turn signal

Chesapeake Criminal Defense Lawyer Explains How Not Using Your Turn Signal Can Escalate to Serious Criminal Consequences 

Many drivers are unaware that failing to use a turn signal can be deemed reckless driving under Virginia law. This seemingly minor infraction can result in significant legal repercussions, including getting arrested and sentenced to jail time. Reckless driving is not an offense to be taken lightly. To gain a fuller appreciation of the weight of the situation, consult with James E. Short, a Virginia reckless driving lawyer who can formulate a strong criminal defense strategy and help protect your legal rights. 

Virginia Reckless Driving Charge for Failure to Signal Explained

Many of the most common reckless driving charges in Virginia involve excessive speeding. A common example is exceeding the posted speed limit by more than 20 mph. Virginia law defines several other illegal behaviors that qualify as reckless driving. These include driving with faulty brakes, passing a stopped school bus, and failing to yield the right-of-way. 

Neglecting to use your turn signal when you should do so also constitutes reckless driving in the Commonwealth. More specifically, Code of Virginia § 46.2-860 says a person is guilty of reckless driving if they do not “give adequate and timely signals of intention to turn, partly turn, slow down, or stop.”  

The objective is for all motorists to communicate their intentions clearly to other drivers. The Virginia Driver’s Manual states you should signal at least 100 feet ahead of a turn. The specificity of this element is not explicitly stated in Virginia law, but it aligns with the “timely” component of how the statute defines reckless driving. 

If a police officer or highway patrol officer catches you failing to use your turn signals, they have the ability to arrest you for reckless driving at their discretion. They could then take you to the police station for booking and processing. 

Reckless Driving Is More Than a Simple Traffic Ticket

Unlike a speeding or parking ticket, reckless driving is not a simple traffic violation. It isn’t just a matter of paying a small fine and carrying on with your business. As a serious criminal offense, reckless driving has a more complex legal procedure. In Virginia, it is usually charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Take this allegation seriously with the guidance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. 

Possible Punishments for a Class 1 Misdemeanor in Virginia

Reckless driving can be charged as a felony in certain cases, like if someone is injured or killed in a street racing incident. In most cases, though, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor. This is the highest level of misdemeanors in Virginia and can carry very heavy consequences. 

Maximum penalties for a reckless driving misdemeanor may include:

  • Up to 12 months in jail
  • A fine of up to $2,500
  • Up to six DMV points added to your driving record
  • A driver’s license suspension of up to six months

As a criminal offense, reckless driving results in a permanent criminal record. This can have far-reaching repercussions for employment, security clearance, immigration, child custody, and other major aspects of a person’s life. 

What to Do if You Are Charged With Reckless Driving

It is rare to receive a reckless driving citation if all you did was forget to use your turn signal. A reckless driving charge is more likely if the failure to signal possibly contributed to a car accident. Other factors that increase the likelihood of a reckless driving charge include speeding, engaging in other dangerous behavior, causing injury, or causing property damage. 

At the traffic stop, the police officer may ask you to sign your reckless driving ticket. Legally, you do not have to sign it, but it’s typically in your best interest. The ticket serves as a summons, ordering you to appear in court to address the criminal charge. If you choose not to sign your ticket, the officer may arrest you and take you to the police station for processing. Being reasonably cooperative and cordial is often a prudent move.

As soon as you determine you may be charged with reckless driving, it’s crucial to enlist the legal services of a skilled attorney. They can assess your case and develop a possible defense strategy. You can describe any mitigating circumstances or explain why the courts should question the validity of the traffic stop. It may be possible to have the charge reduced or dropped entirely. 

Hire an Experienced Virginia Attorney to Defend Against Reckless Driving Charges 

Even if you admit that you did not use your turn signal, you can still find legal recourse with the guidance of a Virginia criminal defense attorney. You may, for example, be able to reduce your reckless driving charge to improper driving. This is a far lesser charge with no jail time or permanent criminal record. The maximum penalty is a fine of up to $500 and three DMV points. 

Work with an experienced lawyer you can trust to defend your legal rights. “I have never had an attorney work harder for me than James Short,” says past client Barry Sawyer. He “would not hesitate to recommend [Mr. Short] to anyone in need of legal assistance.”