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Reckless Driving And Military Personnel: Potential Penalties And Solutions

As home to numerous military bases, Virginia sees its fair share of reckless driving incidents involving military personnel. Every branch of the United States military takes reckless driving charges seriously, whether the incidents that result in them occur on-base or off-base, and military personnel may sometimes be subject to different penalties compared to civilians charged with the same offenses. A traffic defense lawyer in Virginia may be able to help military personnel learn more about their legal options, whether they are facing reckless driving charges in a civilian court or on a military base. Reach out to Driving Defense Law at (757) 929-0335 today for a free case evaluation.

Defining Reckless Driving in Virginia

Ultimately, the decision of whether to issue a charge of reckless driving rests substantially with the judgment of the law enforcement officer performing the traffic stop. Depending on the location of the alleged offense, this might be a Military Police officer, a State Trooper, a deputy, or a local police officer. Each of these law enforcement officials may have a different personal view on what constitutes “reckless driving.” For the most concrete answer, it is worth referring to Virginia law. 

Under the Code of Virginia § 46.2-852, reckless driving is defined as anything that is likely to cause injuries, fatalities, or property damage. By contrast to conditions in some other states, in Virginia the legal definition of reckless driving has nothing to do with the speed of the vehicle. In other words, a military service member could be driving at a relatively slow speed of 10 miles per hour while still operating the vehicle in a reckless manner as defined by the laws of Virginia. If the alleged reckless driving offense occurred outside of a military installation, Virginia law may apply. 

What Are the Penalties for Reckless Driving in the Military?

A number of potential penalties may be associated with reckless driving in the military, but the Uniform Code of Military Justice (also known as the “UCMJ”) references reckless driving specifically. Under 10 U.S.C. Title 10 § 911.111, military personnel “shall” face court martial if they drive in a “reckless or wanton manner.” The article considers treats drunk driving and reckless driving together, but while the passage deals with allowable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in some detail, it does not attempt to similarly delineate what constitutes “reckless” driving – leaving this determination, on military installations as on many civilian highways, largely to the determination of the officer at the scene. 

Requirements of Article 911 

The requirement for court-martial to some extent determines the procedural implications of a reckless driving charge for military personnel. However, the convening of a court-martial may not necessarily determine its outcome, nor the precise punishments handed down in the event of a conviction. While “shall be punished” generally indicates that there is a requirement for court martial, the results of that court martial for the service member in any individual case are far from predetermined. A conversation with an experienced traffic defense attorney may help members of military services to understand their legal rights if charged with reckless driving. 

Nonjudicial Punishment

If a member of any branch of the United States military is actually charged with reckless driving under Article 911, then a court martial is the prescribed procedure. However, while Article 911 tightly delineates the precise BAC criteria for a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, recklessness in operation of these same vehicles is less precisely defined. 

In cases where reckless driving charges have not actually been issued, commanding officers faced with injudicious operation of a vehicle that does not conclusively meet the accepted standards for “reckless or wanton” operation may choose to pursue nonjudicial punishment, outlined under UCMJ § 815.15 of the UCMJ. Punishments for minor offenses meted out at the discretion of a commanding officer without trial by court-martial do not require the rules of evidence that typically govern judicial proceedings both military and civilian, including courts-martial. 


Military personnel may face court-martial for reckless driving, as described above. Alternatively, members of any branch of the military have the right to request a court-martial rather than a nonjudicial punishment under some circumstances. The accused may hire an attorney to represent them during the legal proceedings. 

There are a number of potential outcomes if convicted of reckless driving in a court-martial:

  • Bad-conduct discharge
  • Forfeiture of pay
  • Confinement for six months

Penalties become much worse if the reckless driving resulted in personal injury or death, so military personnel facing a reckless driving court-martial may wish to consult with an experienced traffic defense attorney to discuss their legal options. 

What Happens if You Get a Traffic Ticket While in the Military?

After a military service member receives a traffic ticket, the first step should be to determine which laws apply to the alleged offense. State, federal, or UCMJ law may apply depending on the location of the offense and other factors. 

Defense Strategies for Reckless Driving Charges in the Military

There are a number of potential defenses to reckless driving in the military:

  • The offense was accidental: A military service member may accidentally drive in a reckless manner due to some kind of medical emergency, a mechanical failure, or another factor completely out of their control. 
  • Mistaken identity: Traffic tickets can sometimes be issued in error. If the arresting officer wrote the wrong information on the citation, this may lead to the charges being dropped. Even small mistakes like incorrect license plate numbers can lead to dismissal. 
  • History of bravery: In the military, the service history of the accused may prove to be a mitigating factor when facing offenses such as reckless driving. If the accused has a decorated service record, the presiding officers may take this into account during a court-martial. 

Reach Out to a Virginia Traffic Lawyer Today

The consequences for alleged reckless driving in Virginia can be serious regardless of military status. Generally speaking, members of the military stationed within the United States are subject to state laws when they are not on a military base, and the state of Virginia treats reckless driving as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Convictions for a reckless driving charge can therefore carry stiff penalties, for military personnel as well as for civilians. Military personnel facing these issues in Virginia should consider working with a traffic defense lawyer with direct experience with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the special factors that may affect military personnel, both on- and off-base. Call Driving Defense Law at (7575) 929-0335 today and schedule a consultation to discuss these subjects in more detail.