Virginia treats reckless driving very seriously. Unlike minor traffic violations, it is a criminal offense with a possibility of jail time—just like a DUI. This article explains what reckless driving is, the penalties, and some of the best strategies for dealing with these charges to avoid a criminal conviction.

What constitutes reckless driving in Virginia

Virginia reckless driving laws consist of more than a dozen different offenses the police can charge, including:

  • Reckless driving; general rule. Driving a vehicle at an unsafe speed or in a reckless manner – which endangers someone’s life, limb, or property.
  • Driving a vehicle which is not under control or that has faulty brakes. Lack of control can be due to any reason. It may include driving while intoxicated, driving while distracted, driving while fatigued, or other causes. Faulty brakes aren’t properly adjusted or fail to stop the car as would be reasonably safe for traffic conditions.
  • Passing on or at the crest of a grade or on a curve. This statute has precise criteria. If any part of the statute doesn’t apply, then the reckless driving charge should be dismissed. Generally, the statute applies when:
    • A driver passes or overtakes another vehicle
    • Both vehicles are going in the same direction
    • The vehicles approached a grade or a highway curve
    • The driver’s view is obstructed

Exceptions to the statute may apply depending on how the roads are marked.

  • Driving with driver’s view obstructed or control impaired. This statue is generally aimed at prohibiting drivers from operating vehicles which have too many people in the front seats – causing the driver’s view of the front or sides to be obstructed.
  • Passing two vehicles abreast. This statute is generally aimed at prohibiting drivers from passing where there are only one or two lanes going in the same direction and there are already two vehicles abreast/side by side. Some of the defenses to the section an experienced Richmond reckless driving attorney may assert are:
    • There were three lanes
    • The other vehicles were not abreast
    • One of the vehicles was a bicycle, moped, electric power-assisted bicycle, or a personal assistive mobility device.
  • Driving two abreast in a single lane. Drivers can be charged with reckless driving if they drive abreast of another vehicle in the same lane of traffic. This section does not apply to two motorcycles in the same lane. Other exceptions include:
    • Travel in a motorcade, parade, or motorcycle escort
    • When one of the vehicles is a bicycle, moped or authorized vehicle
  • Passing at a railroad grade crossing. The police charge drivers with reckless driving for passing another vehicle at a railroad grade crossing unless the roads are properly marked.
  • Passing a stopped school bus. Drivers must stop when they approach a stopped school bus – from either side of the road. This law applies for school buses on highways, private roads or school driveways. To commit the offense, the bus must be stopped to discharge children, mentally ill people, the physically handicapped, or the elderly. Drivers must stay stopped until the bus is moving again. Again, there are exceptions that can help you win an acquittal such as:
    • You are on a divided highway or a road with a clear physical barrier – and you are coming from the opposite direction.
    • A law-enforcement officer or properly authorized uniformed school crossing guard directs you to pass
    • The school bus is not properly identified
  • Failing to give proper signals. Reckless driving includes failing to give timely and sufficient signals showing your intent to turn, partly turn, slow down, stop, Proper signals are defined further by other Virginia traffic statutes.
  • Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions. Drivers can be charged with reckless driving even if they are going under the posted speed limit. For example, if it’s foggy or raining hard, drivers need to slow down.
  • Exceeding the speed limit. Drivers who exceed the speed limit by 20 mph or more or who are going more than 80mph regardless of the speed limit – can be charged with reckless driving.
  • Failure to yield the right-of-way. Drivers entering a highway from a side road must stop if traffic is approaching from within 500 feet of the entrance point.
  • Reckless driving on parking lots, etc. Drivers shouldn’t endanger anyone’s life, limb or property by:
    • Driving on the driveway or property of a school, church, business, recreational facility, or governmental property – if the driveway/premises are open to the public.
    • Driving on industrial property that has provisions for parking for employees and customers
    • Driving on any highway that is under construction and not open to the public yet
  • Racing. Generally racing on highways or property open to the public is prohibited. This statute adds a mandatory six month to two-year suspension of license on conviction. For drivers previously convicted of racing, the vehicle used for the current offense is subject to forfeiture.
    • 46.2-865.1. Injuring another or causing the death of another while engaging in a race; penalties. Reckless driving while racing can cause your conviction to be increased in severity to a felony.

