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Reckless Driving Vs. Careless/Improper Driving: What’s The Difference?

In Virginia, there are a variety of ways that a person can be charged with reckless driving, a class 1 misdemeanor that is punishable by penalties including jail time and heavy fines. If you were charged with reckless driving in Virginia, it is important that you do not take this charge lightly. This offense can lead to a criminal record that appears on background checks and carries stringent penalties that can impact your life, finances, and your freedom. In some cases, it is possible to reduce a reckless driving charge down to a more less severe careless/improper driving infraction. 

Understanding the difference between reckless driving vs. careless driving is an essential first step to protecting your rights and your freedom. At Driving Defense Law, we work closely with individuals charged with reckless driving. As zealous negotiators and skilled litigators, we understand how to successfully reduce your charges and minimize the consequences of your traffic violation. To discuss your case in greater detail with our team, consider calling or texting us at (757) 929-0335 today. 

What Is Reckless Driving?

Unlike other states, Virginia has established criminal charges for individuals caught driving at certain speeds over the speed limit. Reckless driving is defined in Virginia Code § 46.2-852 as driving a vehicle on a highway recklessly or in a way that endangers the lives of others on the road. Within the context of this statute, reckless means a disregard of other drivers and an indifference for the safety of others on the road. 

According to Virginia law, if you are caught driving at 20 miles per hour or more over the speed limit or over 85 miles per hour on any roadway, you may be charged with reckless driving. There are several other actions that can result in this charge, including reckless driving due to:

What Is Careless/Improper Driving? 

Virginia Code § 46.2-869 provides for careless and improper driving, which is a traffic infraction that is used in cases where the person was initially charged with reckless driving. According to the law, at any point before a person’s trial, the court may choose to reduce the charges of reckless driving to improper driving. When this happens, the court will find the individual not guilty of reckless driving but instead guilty of careless driving. Based on this definition, all improper driving charges begin as reckless driving charges. 

Reckless Driving vs. Careless Driving: How These Two Charges Differ

While reckless driving and improper driving are closely related, these two charges are fundamentally different in several ways. Generally, the differences between reckless driving vs. careless driving can be seen in the penalties associated with each charge. The maximum penalties for reckless driving in Virginia include: 

  • Six demerit points on your license
  • $2,500 fine
  • 6 month driver’s license suspension
  • One year of jail time

The charges for improper/careless driving, on the other hand, are much less severe. The penalties for improper and careless driving in Virginia include: 

  • Three demerit points on your license 
  • A maximum fine of $500
  • No driver’s license suspension
  • No jail time
  • No criminal record

The differences between a reckless driving charge and an improper driving charge can be boiled down to the classification of the offense. In Virginia, reckless driving is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is the most severe misdemeanor conviction in the state. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses, meaning they carry harsher penalties compared to minor infractions. 

Improper/careless driving, on the other hand, is an infraction under Virginia law. Generally, infractions are considered petty offenses and do not create a criminal record for a person. Misdemeanor charges do create a criminal record, however, meaning employers and other entities can see your charges on a background check. 

When Does a Reckless Driving Charge Get Reduced to an Improper/Careless Driving Charge?

In Virginia, a misdemeanor reckless driving charge can be reduced to improper/careless driving infraction at any time before trial by the prosecutor in the case. A judge can also reduce the charge to improper/careless driving. It is important to note that a reckless driving charge can only be reduced in situations where “the degree of culpability is slight,” (Virginia Code § 46.2-869). 

This standard can be a bit confusing, but in essence, a slight degree of culpability means that the offense was not extremely severe. For instance, if you were going slightly above 20 miles per hour over the speed limit and if you did not cause an accident due to your speeding, your attorney may be able to argue that the degree of culpability in your case is slight. This distinction is important when it comes to reckless driving vs. careless driving and how to effectively reduce a reckless driving misdemeanor charge to an infraction.

Working with an experienced legal team can help to improve your chances of reducing a reckless driving misdemeanor to a careless driving infraction. The right attorney will be well-connected in the Virginia court system and has likely negotiated similar matters with the same prosecutors and judges presiding over your case. They will understand how to effectively advocate for you and protect your rights, ultimately ensuring that your misdemeanor is brought down to an infraction. 

How Can a Knowledgeable Attorney at Driving Defense Law Help Defend Your Rights?

If you were charged with reckless driving, you are likely worried about the consequences and unsure of where to turn for support. At Driving Defense Law, we have spent years crafting personalized defense strategies for individuals charged with reckless driving in Virginia. Through our proven approach, we have successfully reduced these charges to mere careless/improper driving infractions for countless clients. To learn more about reckless driving vs. careless driving, and how we can help defend your rights, consider contacting us at (757) 929-0335 today to book your free case evaluation.