Even the best drivers can slip up sometimes. Say you’re in a rush to pick up your kids from day care, and you left work later than you thought because you were finishing a project. The day care charges you an extra fee if you’re late, and you’re feeling stressed because you’re down to the wire. Maybe you’re also thinking about whether to cook dinner or just pick up take-out, because you still have to help the kids with their homework before getting yourself to bed early because you have a meeting first thing in the morning.
With all of this going on in your head, you take your eyes off of your speedometer. Everybody does it some time. The next thing you know, there’s a state trooper behind you flashing his lights for you to pull over because you were speeding.
A speeding ticket is a hassle under any circumstances, and something you definitely don’t want to have to deal with in your hectic life. But when the trooper says you were doing 85 and he’s charging you with reckless driving — which is a crime and not just a traffic offense — you’re stunned.
A charge of reckless driving by speed is stressful, but there are ways an experienced traffic defense lawyer may be able to help you fight the charge, avoid jail time, and preserve your driver’s license.
How Speeding Can Be Reckless Driving
Virginia has a specific statute that makes it a form of reckless driving to:
- Drive faster then 80 mph, or
- More than 20 mph over the speed limit on the road where you’re driving
This distinction can cause a little confusion for some drivers because some highways in Virginia now have 70 mph speed limits. So is it reckless to drive 81 mph on those roads, or in other words only 11 mph over the speed limit? Under Virginia Code §46.2-862, if a police officer or trooper clocks you at 81 mph on any highway — regardless of the posted speed limit — you can be charged with the crime of reckless driving.
Consequences of Conviction
A conviction for reckless driving under most circumstances is a Class 1 misdemeanor. This is the most serious kind of misdemeanor with the most severe penalties. The possible jail sentence for misdemeanor reckless driving may be up to a year in jail. You also may be fined up to $2,500.
Reckless driving also has consequences for your driver’s license, including six (6) demerit points that stay on your record for up to 11 years, and possible suspension of your license.
You likely will see increased car insurance rates after a reckless driving conviction, and you’ll have to contend with a criminal record that could affect your ability to get a job, rent an apartment, or obtain or maintain a security clearance.
There are a number of ways that an attorney with experience defending reckless driving charges may be able to help you fight the speeding charge. Most of them involve challenging the basis of the speeding ticket itself by questioning the method the officer used to gauge your speed. A detailed analysis of how these defenses work is available here. In brief, you may be able to challenge the officer’s speed reading by looking at the technical aspects of:
- Speedometer calibration: Sometimes if you can demonstrate that your car’s speedometer was malfunctioning, you can use that as a basis to get your reckless driving charge reduced. This usually requires verification by a certified mechanic.
- Radar or LIDAR results: If there are any issues with the readings, calibration, or documentation of radar or LIDAR results, you may have a defense to the reckless driving by speed charge.
- Pacing: This is an inexact method of determining your speed and a lot of factors can throw off the officer’s calculation, opening up a possible defense to your charge.
The law also allows a defense to a reckless driving by speed charge when your speed was due to a legitimate emergency. If, for example, you were driving a family member to the emergency room for treatment of a possible life-threatening health condition, your defense attorney may be able to get your charge reduced or dismissed, or your penalties lessened.
How Your Driving Record Can Affect Your Outcome
A good driving record can help when your attorney goes to negotiate with prosecutors or argue before a judge to reduce your charge to something like improper driving that’s a simple traffic infraction rather than a crime. A good history with no points could help you avoid jail time and a loss of your driver’s license. An experienced traffic defense attorney can review your driving record and determine whether it might help the outcome of your case. The circumstances of your reckless driving charge also are likely to make a difference. For example, a charge that you were driving 100 mph may outweigh a good driving history in the eyes of a judge.
A driving history that includes prior speeding tickets or reckless driving convictions, or existing demerit points on your license, is likely to work against you in trying to fight your current reckless driving charge.