Improper Driving

Improper Driving

           Improper driving is a unique offense in Virginia.  The statute, 46.2-869, allows for a reckless driving charge to be reduced or amended to improper driving “where the degree of culpability is slight.”  Both the judge and prosecutor have the authority to amend a reckless driving charge to improper driving.  However, one of the more unique features of improper driving is that officers are unable to charge someone with this offense.  Instead it is a tool used by courts and prosecutors as a reduction for those charged with reckless driving.

            Another interesting and unique aspect of improper driving is the sentence it can carry.  Reckless driving is a class one misdemeanor and carries a maximum $2500 fine, six-month license suspension, and one year in jail.  Alternatively, most traffic infractions, such as simple speeding, carry a maximum fine of $250 with no possibility of a license suspension or time in jail.   Improper driving is characterized as an infraction and thus is not a criminal offense; however, it does have an enhanced maximum fine of $500. 

            Improper driving is used in a variety of different reckless driving cases under the numerous reckless driving statutes.  For reckless driving by speed cases, improper driving can be a useful bargaining chip.  This typically comes into play with a more borderline reckless driving case, or one where there are potential obstacles to reduction whether due to the speed, a spotty driving record, or cooperation issues with the officer.  In these situations I can often negotiate with the judge or prosecutor to reduce the reckless driving charge and avoid the misdemeanor criminal conviction in exchange for the enhanced fines allowed under improper driving statute.  Hanover Circuit Court is particularly notorious for this sort of negotiation in reckless driving by speed cases.

            While improper driving is used in reckless driving by speed cases, it's most frequently used in accident cases.  Virginia is notorious for giving reckless driving charges to almost everyone who is deemed to be at fault in an accident.  There are many instances where a reckless driving charge is not backed by the evidence, but Virginia officers seem to be encouraged to write reckless driving tickets for accident cases.  Most Virginia judges and prosecutors understand this phenomenon and use improper driving frequently for accident cases.  For reckless driving by speed cases, judges and prosecutors often prefer a reduction in speed to avoid a reckless driving conviction rather than using improper driving.  In accident cases, the court does not have the luxury to reduce the charged speed to a level, which would avoid a reckless driving conviction and thus must rely on improper driving.