What is the Difference Between Reckless Driving and Improper Driving in Virginia?

Reckless driving and improper driving sound very similar to your average driver. One is a very serious criminal charge and the other, however, is considered a traffic violation and punishable only by a fine. The difference is very slight but the results can be vastly different in scope and consequence.

Reckless driving is defined in Virginia either as driving recklessly so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of another person or by exhibiting certain specific behaviors that are prohibited by law. The most commonly cited of these specific behaviors is known as reckless driving by speed. Virginia law considers both driving more than 20 miles per hour over the posted speed limit and exceeding 80 miles an hour regardless of the posted speed limit as reckless driving by speed.

Improper driving is not truly defined under the law but gives the court discretion to find a driver not guilty of reckless driving but guilty of improper driving if the culpability of the driver is “slight.”

Courts and Improper Driving

There are a few very important aspects that must be noted about improper driving charges.  First, only the court can decide that you should be found guilty of improper driving rather than reckless driving. This means that such a finding is solely based on the discretion of the court.  The jury (if there is one) is not involved in this decision. Second, reckless driving by speed is considered by the Commonwealth to be a strict liability offense and blame does not enter into the equation. The higher courts of Virginia seem to agree with this as well. This simply means that you do not need to intend to be going more than 20 miles an hour over the speed limit, you merely need to be speeding at greater than 20 miles an hour over the posted limit. In this regard, the law is very similar to DUI laws in that the very act itself is prohibited and doesn’t require any intent to be found guilty.

When Can Improper Driving Be Applied? 

First, let’s take the law that considers it reckless driving if an improperly loaded vehicle impedes a driver’s view. Assume that the driver took every necessary step to secure the load properly and to ensure that their vision was unobstructed. If the load shifted in such a manner to impede the vision of the driver or a tarp came loose and blocked the view and before the driver could stop, there was an accident. Under the law, this could be considered reckless driving. However, since there is little blame on the driver (meaning they tried to behave correctly), it should be considered improper driving. The second example involves the reckless law involving improper brakes. Assume the driver just had their brakes repaired and were involved in an accident because of brake failure. Clearly, it would be hard to blame the driver fully and improper driving would be the more appropriate charge.

Drivers are wrongly charged with reckless driving quite frequently when the blame is slight or even non-existent. Law enforcement is well-known to overcharge drivers all too often. It then falls to an experienced defense attorney to protect the rights of the driver. Jad Sarsour has been defending drivers’ rights in Northern Virginia for more than a decade. If you are facing a charge like this, you owe it to yourself to get the best representation possible. Give Jad a call today at (571)-261-7314 to schedule your initial consultation and begin defending your rights now.