, if charged and convicted, will vary depending upon multiple factors. The maximum penalties are rare, but possible.