Last updated on May 21st, 2019
If you’re pulled over by an officer in Virginia for speeding or a similar offense, they may surprise you with a ticket for reckless driving.
Under the Virginia Code, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. For this reason, it’s important to educate yourself on Virginia’s reckless driving laws before driving in or through the state.
As a note before I begin, this article only offers general, practical advice for avoiding reckless driving charges in Virginia. You should always speak with an attorney before making any specific decisions about your case.
Virginia’s Reckless Driving Laws
The Virginia Code categorizes 14 specific actions as reckless driving, ranging from excessive speeding to passing someone on a hill:
- § 46.2-852 – Driving in a way which endangers the life, limb, or property of another, irrespective of speed.
- § 46.2-853 – Driving a vehicle which is not under control, or which has faulty breaks.
- § 46.2-854 – Passing another driver on a hill which obstructs your view of what’s on the other side of the hill.
- § 46.2-855 – Driving with an overloaded vehicle, or in such a way that your view is obstructed to the front or sides.
- § 46.2-856 – Passing two vehicles abreast (i.e. passing two or more vehicles at once).
- § 46.2-857 – Driving two abreast in a single lane (i.e. having two vehicles side-by-side in a single lane).
- § 46.2-858 – Passing someone at a railroad crossing.
- § 46.2-859 – Passing a stopped school bus.
- § 46.2-860 – Failing to give proper signals when turning, slowing down or stopping.
- § 46.2-861 – Driving too fast for highway or traffic conditions (i.e. speeding in the snow or driving dangerously during a traffic jam).
- § 46.2-862 – Driving on a road in Virginia (1) at a speed of 20 mph or more in excess of the speed limit, or (2) in excess of 80 mph, regardless of the actual speed limit.
- § 46.2-863 – Failing to yield the right-of-way when turning onto or off of a highway.
- § 46.2-864 – Driving in a parking lot in a way which endangers the life, limb, or property of others.
- § 46.2-865 through § 46.2-867 – Racing on any street, highway, etc. without the permission of the property owner, or otherwise aiding or abetting any acts of racing in the Commonwealth.
Of these, the two most commonly charged are reckless by speed (§ 46.2-862) and the general “driving in a dangerous manner” law from the top of this list (§ 46.2-852).
If you receive a ticket for reckless driving in Virginia, the description will usually list either “RD” (for “Reckless Driving”) or one of the specific code sections that I’ve noted above.
You can use this information to help build your defense should you choose to fight your reckless driving charge.
How to Avoid Reckless Driving Charges in Virginia
Police officers in Virginia pull over hundreds of drivers every day for offenses ranging from speeding to other minor moving violations. However, some of these residents return home only to find that they were actually charged with reckless driving.
As noted above, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor which carries heavy penalties such as fines and jail time. As a misdemeanor, you’ll usually have to appear in front of a judge at least twice before the issue is resolved. In less serious cases you may get away with one appearance, but this is still an inconvenience you’ll want to avoid.
For this reason, it’s wise to avoid things which might result in a reckless driving ticket in the first place. Don’t speed, don’t pass other cars on railroad tracks, and avoid passing stopped school buses like the plague.
In most cases, an officer will charge you with reckless driving for speeding a certain amount over the posted limit. For this reason, the easiest way to protect yourself from a reckless driving charge is to simply drive at or below the speed limit.
However, if you find yourself consistently traveling above this limit you should always avoid going faster than 80 mph, or more than 20 mph over the posted limit.
Statistically speaking, since most Virginia reckless driving charges are based on instances of speeding, the easiest way to avoid a reckless driving charge is to simply keep a close eye on your speedometer.
If that doesn’t work, or if an officer still pulls you over for speeding, you should keep a few additional tips in mind.
Tip #1 – Be careful when speaking to the officer
As the saying goes, “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
In most cases of reckless by speed, the charges hinge on how fast the officer says you were going. Put another way, for a judge to convict you of reckless driving in Virginia, the prosecution needs to first prove that you were driving recklessly.
Often, this is done by presenting evidence such as data from the officer’s speed testing device. However, many reckless driving cases are actually decided because the defendant chose to argue or negotiate with the officer on the side of the road.
For example, telling the officer “I was only going 81, give me a break” is a terrible idea that will ruin your case before it even begins.
The best advice in many cases is to avoid engaging with the officer at all. Nothing you say will convince them to not give you a ticket, and in most situations it will only hurt your case down the line.
For this reason, you should be incredibly careful when talking to the officer during your stop. Answer the officer’s questions clearly, but avoid admitting to anything or offering up any additional information.
