What constitutes reckless driving in VA?
September 6, 2006 6:58 AM   Subscribe

What is a guy to do about a seemingly unreasonable traffic charge?

I was speeding, I got caught, I would not argue that becuase I am clearly guilty of that.

More specifically I was driving home from Greensboro NC. to northern Virginia yesterday by way of Route 29 and making good time and enjoying the scenery. In Lovingston Va which is just south of Charlottesville I got caught by a speed trap. It was just over the crest of a hill, and I was giving the car some more gas to get over the hill and natually it was going a bit faster then it should when I started going down again so I was caught going 74 in a 60. I got a ticket, and was told to buckle up and drive safe for the remainder of my journey.

Now I was fine with this, and aside from feeling like a dummy for speeding I was ready to prepay the ticket and get on with my life. Then when I got home I noticed that the ticket was for reckless driving and became much more concerned.

I was speeding but I do not feel I met any of the conditions for reckless driving in the state of Virginia. I was not passing cars or switching lanes in a reckless manner, as there were no other cars anywhere near me, nor did I change lanes. I was not exceeding the posted speed limit by more then 20 miles an hour, nor was I going over 80mph. I was not driving dangerously in bad conditions, as the weather was beautiful at the time and the roads were dry and emply of any activity other then myself. I was not racing (saw no other cars for several minutes before the incident) Additionally I was in no way shape or form innebriated, I have not touched pot in well over a year at this point and I did have 2 glasses of wine the night before with dinner, but I cannot see that being a factor. As far as I can tell from looking at the Viginia criteria for reckless driving and some commentary concerning them the only possible way I could considered a reckless driver was if the LEO made a judgment call that my going 14 mph over the posted speed limit was in some way much more significant then a mere traffic ticket for such a speed would merit.

However if this is merely a judgement call by the LEO does that not put the burden of proof on the state? Also, does the fact that I have an exemplary record prior to this with no tickets whatseover really serve as a mitigating circumstance that might get the charge reduced? I do not hope to get out of this with not penalty, the fact is I was speeding and I got caught and I deserve to pay for it. But I was not driving recklessly and I do not want such a charge on my record, nor do I want points for it on my previously unblemished driving history.

So my question is this, I have the option of paying for this ($212) and trying to forget it, is it better to just swallow that pill or if I were to show up in court down there would I be risking a more serious penalty, and should I consider hiring a lawer to go with me. I do not have much money, and I would prefer to go by myself, but I do not want to risk doing somthing stupid in court due to ignorance. My girlfirends father is a trial lawer who also happens to be particularly adept at getting speeding tickets so I will ask him about this later today, but I would greatly appreciate any advice from you guys and will post any other information you want if asked for it.
posted by BobbyDigital to Law & Government (26 answers total)
How is your record? Without going into overlong detail, when I went to court for my [deserved] speeding ticket, it was my first offense and I got it changed into a parking infraction. Same fine, no points. Totally excellent outcome for me. Traffic court is really not that much like real court, I'm fairly certain you can't make things worse by showing up. I'd recommend doing whatever your girlfriend's father says unless you have reason to suspect he dislikes you.
posted by jessamyn at 7:03 AM on September 6, 2006

Code of Virginia: Title 46.2 - MOTOR VEHICLES. Chapter 8 - Regulation of Traffic

The bit about reckless driving starts with §852 and following. There are specific rules and the general one in §852: "Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving."

I'd fight it; this is a lot worse on your record than speeding.
posted by grouse at 7:05 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: I got caught in the speed trap on 29 outside Warrenton. Like you, I was guilty. It was a big fine, but the violation label (it escapes me now) really bothered me. I was advised to plead not guilty and state why I thought the charge was excessive. As I was out of state, I wrote a letter to the judge. He reduced the charge (and thus the fine) to disobeying a traffic sign (the speed limit one I guess). It saved me $50 or so and was much better for me for insurance purposes.

I advise contesting the accusation in person or by mail. The worst that will happen is you are right where you are now, but out of some personal time.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:09 AM on September 6, 2006

If it's truthfully a charge for reckless driving, that's a misdemeanor charge carrying a prison term of up to one year, and mandatory court appearance - you can't just pay a fine and forget about it.

Yet you suggest that you can pay a fine and forget about it.

Which is it? A speeding citation or a misdemeanor criminal charge?

I would suggest that you attend court (either way) and plead your case. Dress nicely, stand up straight, admit that you were speeding, deny that you were driving recklessly. The odds are good that your penalty will be lessened.
posted by jellicle at 7:09 AM on September 6, 2006

This was a bunch of years ago, but when I went to court for a reckless driving ticket in Virginia in the late '90s with a story about extenuating circumstances and the non-recklessness of my driving, I had the charges and the fines reduced significantly.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:12 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: Well I thought that reckless driving carries a mandatory court apearance as well, but I was handed a prepay form by the LEO, and on that form I learned the ticket was for reckless driving and not speeding, which seems a bit odd as the law seems to indicate that for reckless driving you have to show up in court.

