Reckless Driving in Virginia: Beware D.C. Residents

Do I need to hire a lawyer to defend my reckless driving charge in Virginia? Will a reckless driving conviction in Virginiaaffect my driver’s license in Washington, D.C.? The Washington Post, as if it was on the payroll of every traffic lawyer in Virginia, essentially answers each question in the affirmative in its recent article, “D.C. Drivers Hurt by Tough Interpretation of Virginia Offenses.” Here’s why in a nutshell . . .

Washington D.C.defines reckless driving as:

“Any person who drives any vehicle upon a highway carelessly and heedlessly in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, or without due caution and circumspection and at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property, shall be guilty of reckless driving.”  D.C. Code § 50-2201.04.

 Virginia, similarly, defines reckless driving as:

“Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.”Va.Code § 46.2-852.

Virginia, however, also defines reckless driving to include merely going 20 miles per hour or more over the applicable maximum speed limit or exceeding 80 miles per hour regardless of the applicable maximum speed limit.  Va.Code § 46.2-862. Thus, while both D.C. and Virginia punish recklessness or driving in a manner that likely endangers a person or property,Virginia alone declares certain speeds to be automatically reckless driving.

Accordingly, the D.C. DMV severely punishes its licensed residents convicted of reckless driving within its borders to the tune of 12 demerit points and a 6 month automatic administrative license suspension. The Virginia DMV, on the other hand, is slightly more forgiving to its licensed residents convicted of reckless driving within its borders. It only sanctions them a mere 6 demerit points in almost all circumstances and does not automatically administratively suspend their driver’s licenses.[1]

These vastly different administrative punishments beg the question: what happens to a D.C. resident convicted of reckless driving inVirginia? Will the D.C. DMV treat him as if he was convicted of reckless driving within its own borders and accordingly suspend his license for 6 months?  Will it consider whether the driving itself actually constitutes a wanton disregard for the safety of others or will it instead ignore any such nuance so that folks convicted for  merely going 81 miles per hour in a 70 mile per hour zone will fall under its ax?

It turns out that the D.C. DMV will suspend your license for 6 months regardless of the reasons for the reckless driving conviction in Virginia. The D.C. DMV apparently refuses to budge on this issue until the legislature enacts new legislation. Be sure to check out the article above for all of the gory details, and be sure to reach out to one of our traffic attorneys at Solan | Alzamora if you find yourself stuck in this pickle.

[1] Note that this only addresses differences in administrative sanctions.  It does not address differences in possible court ordered punishments.