When Does A Car Accident Become Reckless Driving in Virginia?

As previously examined in this blog, Virginia has a statute that gives a very broad definition of what constitutes reckless driving. It is so broad, in fact, that it seems that it gives carte blanche to police officers to charge drivers at the drop of a hat if they so choose. We are only talking about behaviors that are deemed reckless that do not result in an accident. What happens, though, when a driver is in an accident and is charged for reckless driving? More to the point, what causes a traffic accident to rise to the level of reckless driving?

Overview of Virginia’s Reckless Law

Virginia criminalizes reckless driving and defines it as driving in a reckless manner that endangers the life, limb, or property of another person. The Commonwealth also has 13 statutes that define specific behavior as reckless driving which we will not be examining in this article.

Does an Accident Always Equal Reckless Driving?

In cases where there has been an accident, it may seem that from the definition of reckless driving above and the fact that there was an accident, that reckless driving is probably the appropriate charge. This is not necessarily true.

First, because there has ostensibly been damage to another’s property, it seems that the definition’s requirement for endangering another person’s property has been met. This is most likely true. However, by definition, a driver must endanger (or damage) another’s property by driving recklessly. It is highly unlikely that the accident was witnessed by the investigating police officer so his or her observations of what behaviors led to the crash are most likely nonexistent.  Therefore, you may ask, how does the prosecutor prove a reckless charge?

Proof of Reckless Behavior

The officer, in order to have a basis for a reckless driving charge, must investigate the scene of the accident for evidence. Remember, a wreck in and of itself is not evidence of reckless driving. The officer is going to be looking for specific details at the crash scene. Skid marks are often used as an indicator for speed. The damage to both (or more) vehicles is often used to indicate the position of the vehicles before and after the crash. Statements are usually taken from the drivers involved in the accident and any witnesses who happen to be present. The officers then take this information and determine who is at fault and if the offending party was, in fact, driving recklessly.

To the driver (and to defense attorneys, as well), this seems incredibly arbitrary and unfair.  Naturally, the drivers, in almost all circumstances, are going to blame each other. Witnesses typically have no idea of what the other vehicle was doing before the accident happened as there is no real reason for them to notice anything until the crash happens. Skid marks, especially in the age of anti-lock brakes, are not particularly instructive in many crashes (this is especially true in Northern Virginia if you think about, say, traffic on Route 7 on a Friday at 5PM).

Unfortunately, police don’t really care about the fairness of leveling reckless charges in accidents around Northern Virginia. A skilled defense attorney, however, does care about it. An experienced defense attorney can dissect the facts around the accident and separate the facts from the opinions. Jad Sarsour has been representing clients in Northern Virginia in cases like this for over a decade. He knows the tactics used by the police and the prosecution and has the ability to break down shaky cases that were charged by law enforcement when they shouldn’t have been. Give him a call at (571) 261-7314 to set up your initial consultation. Reckless driving is a crime in Virginia and you need a serious defense to battle a serious charge.