Also to grouse, I thank you for your comment, but my point is that while I freely acknowlege speeding, I do not feel that I was driving in a reckless manner at all. I was not swerving around the road, nor was I passing people recklessly (the highway was empty). If anything I tend to drive like an old lady most of the time and I am far to risk averse to do something so dangerous as drive recklessly but that is my opinion. I was actually in the process of slowing down already when I saw the LEO which is fortunate, and once I saw him I slowed down and prepared to stop becuase I figured he had me anyways.

So basically by showing up in court I am not risking a much greater penalty then I already have, or even jail, but if I present myself well I have a decent shot at getting the charges reduced?
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:28 AM on September 6, 2006

Although I see you've accepted the speeding aspect of things. I'd say the doing 74 in a 60 is a bit excessive for a "bit of extra gas up the hill" situation. 64 yes, 74, no.

But I second (third/whatever) the write/call and complain option. If you can explain yourself then they should reduce the charge.
posted by knapah at 7:30 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: Also to jessamyn my record as of 5 minutes before getting pulled over yesterday was better then perfect (I did a driving school when I got my license so I had negative points). Also my girlfriends parents think I am great.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:35 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: Well I was not caught going up the hill, it was after I started going down the hill and I was not letting off the juice that I got caught, also this was my dads Passat that I was driving (a loaded V6) which was compared to my usual ride of a 94 camry stationwagon, but I am not making any excuses for speeding, I just do not feel I was driving recklessly.

Also thank you so far for all of the helpful posts, I really appreciate the advice.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:38 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: I was in almost the same situation (VA charge of reckless driving for speeding). I called the court and got the phone number for the prosecutor. I called him and basically made my own plea bargain to a reduced charge for a fine only (and points I think) and no court appearance. He wanted to see my driving record, which was clean. It was a simple process and nice to save myself a trip to court.
posted by exogenous at 7:44 AM on September 6, 2006

All the courts and municipalities are interested in are collecting fines and fees. They really don't care what the charge is. Plead your case. There is a chance you can plead down to a lesser charge and get a reduced fine.

Or not. It really depends on the judge.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:55 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: I just noticed, looking at the forms that on the summons the charge is listed as speeding 74/60, but on the prepay form it is listed as reckless driving, is one more definitive then the other?
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:02 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: You actually drove near my house on that trip.

I live in Albemarle County, which is just north of where you got nailed. I have lived in VA for all but 3 years of my life.

Here is how I have always understood the Virginia way:

Reckless driving can be driving like a crazy person (which it appears you were not doing). However, you can also be charged with reckless for going 15 or more mph over the speed limit. Which is why a lot of Virginians in your shoes will say to the officer "Are you sure I wasn't going 76, officer?" to get below that 15 threshold.

If you have a very good record, and a lot of free time, you could go to court and possibly get out of it with a "get another ticket in 6 months and you get hit with both tickets" warning. Yet, the judge could throw the book at you, you could still pay the ticket, and have had to drive to VA for the priviledge.
posted by 4ster at 8:13 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: 4ster, according to the ticket I was only going 14 over the posted speed limit. Also I am a near native Virginian (lived here since was 3, but it was northern VA the whole time so you may not count it, haha). That is a beautiful area you live in btw.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:20 AM on September 6, 2006

Egad. This is why I work in the humanities: no math skills.

OK, here is what I dug up:


(1) The most common form of reckless driving is speeding 20+ over the speed limit;

§ 46.2-862. Exceeding speed limit - A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives a motor vehicle on the highways in the Commonwealth (i) at a speed of twenty miles per hour or more in excess of the applicable maximum speed limit where the applicable speed limit is thirty miles per hour or less, (ii) at a speed of sixty miles per hour or more where the applicable maximum speed limit is thirty-five miles per hour, (iii) at a speed of twenty miles per hour or more in excess of the applicable maximum speed limits where the applicable maximum speed limit is forty miles per hour or more, or (iv) in excess of eighty miles per hour regardless of the applicable maximum speed limit).

This makes you sound OK, but then there is this:

(7) Driving to fast for traffic conditions;

§ 46.2-861. Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions - A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who exceeds a reasonable speed under the circumstances and traffic conditions existing at the time, regardless of any posted speed limit.

There is more here:

Sorry for the bad math. And of course NOVA is a separate state. (My wife is from there, and I tell people I married a "foreigner") :-)
posted by 4ster at 8:25 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: Well I would understand the conditions part in my case except that the weather was beautiful for a while yesterday afternoon (this was right around 6pm) and the roads were litterally empty (I had not seen another car for several minutes and while I was getting the ticket over the course of maybe 10 minutes about 3 cars went by).

I do not feel that my speed was unreasonable given the circumstances, that is why I am upset at the reckless driving charge.

Don't sweat the math, it gets the best of us all at one point.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:30 AM on September 6, 2006

Well, this situation is pretty simple in my NON lawyer opinion.

Go to court. Since the charge on the ticket is what you WANT, go to court and plead guilty with explanation, or no contest if you prefer. If the judge asks why, you could tell him you lost the prepay and didn't know what to do, so showing up to court seemed best. The judge shouldn't be too upset over that, especially since you are there begging to pay the fine.