Tip #2 – Make sure to read the ticket
If an officer gives you a citation for reckless driving in Virginia, they will write the charge on the same slip of paper they use for speeding tickets. This can confuse many people, who see the yellow ticket and assume that they only have to pay a small fine sometime down the road.
After you receive a speeding ticket in Virginia, you should always make sure to look at the section labeled “charges” or “law section.” This section will list the exact crime or infraction you’re being charged with.
If this section lists any codes between § 46.2-852 and § 46.2-869 then the ticket is probably for reckless driving. The same is true if the officer simply wrote “RD” or “reckless driving.”
If the officer pulled you over for speeding, you should also take note of the speed written on your ticket. A speed of more than 20 mph over the posted limit, or anywhere above 80 mph total, may also be for reckless driving.
Finally, always make sure to read your ticket carefully and ask the officer questions if you’re confused about anything they wrote on it. It’s often easier to get answers directly from the source than it is to call your local courthouse several days after the fact.
On the other hand, you should always call your local courthouse if you have more serious questions about your case.
Police officers are trained to keep the roads safe, but they aren’t always knowledgeable about court-specific rules and procedures. If you have questions about your ticket, make sure to call either the clerk’s office listed on the ticket or a local attorney.
Tip #3 – If you want to fight the charges, don’t pay the ticket
Many Virginia residents don’t understand what actually happens when they pay the fine for a normal traffic ticket.
Essentially, paying a ticket, whether online or at your local courthouse, constitutes a guilty plea for the infraction you’re being charged with (in this case, speeding).
In a similar fashion, if you’re charged with reckless driving in Virginia the court may give you the option to pay it off. In almost every situation, choosing to do so is a mistake.
If you look at your ticket, there will be a box that says something along the lines of “you may avoid coming to court only if this box is checked and all instructions on defendant’s copy are followed.”
Essentially, if the officer checked this box then you can pay your reckless driving ticket online. However, just like with a normal traffic ticket this payment constitutes a guilty plea.
Put another way, paying your reckless driving ticket online means that you are pleading guilty to a Class 1 misdemeanor. This means you are on the hook for all the penalties relating to the original crime, including both fines and possible jail time.
Most courts will prevent you from just paying the ticket in the first place. However, attempting to do so highlights a different, underlying problem in your case. Namely, attempting to pay your ticket online means that you’re still treating reckless driving as a minor offense.
To repeat, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, not a traffic infraction. It is a serious charge that you need to speak to an attorney about. Reckless driving cases progress quite quickly, and, usually, your court date will only be a few weeks away.
How to Respond to a Reckless Driving Ticket
First, confirm that the ticket is for reckless driving. You can do so by either looking at what the officer wrote on the ticket itself or by putting your court date (or your name) into the General District Court Online Case Information System and finding the entry for your offense.
Once you’ve confirmed that you’re being charged with reckless driving, you should speak with an attorney immediately. You don’t have to hire them, but you should ask questions about what they think your best options are.
For example, in certain situations, you may be able to argue the charges down to improper driving, a basic traffic infraction. In others, you could negotiate to have the charges dismissed entirely with community service or proof of having taken safety classes.
Remember, a conviction for reckless driving will stay on your record forever, so you should always do your due diligence when choosing whether or not to fight the charges against you.
Key Takeaways about Reckless Driving in Virginia
- Virginia treats cases of reckless driving harsher than most of the surrounding states, and gives out significantly more speeding and reckless driving tickets than most other states in the country.
- If a judge convicts you of reckless driving in Virginia, you could face a fine of up to $2,500 (usually, you’ll have to pay $350 or more), license suspension, jail time, and more.
- The most common form of reckless driving in Virginia is reckless by speed, which is going 20 mph over the posted limit or going faster than 80 mph total.
- The best way to avoid reckless driving charges in Virginia is simply to drive at the posted limit. The second best way is to avoid the Code’s specific definition of “reckless.”
- Don’t talk to the police. If you choose to talk to the police, be extremely careful about what you say. You won’t convince them to drop the charges. Limit yourself to questions about your ticket and anecdotes about the weather.
- You cannot and should not pay the fine for reckless driving before your court date, as you are essentially pleading guilty to a Class 1 misdemeanor. Most jurisdictions prohibit you from paying this fine, but some cases may still slip through the cracks.
- If you’re charged with reckless driving, speak with an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, ask them about payment plans or pro bono work. Many attorneys are accommodating if you’re simply looking for advice.