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VA Code 46.2-861 – Too Fast for Conditions in Virginia (Reckless Driving)

Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions Va code § 46.2-861

Too Fast for Conditions in Virginia Described by a Top Fairfax Reckless Driving Attorney and NoVA Criminal Lawyer

46.2-861Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions is a form of reckless driving in Virginia. The majority of reckless driving cases in Northern Virginia tend to be strictly speed related, unlike this charge. Stay on this page to read more about this specific category of reckless driving (more likely when weather is bad).

The most common speed-related form of reckless driving is easier to understand and interpret than, “driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions:” it occurs when an officer alleges the driver was speeding 20 mph (or more) above the posted limit, or in excess of 80 mph regardless of the limit § 46.2-862. The more common reckless-by-speed charge punishes pure speed with no regard to conditions.

In contrast, this particular law punishes:

unreasonable speed, given the conditions…

Sometimes, our Fairfax and Northern VA Criminal Law Firm will see this charge following a car accident. But for this specific charge, the prosecution must prove speed was unreasonable,

at the time of the offense.

Note: accidents not due to speeding unreasonably may be brought as a different form of reckless driving in Virginia: failure to maintain full control or inadequate brakes, among others. In the long run, the reckless driving type means little. The specific facts of each unique case dictate the type of sentence imposed.

The very shortly worded statute is sweeping in its potential applicability.

A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who exceeds a reasonable speed under the circumstances and traffic conditions existing at the time, regardless of any posted speed limit.

However, the breadth of the law allows ways for Virginia criminal lawyers and local Fairfax reckless driving attorneys to raise reasonable doubt. In poor weather, if an accident occurs the officer must rely on admissions and statements (and perhaps other evidence) because he/she did not witness the accident or the alleged unreasonable speeding. This puts the prosecution in an automatic hole. It does not mean you will automatically win, but it presents a unique challenge for prosecutors.

How is this offense punished?

This form of reckless driving is either a Class 1 misdemeanor (view statutory maximum penalties) or a Class 6 felony (view felony penalties).

If your case did not result in the death of another person, you should not be facing a felony. See VA Code 46.2-868. The driver’s license must be suspended or revoked, and the reckless driving must have caused the death of another person.

In cold months when snowfall is more likely, or wet seasons when visibility is decreased (i.e., fog), some unfortunate motorists will find themselves facing this Class 1 misdemeanor. Although just a misdemeanor, it may be punishable by up to a year in jail. Realistically, what can one expect? There is no blanket one-size-fits-all answer.

The key to understanding this law: the words,

reasonable, and under the circumstances.

What does reasonable under the circumstances mean?

fairfax reckless driving attorneyThe circumstances could be anything:

  • Poor Weather (rain, snow, sleet, ice, fog, heavy wind, etc…);
  • Emergency Events; and,
  • presumably anything effecting roadways.

Weather may render the posted speed limit unsafe. Even in extreme cases such as driving 30 mph below the speed limit, the circumstances in relation to the driver’s speed could in theory, result in a reckless driving charge.

One case dating back to 1964 out of Virginia lays the foundational principle for this law:

the proper speed ought to be judged, in large-part, by the then-existing conditions.1

And a case from 1992 goes so far as to say,

the posted limit does not determine reasonableness under the circumstances.2

It seems as if much more deference is given to the testimony and/or other evidence of the conditions where and when the alleged offense took place. The speed limit may still be a factor for the judge or jury to consider in some cases.

Accident Cases

If you are facing a reckless driving charge following an accident, a local Northern Virginia reckless driving lawyer can explain the criminal aspect. Many lawyers can also explain the implications the criminal case may have on a subsequent civil lawsuit against you.

If an accident occurred, there may cases on both the criminal and civil side of the law. It should be noted that there could be conditions where an attempt to proceed (at any speed) would be considered negligent.3

Some examples of cases in the past dealing with this type of driving behavior have set forth principles such as:

a driver owes a duty to others on the roadways to reduce speed if vision becomes obscured by dust.4

(this does not mean dust, and dust alone, can obscure vision. A better reading of the case law here, would be to say that almost anything obscuring the driver’s vision triggers a duty to reduce speed).

Defenses to Reckless Driving Given Conditions

Lack of evidence is one way the prosecution’s case might fail (or not be brought – nolle prosequi). If the only witness to the accident was the driver, and he or she makes no admissions to the police, then the case will be difficult for the Commonwealth absent evidence tying the cause of the accident to speed, given conditions at the time of the accident.

There are a few more cases worth mentioning:

Virginia law does not mandate a driver operate at such a speed so the vehicle can be stopped at all times within the driver’s range of vision.5

Sudden and unexpected situations may change the circumstances, but the courts would likely require some degree of dangerousness to justify or excuse the behavior, if otherwise reckless (or negligent).

There are many reasons why any person — whether or not a Virginia licensed driver — should consult a Fairfax reckless driving attorney or Northern VA traffic defense lawyer. Here is why:

1. This is a criminal charge and will result in a permanent criminal record, if convicted.

2. You may face suspension time (driving privileges).

3. Depending on the facts, jail time may be possible.

4. In some jurisdictions (Fairfax County is one of them), defendants are not generally permitted to talk to prosecutors handling the case.

5. Civil lawsuits (after the criminal / traffic case) could be influenced by the original charge outcome.

Reckless Driving – Too fast given conditions article references

[1] Hudgins v. Jones, 205 Va. 495, 138 S.E.2d 16 (1964).

[2] West v. Critzer, 238 Va. 356, 383 S.E.2d 726 (1989); Faison v. Hudson, 243 Va. 397, 417 S.E.2d 305 (1992).

[3] Carroll v. Miller, 175 Va. 388, 9 S.E.2d 322 (1940)

[4] Camp v. Bryant, 171 Va. 390, 199 S.E. 469 (1938).

[5] Twyman v. Adkins, 168 Va. 456, 191 S.E. 615 (1937); Reilly v. Dunnavant, 200 F.2d 213 (4th Cir. 1952).

The Fairfax Criminal Defense Law firm of Jad Sarsour, represents clients throughout Northern Virginia and regularly appears in all courts, including: Fairfax County Fairfax City | Prince William County | Arlington County Alexandria City Loudoun County | Federal Court (Eastern District/VA) 

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