You’re on your way someplace and you’re running late, and you’re a couple of blocks from a left-hand turn you need to make when you hear the sirens of an ambulance or a fire truck. You’re already in the left-hand lane anticipating your turn ahead when the emergency vehicle comes roaring out from a cross street and turns into the lane to your right. It’s now beside you in the right-hand lane. There’s no room to change lanes and pull over, so you continue on your way and pass the fire truck to its left as you make your turn. The next thing you know, a police officer is pulling you over and charging you with reckless driving.
Virginia Code §46.2-829 says that every driver has to pull over to the nearest edge of the roadway and stop when an emergency vehicle approaches while flashing its lights and sounding its horns or sirens. You’re supposed to stop in a place that’s clear of any intersection, and do it as quickly as traffic and road conditions permit. Simply failing to stop is a traffic infraction, but actually passing or overtaking an emergency vehicle can be charged as the crime of reckless driving.
An emergency vehicle for purposes of the reckless driving statute can include an ambulance, any vehicle used to fight fire, law enforcement vehicle, regional detention center or Department of Corrections vehicle, Department of Environmental Quality vehicle. Each of these vehicle types must be responding to an emergency or operating in an emergency situation.
Consequences of Reckless Driving for Passing Emergency Vehicle
Most of the time, reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia. If you’re convicted, you face up to a year in jail. The law also allows a judge to impose a fine of up to $2,500, and to suspend your driver’s license for anywhere from 10 days to six months.
You’ll face the stigma of a criminal record that can follow you for years to come and affect your ability to get a job, a security clearance, or to rent an apartment. It’s also likely that you’ll pay more for car insurance after a Virginia reckless driving conviction, regardless of whether you’re a resident or not.
Reckless Driving Defenses
To convict you of reckless driving for passing or overtaking an emergency vehicle, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- The vehicle you passed was an emergency vehicle as defined in Virginia Code §46.2-920.
- The emergency vehicle was using its lights and sirens.
- You passed or overtook the emergency vehicle.
- If the emergency vehicle wasn’t using its lights or sirens to indicate it was responding to an emergency, then legally you had no duty to stop and you may have a valid defense to a reckless driving charge for passing or overtaking the vehicle.
You also may have a defense if traffic or road conditions made it unsafe for you to stop or do anything but pass the emergency vehicle. An experienced Northern Virginia traffic defense attorney can review the facts of your case and evaluate whether the facts of your case make it feasible to fight the charge or negotiate a plea to the lesser non-criminal traffic offense of failure to yield.