The judge should just charge you with the case presented to him (the one on the ticket) and the prepay form should float out of existence.

But that's just my guess. Personally, I'm one of those total assholes that would plead not-guilty and do my best to weasel out of it, or at least cost the court more than they make from me.
posted by shepd at 8:31 AM on September 6, 2006

...was told to buckle up...

Were you not wearing your seatbelt?
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:44 AM on September 6, 2006

The officer may consider it reckless to speed over a hilltop as you have limited visibility. He may set his speed trap there because he considers speeding there a danger, not just because he wants to fine people.

Regardless, as the locals pointed out, you could probably get it reduced to a speeding ticket by talking to the prosecutor of judge.
posted by Yorrick at 9:07 AM on September 6, 2006

..or judge..
posted by Yorrick at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: I always wear my seatbelt, I just unbluckled it when I stopped the car for the ticket. Also does anyone have any advice as to how I would go about contacting a relevant judge or prosecutor?
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:20 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: Go to court. FYI, the citation for reckless is at the discretion of the officer -- it has only a glancing relation to the dictionary definition of "reckless." So don't bother arguing about the dictionary defition of "reckless." But you get a lot of kudos in Va. traffic court for being respectful and a good citizen concerned about safety and your driving record. It's almost a given that the fine/points will be reduced. Unless you're a flaming asshat to the judge, it certainly will not result in a more serious charge.
posted by desuetude at 9:44 AM on September 6, 2006

Best answer: I know exactly where you got nailed. You're lucky -- it was just a few months ago that the speed limit was raised from 55 to 60 along that stretch. (Like 4ster, I live one county north, in Albemarle.)

A couple of years ago I rear-ended someone on 81, about two hours south of where you were. It was low-speed, in stop-and-go traffic, and though my Volvo was totaled, there was virtually no damage to the van that I hit. I was charged with reckless driving, but when I showed up in court (in Roanoke County) I was well-dressed, respectful, and extremely contrite. I forget what the charge was lowered to, but it involved no punishment. The officer pointed out to the judge that, as I was borrowing my parents' car, surely there had been punishment enough.

If the charge is reckless, get your tuchus down here, point out to the judge that you drove all the way there to face the charges, and be totally contrite. You'll be fine.
posted by waldo at 9:52 AM on September 6, 2006

Response by poster: I will be going down for my court date, I am doing this under the assumption that showing up and being polite and appoligetic will not end up making things worse for me. What would people reccomend to prepare for this, how would I go about contacting the judge or prosocutor in advance and is it in my best interest to do so.

Also I know where you are talking about on 81, I actually take 81 most of the time when I am going between DC area and Greensboro NC (I went to school down there and my girlfirend is finishing college there now) becuase 29 was known for being the fastest way if you have luck with the police but it was full of speed traps. Oh the irony, myabe next time I will just take 95 and try to blend in with the herd.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:37 AM on September 6, 2006

something else to think about:

i almost couldn't get life insurance when the agent thought i had said "reckless driving" when i told him i got a ticket for "careless" driving.

even if you get the insurance, you're gonna get nailed pretty hard if you have been convicted of "reckless driving".

so yeah, try not to be found guilty of that.
posted by taumeson at 1:35 PM on September 6, 2006


I'm not your lawyer. You are not my client. I may or may not ever have practiced law in Virginia, but I most certainly do not today. For all you know, I'm the prosecutor and I'm out to screw you.

Now that that's out of the way...

Look at the summons. It will tell you which General District Court has jurisdiction of your citation. If you have ANY DOUBT AT ALL about what the charge is, call up the Clerk of Court for that GDC, give them your citation number, and ask them what the charge is. Ask them if it's a mandatory court appearance (they may not be able to tell you that).

If this is a reckless charge based on a 14-over-the-limit, call the prosecutor for that county. They'll have a "desk attorney" who handles the calls in most places. They probably won't have assigned the case to anyone until very close to the proposed hearing date, but tell them you'd like to discuss a possible plea deal and see what they say. The worst they can tell you is "no."

If they tell refuse to take a plea deal prior to the hearing date, then do what previous posters have advised: show up, be polite and respectful, and plead NOT GUILTY to reckless. Admit that you were driving "a little fast," and see what the judge does.

If the charge is just speed, consider paying by mail. Ask the clerk for instructions. You could also consider fighting it - in most places you won't do too much worse than just paying up. If you fight it, do a Google search for Virginia Code § 46.2-882, (regarding admissibility of radar evidence) and § 8.01-391 (what constitutes a "true copy" of the required certificates). You probably want to head over to your local law library and read _Gray v. Commonwealth_, found at 446 S.E.2d 480.

If you're in your local law library anyway, pull up the aforementioned Virginia Statutes "annotated" (ask the librarian) and look for a handful of other cases dealing with 46.2-882 that might be helpful.

Good luck!
posted by mikewas at 6:20 PM on September 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

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