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Tell your Virginia House member to join the Senate’s support of less draconian reckless driving laws

Northern Virginia criminal defense attorney on the need to relax Virginia's excessive criminalization of reckless driving

Feb 16, 2016 Tell your Virginia House member to join the Senate’s support of less draconian reckless driving laws

Is Virginia law a mystery wrapped in an enigma for making it easy to obtain a concealed carry handgun permit, but allowing up to one year in jail for driving over eighty miles per hour or driving twenty miles an hour or more over the speed limit? Va. Code §§ 46.2-862 and 46.2-868. On top of that, a Virginia reckless driving conviction allows a license suspension (with or without restricted driving privileges) up to six months and a fine up to $2,500.00, in addition to court costs. Va. Code § 46.2-392.

Welcome to the Old Dominion, where, except for handguns, the severity of the criminal law and court practice and reality tends to be harsher on defendants than in neighboring Maryland and Washington, D.C.  Maryland and Washington residents can lose sight of that when entering Virginia, but need not lose such sight.

Reaching eighty miles an hour is easy to do without the driver’s even realizing that. On top of that, I repeatedly see my clients’ (and my own when I recently checked, but only for an infraction case) calibration checks under-reporting speed usually by two or three miles per hour at speeds exceeding, and often below, sixty miles per hour. This means that if your speedometer reads 78, you easily could be driving at 80 miles per hour or over. Moreover, because police radars, lasers, speedometers, and speed pacing are so often inaccurate, and because police frequently operate unmarked cars, drivers are all the more wise to stay well below the reckless driving threshold. Additionally, for those with contraband in their vehicles or with alcohol in their systems, it is particularly foolhardy to risk doing anything to be stopped by the police for an alleged moving or vehicle equipment violation.

Certainly, I see too much dangerous driving on the road, including cars and, worse, big trucks too often following me too closely on the highway and cutting me off. However, criminalizing such behavior is not the answer in our overcriminalized police state. If the current point and fine system is not enough of a deterrent to unsafe driving, one consideration is to increase the available fines and points. However, rather than doing that, I prefer a combination of caveat emptor to those driving on the road, and reminding people of their option to sue other drivers who injure them and their cars in collisions (granted often too little too late as a possible remedy).

Fortunately in the current Virginia legislative session, the state Senate has approved, by  wide margins, one bill to increase the reckless driving threshold to 20 miles an hour over the speed limit or 85 miles per hour (S.B. 768, referred on February 12 to the House Committee on Transportation) which is relevant to speed limits of 65 miles an hour or higher, and another bill (S.B. 572, referred on February 15 to the House Committee on Transportation) to allow jurors rather than only judges the option to convict a reckless driving defendant for the infraction of improper driving under Va. Code § 46.2-869.

The legislative session is short, so I urge all Virginia voters today to urge their state House members to vote in favor of S.B. 768 and S.B. 572. You can find your Virginia House member here.

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