As airplane fares have skyrocketed in recent years and airlines seem to be adding more and more fees and surcharges on top of the cost of a ticket, many Americans are hitting the interstates when they go on vacation. The U.S. Travel Association reports that in 2012, 79 percent of leisure travel was by car, while only 11 percent of leisure trips were by plane. With Virginia offering attractive scenery, a bounty of historic and cultural sites, and proximity to the nation’s capital, tourism is a booming industry that brought $21 billion to the state in 2012.
Virginia can be a great place for a family road trip, but the fun can be spoiled when mom or dad is pulled over by a trooper or police officer for something like speeding or passing on a grade and ends up charged with reckless driving. Drivers from other states can be shocked to learn that reckless driving is a crime in Virginia, and they’re facing not just a simple traffic ticket, but a criminal charge that can be penalized with jail time and affect their driver’s license back home.
If you’re an out-of-state driver who was pulled over for reckless driving on one of Virginia’s highways, such as Interstate 95, Interstate 66, Interstate 495 (also known as the Capitol Beltway), Route 267 (the Dulles Toll Road), or Route 286 (the Fairfax County Parkway), having representation from an experienced traffic defense lawyer can demystify the legal process in an unfamiliar place. Your Virginia defense attorney can explain the possible consequences of a reckless driving conviction both in Virginia and back home, represent you in court so that you don’t have to incur costly travel, and help you to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.
What You Need to Know About Reckless Driving in Virginia
In general, reckless driving is driving in a way that puts another person in danger of injury or death, or that endangers property. You may be charged under this broad definition, or under one of more than a dozen statutes that make specific traffic violations, such as passing a school bus or emergency vehicle, forms of reckless driving.
The most common way to be charged with reckless driving is for speeding more than 80 mph or more than 20 mph over the posted speed limit. Another common way to be charged with reckless driving is to get into an accident that causes injury or significant property damage.
Reckless driving typically is a serious misdemeanor crime in Virginia. The consequences for a conviction can include:
- Up to 12 months in jail
- A fine of up to $2,500
- Negative points on your driver’s license
- Driver’s license suspension
- Increased insurance premiums
- A permanent criminal record
- Greater chance of being found liable in a civil suit if your reckless driving claim stemmed from an accident
How a Virginia Conviction Affects Your Driving Record at Home
Most states long have been participants in an agreement called the Interstate Driver License Compact in which they agree to share information about driver’s license suspensions and traffic violations. Under the Interstate Compact, the state where you get a ticket or driving-related charge such as reckless driving or DUI would send that information to the state that issued your driver’s license. Your home state agrees to treat the ticket or conviction like it happened there, and to apply the penalties you’d face at home if you committed the offense there. So, if you’re from Ohio and you get a speeding ticket in Virginia, you get the points on your Ohio license just as if you’d gotten pulled over for speeding in Ohio. You can’t just leave the ticket behind in Virginia — it follows you home.
In the case of reckless driving, a conviction in Virginia results in six demerit points on a person’s driver’s license. Your home state would apply points to your license, but the number of points you’d receive if you committed the offense at home.
Virginia law allows a judge to suspend your driver’s license for 10 days to six months when you’re convicted of reckless driving. If the judge in your case opts to impose a driver’s license suspension, that information will be communicated to your home state and your license suspension will be on record there, and in any other state that participates in the interstate compact. So if you get caught driving on a suspended license in any of those states, you may face additional penalties.
According to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the only states that are not members of the Driver License Compact are Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
Notes for New Jersey and North Carolina Drivers
New Jersey Surcharge: If you’re a New Jersey resident convicted of reckless driving in Virginia, you may be charged an extra fee in New Jersey called a surcharge. New Jersey charges the surcharge when you accumulate six or more points on your license within three years. Reckless driving is a five-point violation in New Jersey, so if you have even one existing point on your license when you’re convicted of reckless driving in Virginia, that would trigger the surcharge on your New Jersey license. The surcharge is in addition to any other court costs or fines associated with the reckless driving charge.
North Carolina License Suspension: North Carolina has a policy of mandatory license suspensions for certain offenses. Among those is a 30-day suspension for speeding in excess of 55 mph or more than 15 mph over the posted speed limit. If you’re convicted of reckless driving in Virginia for speeding — which requires speed in excess of 80 mph or more than 20 mph over the posted speed limit — your conviction would trigger that 30-day suspension. Alternatively, you may face a 60-day suspension in North Carolina if your case involves both a speeding ticket and a reckless driving charge.
How a Lawyer Can Help on a Reckless Driving Charge
When you’re charged with reckless driving in Virginia and you live out-of-state, many of the state’s courts allow a lawyer to go to court on your behalf so that you don’t have to travel back to someplace like Fairfax for a hearing. You should consult a lawyer with experience defending reckless driving cases in the court where your charge is pending to discuss whether an attorney can go to court for you, or if you’ll have to make arrangements to be there.
A lawyer who is experienced at defending out-of-state drivers in Virginia reckless driving cases also should be knowledgeable about the interstate compact and can help you understand all of the possible consequences of a reckless driving conviction, and plan a strategy to try to get you the best possible outcome.