You’ve just gotten into a car crash. Your car and the other one both are pretty banged up. You’re not quite sure what happened, but the other guy is yelling at you that it was your fault. You’re worried about getting your car fixed and whether your insurance rates are going to go up. Then a police officer comes along to take the report and suddenly you’re being charged with reckless driving.
It’s not uncommon for police officers in Virginia to charge the person they think is at fault for an accident with reckless driving. Often that happens when the officer thinks some kind of citation needs to be issued, but the usual range of traffic offenses doesn’t fit. Your driving behavior may not have been reckless at all, but if there’s property damage or an injury as a result of the crash, you could find yourself facing a reckless driving charge. You may end up not only having to defend yourself against a civil lawsuit filed by the other driver, but also fighting a criminal charge in court.
Reckless driving in most cases is a Class 1 misdemeanor crime in Virginia, meaning you could be sentenced to up to a year in jail and have to pay up to $2,500 in fines if convicted. Other consequences may include suspension of your driver’s license and an increase in your car insurance premiums depending upon the criteria your insurance company uses to set rates.
If you’ve been charged with reckless driving after an accident, an experienced traffic defense attorney can evaluate the facts underlying the charge and help you fight the allegation in court.
There are two ways that you may be charged with reckless driving following an accident: the general reckless driving statute or the one that governs failure to maintain control of your vehicle.
General Reckless Driving Laws in Virginia
Virginia Code §46.2-852 gives a broad definition of reckless driving as driving in any way that endangers any person’s life, limb, or property. When you’re involved in an accident that results in significant property damage or injury to a person, a prosecutor may argue that the damage or injury is evidence that you were driving recklessly. Generally, Virginia courts have said the fact of an accident isn’t enough to convict you absent evidence that there was something about your driving itself that was reckless, for example if you were speeding or weaving in and out of traffic in a dangerous way just before the crash.
Failure To Maintain Control
Virginia Code §46.2-853 makes it reckless driving to drive with faulty brakes or a vehicle not properly under your control. If you cause an accident because your brakes fail at a red light, or you swerve to avoid debris in the road and lose control of your car, you may be charged with reckless driving under this statute.
Defenses for Reckless Driving in Accident Cases
When you’re charged with reckless driving, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you:
- Were driving
- In a way that endangered someone else’s life, limb or property, or
- Lost control of your vehicle
The facts of an accident are rarely clear-cut. Witness testimony may conflict. A person who saw the accident from one angle may give an account — and an opinion about who was at fault — that differs from a witness who was standing across the street. Chances are the police officer didn’t see the accident him or herself and is relying on what witnesses said to charge you with reckless driving. If witnesses are mistaken about what happened or who was driving, then police will be mistaken as well.
If you weren’t actually the driver, a defense attorney may be able to make a strong argument why your case should be dismissed. An attorney also may be able to argue to get your charges reduced or dismissed if there are enough questions about who was at fault to raise reasonable doubt.
You may have been charged with reckless driving after an accident that only involved your own car — sliding off the road in an ice storm, for example. In that case the officer likely is claiming you lost control of your vehicle. But there may have been reasons other than recklessness that you had an accident. A good defense attorney can present your side of the story and the evidence that shows you weren’t being reckless and possibly get your charge reduced or dismissed.
When you’re charged with reckless driving because of a crash involving other people or vehicles, a conviction might lead to the other person suing you for compensation of injuries or repair costs. A reckless driving accident conviction doesn’t automatically mean the other person can win a lawsuit against you, but it does strengthen their case. If you’re facing both a reckless driving charge and a civil lawsuit because of the accident, having representation by a qualified reckless driving defense attorney may be critical to avoiding not only jail time and fines but also a hefty civil judgment.