The penalties for reckless driving in Virginia

Virginia reckless driving offenses are Class 1 misdemeanors. However, if the driver didn’t have a valid driver’s license (due to revocation, suspension, or moving violation), and caused the death of another person, the police will charge the driver with a Class 6 felony.

Potential penalties for reckless driving include:

  • Permanent record of the conviction on criminal history
  • Up to twelve months in jail
  • License revocation or suspension up to six months by the court
  • Fine up to $2500
  • A possible requirement to take safe driving courses
  • Six points on your driving record (same number as a DUI conviction)
  • Other consequences with the DMV to keep or reinstate driving privileges following a conviction

Anyone convicted of reckless driving while using a handheld communication device such as a smartphone will have to pay an extra $250.

A misdemeanor conviction on your criminal history may affect your present or future employment opportunities, college applications, or obtain financing. Increased insurance premiums are likely, and termination or denial of future insurance coverage is possible.

Defenses to Virginia reckless driving charges

Depending on the case, different defense strategies may apply. To determine the best course of action, we try to answer the following questions in as much detail as possible:

  • Determine what evidence the prosecutor has for each element of the charge
    • Are there any elements of the reckless driving offense that the prosecutor is likely to have difficulty proving beyond a reasonable doubt?
    • Is there any evidence for the defense to contradict the police testimony?
    • Can we prevent the prosecutor from using any of the evidence at trial? If so, would that likely be enough to prevent the prosecutor from proving that element?
  • Determine aggravating facts, and/or facts that show the defense was not very serious
    • This is extremely important for sentencing in the court finds that the prosecutor’s evidence is sufficient. Relevant facts include:
      • Whether there was an accident and/or injuries or property damage
      • The driver’s driving record
    • Decide whether to go to trial or negotiate for a plea bargain that will dismiss or reduce the charge to improper driving or another minor traffic infraction, or at least call for minimal penalties
      • This requires thinking about how the prosecutor and judge are likely to view the case. Often, we do not know who the prosecutor and judge will be until the court date. This means that we prepare completely for trial before we even start to negotiate for any type of plea deal.

The defenses that can be used vary from case to case. Some of the more common reckless driving defenses I may assert are:

  • An accident alone does not prove reckless driving
  • The driving was not reckless because the driver was unaware of any danger until it occurred
  • The police obtained evidence in violation of the driver’s Constitutional rights
  • The police cannot prove an element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt
  • The radar devices (typically RADAR and LIDAR) the police used were not properly calibrated within six months of the date of your offense
  • The police cannot prove the location of the offense
  • No witnesses can sufficiently identify the driver of the vehicle
  • Road signs did not sufficiently
  • The alleged offense did not occur on a public highway
  • The driver’s speedometer was not properly calibrated
  • The driver’s GPS showed he was travelling at a lower speed
  • There was an emergency which justified the driver’s actions

Some of these defenses work better than others depending on the prosecutor and the judge involved in the case. If the prosecution won’t drop the charges and the trial judge finds the evidence sufficient for a conviction, we still have at least two options to avoid a criminal conviction:

  • Driver improvement school or other conditions instead of conviction. In some cases, it is possible to convince the court to withhold the conviction to give the driver an opportunity to attend a driver improvement class and/or perform community service. If the driver completes the court’s requirements, the court may dismiss the charge altogether.
  • Improper driving. When the court is unwilling to dismiss the reckless driving charge altogether, it may reduce it to improper driving if the degree of culpability is minor. Improper driving is a minor traffic infraction rather than a criminal offense. There is no possibility of jail time or the court suspending driving privileges. The fines are also much lower than for reckless driving, with the maximum set at $500. It also only carries three points with the DMV instead of six.

Speak with an experienced Richmond reckless driving attorney today


The sooner you make an appointment, the better the chance we can win your case or have the charges reduced. I have a strong record of success and respect from former clients – guiding them through the preliminary hearing, suppression motions, plea negotiations, and trials. For help now, please call my office at (804) 212-2319 or send a message through my contact form.