The biggest difference between a speeding ticket and a reckless driving arrest is that reckless driving is a criminal offense in Virginia, and speeding is not. This means that the penalties and consequences you face when you are convicted of reckless driving will be much more severe than a speeding ticket. Another important difference is that, while you could deal with a speeding ticket on your own, you should always contact a ticket defense lawyer when you are facing a reckless driving charge.
What Is Reckless Driving?
We all know what speeding is. If you are driving faster than the posted speed limit, you are speeding. It's a very clear-cut traffic offense. Reckless driving is not so straightforward. Virginia traffic law defines reckless driving as operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner that endangers life, limb, or property. This can encompass a wide range of moving violations and is intentionally vague to allow police officers the discretion to hold drivers accountable for dangerous driving that may or may not involve breaking the speed limit. Reckless driving could be charged in the following situations:
- Driving more than 20 mph over the posted speed limit
- Driving 80 mph or faster
- Driving too fast for weather conditions
- Passing on or at the crest of a grade or on a curve
- Failing to give proper signals
- Causing an accident
- Drag racing
- Driving a car in poor mechanical condition
- Passing a stopped school bus
- Failing to yield to an emergency vehicle
The police do not have to give a specific reason for charging you with reckless driving. They could charge you with general reckless driving if the officer believes you were endangering others.
How Do Penalties for Reckless Driving and Speeding Differ?
Here's where the important differences between speeding and reckless driving come into play. Reckless driving is considered a criminal offense, while speeding is a traffic offense. Because reckless driving is a Class 1 Misdemeanor, you face the same penalties you would face with criminal offenses such as assault and battery, petit larceny, and DUI. Those include:
- Up to 12 months in jail
- A fine of up to $2500
- Six points on your DMV record for 11 years
- Permanent criminal record
In general, the faster you were driving or the more damage you caused, the higher the penalty will be. It is not unusual for a super-speeder to be thrown in jail. By contrast, a speeding ticket puts three points on your DMV record, carries a maximum fine of $250, and will be expunged from your driving record after a few years.
How do you know what you have been charged with? If the officer doesn't tell you, you can find the information on your ticket. Under the "Charge" section of the Virginia Uniform Summons, you will see a reference to Virginia Code Section 46.2 852-869. The exact offense should also be written in, i.e., "reckless driving by speed" or simply "reckless driving." Whereas a speeding ticket will give you instructions for prepaying your ticket, a reckless driving ticket will have that area crossed out. That is because you will have to appear in court.
How an Attorney Can Help in a Reckless Driving Case
Like with any other criminal charge, a reckless driving defense attorney will mount a defense on your behalf to get the charges reduced or dismissed. They will do this by providing evidence that your actions did not rise to the level of recklessness. Evidence could include witnesses, speedometer calibration, and questioning the arresting officer to create reasonable doubt. An attorney can also argue for reduced penalties by presenting a clean driving record or proof that you attended a driver improvement class or completed community service.
The options available to you for mitigating a reckless driving charge will depend on the unique circumstances of your case. Do not hesitate to contact James E. Short, PLC, if you are charged with reckless driving in the Virginia Beach area.