Reckless driving is a class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. It’s the same level of offense as DUI. You read that right. A person who gets involved in an accident or speeds a little too fast is charged with a misdemeanor on the same plane as DUI.
Virginia has many different types of reckless driving. To understand your case, you first have to start with the ticket itself. It’s the piece of paper you received from the officer that usually says “Virginia Uniform Summons” at the top. In most cases, they’re yellow carbon copies.
The summons will show the section of the Virginia Code (or local ordinance) that you’re charged with violating. There are 14 different types of reckless driving, but they do not all come up often in court.
Here are the most common varieties:
Reckless by speed
Most reckless driving tickets are based solely on speed. In Virginia, any speed over 80 miles per hour, or any speed 20 miles per hour or more above the speed limit, qualifies as reckless driving (VA Code § 46.2-862). Since some interstates in Virginia have 70-mile-per-hour speed limits, you could be charged with reckless driving for going only 11 milesper-hour over the limit.
Failure to maintain control
When an accident occurs, the State Police typically charge the person they think caused the accident with failure to maintain control (VA Code § 46.2-853). This shows why you should read your ticket carefully. Many people get a ticket that just says “failure to maintain control,” only to be surprised when they later find out it’s for reckless driving.
Passing a stopped school bus – If an officer thinks you passed a school bus while it was stopped for loading / unloading children, you could get a reckless driving ticket (VA Code § 46.2-859). The code section for this version requires the Commonwealth to prove a number of specific items, including the color of the bus. Judges certainly take these sorts of tickets seriously, due to the possible danger to children.
Even if your driving behavior did not fit one of the many specific definitions of reckless driving, you could be charged under the catch-all statute if your driving allegedly endangered people or property (VA Code § 46.2-852). This section can be charged in a wide variety of situations from doing wheelies on a motorcycle to passing in a “no passing” zone.
Importantly, you shouldn’t get too focused on the term “reckless driving.” In Virginia, you don’t have to be truly driving in a reckless manner to be charged with “reckless driving.” As we just saw, you can be charged with this offense simply due to exceeding the speed limit by a designated amount, even if you were otherwise driving 100% safely.
Regardless which version your ticket says, it’s still a criminal charge. That means you’ll have a court date, be asked to enter a plea, and there will be a trial. The Commonwealth has to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s not like you’ve seen on Law & Order, but it’s a real trial that affects your life!