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Reckless vs. improper driving: There’s a big difference

On Behalf of | Oct 17, 2023 | Reckless Driving

In Virginia, the law defines reckless driving as operating a vehicle “recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.” Implied in this description is an assumption that an offender has either intentionally driven in a dangerous manner or at least has given no thought to the safety of others on the road.

There are other specific actions or types of negligence for which a person can be charged with reckless driving. They include:

  • Driving “a vehicle which is not under proper control or which has inadequate or improperly adjusted brakes”
  • Passing another vehicle “on or approaching the crest of a grade or…curve” if a driver can’t see what’s ahead
  • Passing or overtaking “two vehicles abreast” when there’s not a third lane traveling in the same direction or driving one of two vehicles in a single lane
  • Driving with an obstructed view – for example, if your backseat is so filled with boxes, luggage or other items you can’t see behind you
  • Passing a stopped school bus with its lights flashing
  • Racing – or aiding and abetting a street race
  • Aggressive driving – such as speeding in and out through lanes of traffic and overtaking multiple vehicles or otherwise putting people’s safety at risk

Any number of other actions also potentially fall under Virginia’s reckless driving statute, such as driving too fast for conditions, not signaling your intention to turn or change lanes or going 20+ miles over the speed limit.

A reckless driving charge is generally classified as a misdemeanor. Of course, if someone is hurt or killed as a result of reckless driving conduct, an offender can face more serious charges and related consequences.

When can you potentially get a reckless driving charge reduced to improper driving?

As noted, a reckless driving charge involves some level of culpability. In other words, when a driver is charged as driving recklessly, they allegedly knew or should have known that their actions could be truly dangerous.

If “the degree of culpability is light,” as the law states, a person charged with reckless driving may be able to get offense reduced to “improper driving.” That still carries a potential fine of up to $500. However, it’s considered a traffic infraction rather than a criminal offense, which means that someone can opt to pay a fine instead of having to go to court to address their legal situation, should they so choose.

Prosecutors have the authority to recommend an improper driving citation as opposed to a reckless driving charge to a judge. It’s important to understand how to make that case. For this and other consequential reasons, seeking experienced legal guidance can help in the wake of being cited for reckless driving.

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