"Recklessness" is not always required for a reckless driving charge

When you think of the criminal offense of reckless driving, you may think that you would have to drive in a reckless manner in order to be charged with the offense. However, in Virginia, some offenses that few would consider extreme constitute reckless driving. Since this is a serious criminal offense, it is important for everyone who drives within the state to be familiar with the law in this area.

Speed-related offenses

One of the most common ways of being charged with reckless driving in Virginia is speeding. Unfortunately, a super high rate of speed is not always required in order to be charged with reckless driving. Under the law, speeding is regarded as reckless driving in three instances:

• Driving 20 miles-per-hour or more over the speed limit

• Driving 80 miles-per-hour or more (regardless of the speed limit)

• Driving at a speed that is unreasonable under the prevailing traffic conditions or circumstances

Although the first two instances are rather easy to understand, the third is less concrete. Under the law, there is no definition of what is "unreasonable," so it is up to the police officer's judgment when charging you, and up to a judge when hearing your case. As a result, the officer has considerable discretion to charge you with reckless driving, if in his or her judgment, you were driving too fast, given the traffic, weather and other circumstances at the time.

Other offenses

Aside from speeding, there are several other offenses that constitute reckless driving. Under the law, you can be charged with reckless driving if you:

• Drive in a manner that endangers the life, property or limb of another person, regardless of the speed limit

• Pass a vehicle as you approach a hill or curve in the road, unless there is more than one lane running in each direction

• Drive a vehicle with faulty brakes

• Pass at a railroad crossing

• Pass two abreast vehicles, unless the highway has three or more lanes running in each direction

• Fail to give turn signals

• Pass a school bus that is loading or unloading children

• Race other vehicles

• Fail to yield the right of way when entering a highway

• Drive recklessly on a driveway or parking lot of a school, business, church or government property open to the public.

Penalties are severe

Although some of the offenses may seem rather minor, if you are charged with reckless driving, the penalties are fairly severe. In Virginia, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is the most serious type of misdemeanor. Under the law, you may face up to 1 year in jail, six demerit points on your license and fines up to $2,500. Also, the court may suspend your license up to six months. Additionally, because it is a jailable offense, the police officer will require you to come back to court for trial, even if you live out of state.

Since you will have a criminal offense on your record if convicted, a reckless driving charge can potentially affect your employment, especially if you have a security clearance. Because of the many negative consequences, it is important to seek the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible, if you are charged with reckless driving. An attorney can work on your behalf to minimize the negative repercussions and secure the best possible outcome. If the police officer and the judge are willing to waive jail time, an attorney may also be able to appear on your behalf if you live out of state.