Driving recklessly is not always a prerequisite for reckless driving

The term "reckless driving" seems to imply that one's driving must be reckless in order to be charged with this offense. However, in Virginia, this is not always true. Although behavior behind the wheel that is obviously reckless certainly qualifies as reckless driving, the offense also encompasses many behaviors that few would consider reckless. Since reckless driving is a serious criminal offense, it is important for all drivers in the state, as well as those who only drive here occasionally, to be aware of Virginia law on this subject.

Speeding offenses

You may already have surmised that you can get charged with reckless driving for speeding. However, a very high rate of speed is not always required before you may be charged with the offense. Speeding is considered reckless driving under Virginia law in three cases:

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

• Regardless of the speed limit, driving 80 miles-per-hour or more

• Driving at a higher speed than is reasonable under the current traffic conditions or other circumstances

The first two instances where speeding can result in a reckless driving charge are easy to understand. However, the third one is a bit more difficult to grasp. Unfortunately, the law does not define what is "reasonable," so law enforcement has wide latitude in this area. As a result, you can be charged with reckless driving if the officer believes, in his or her own opinion, that you were driving too fast, given the weather, traffic and other factors existing at the moment you were pulled over.

Other types of offenses

In addition to speeding, you can be charged with reckless driving for a variety of other offenses. Although some of these offenses are obviously reckless, others are less so. The offenses include:

• Failing to give turn signals

• Following too closely

• Driving in a manner that puts the life, limb or property of another in danger

• Driving a vehicle with faulty or nonfunctioning brakes

• Passing a vehicle as you are approaching a hill or curve in the road, unless there is another lane running in each direction (i.e. two lanes in each direction)

• Passing at a railroad crossing

• Passing two vehicles traveling abreast in the same direction, unless there is another lane (i.e. three lanes in each direction)

• Engaging in races with other vehicles

• Passing a school bus as it is loading/unloading children

• Driving in a reckless manner on a parking lot or driveway of a business, church, school or property open to the public (including government property)

• Failing to properly yield the right of way when getting on a highway

Severe penalties follow

Even though some of the offenses qualifying as reckless driving under the law seem somewhat minor, severe penalties await those that are convicted of the offense. Under Virginia law, reckless driving is the most serious type of misdemeanor-a Class 1 Misdemeanor. The penalties may include fines up to $2,500, a year in jail and six points on your license. Also, the court has the power to suspend your license for up to six months. Finally, reckless driving is a jailable offense. As a result, if you are an out-of-state driver, you will likely be required to return to Virginia for trial.

Since reckless driving is a criminal offense, a conviction may affect your ability to obtain employment, particularly if you work in government and have a security clearance. Additionally, with a clean criminal record increasingly becoming a prerequisite for many things in life, you may suffer the negative outcomes all those with a criminal record experience. As a result, if you are charged with the offense, you should not take it lightly, as more is at stake than an ordinary traffic offense. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you further of your rights and work to obtain the best outcome possible.