Traffic offenses are described in the Motor Vehicle section of the Virginia Code, Title 46.2, Chapter 8. You can check the Virginia Code online
The majority of the traffic offenses in Virginia are in the category of “infractions”, which means that they are not criminal offenses (misdemeanors or felonies), and are not punishable as criminal offenses. The penalty for a conviction of a traffic infraction is usually a fine. In addition, pursuant to a conviction of a traffic infraction, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will also assess so called “demerit” points on your license (click on the DMV link further down in the text to find out more information on demerit points.). A conviction of a traffic infraction will not appear on your criminal record, but it will appear on your driving record.
However, there are also more serious traffic offenses that are categorized by the Virginia Code as criminal offenses (misdemeanors or felonies), and are punishable as criminal offenses, which means that the penalty for a conviction will include not only a fine, but there may also be jail time, and a suspension of license. A conviction of a traffic offense that is also a criminal offense will appear both on your criminal record and your driving record. The most common examples of VA traffic offenses that are criminal offenses, are DWI and the various forms of reckless driving. Both of these are a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia.
For each moving violation you are convicted of (whether a criminal offense or a traffic infraction), the DMV assesses demerit points on your license. The number of demerit points assessed against you depends on the severity of the traffic violation. You can also be awarded safe driving points by not getting any tickets during a calendar year or by taking a DMV-approved driving course. The safe driving points counteract demerit points. If you accumulate too many demerit points in a certain period of time, the DMV will suspend your driving privileges. To learn more about the points system check out what the DMV says about points.
The various forms of reckless driving are specified in Title 46.2 of the Virginia Code, Chapter 8, Article 7, Sections 46.2-852 to 46.2-868.1. Reckless driving is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and $2,500 fine, either or both. In addition, upon conviction of reckless driving, the court may suspend your license for a period of up to six months. Upon conviction of reckless driving, the VA DMV will also assess six demerit points on your license. Finally, it is very likely that upon finding out about your conviction of reckless driving, your insurance company may decide to increase your car insurance premiums.
The most common type of reckless driving is reckless driving by speed, which is speeding over 80 mph on any highway in VA, or speeding 20 or more miles over the speed limit. Another common type of reckless driving is by driving in a manner that endangers others on the road.
If you have received a summons for reckless driving, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible, and find out what your options are.
DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED
Virginia law makes it illegal to operate any motor vehicle under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, as enumerated in Title 18.2 of the Virginia Code, Chapter 7, Section 18.2-266. See Virginia Code online here Virginia Code online.
To learn more about DUI or DWI, check out our separate DUI FAQ.
The phrase “Baby DUI” is used to refer to the offense in Section 18.2-266.1 of Chapter 7 of Title 18.2 of the Virginia Code, Virginia Code online which makes it unlawful for anyone under the age of 21 to operate a vehicle after unlawful consumption of alcohol. If you’re arrested for a Baby DUI and your BAC tests at a level of 0.02 or higher, you are presumed guilty; however, this is just a presumption, and not a requirement. You can be convicted even if you aren’t tested, as long as the arresting officer can prove that you operated a motor vehicle after unlawfully consuming alcohol. A conviction under this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a mandatory minimum fine of $500 or mandatory minimum of 50 hours community service, and a suspension of driving privileges for a period of one year from the date of conviction. This is in addition to the punishment you might receive for a conviction of Underage Alcohol Possession. See the DUI FAQ.
GETTING PULLED OVER
If you’re driving along and a police car pulls up behind you with its lights flashing, pull over as soon as you safely can. If you’re on a highway, pull as far onto the shoulder as you can and stop. Turn off any distractions (such as the radio), roll down your window, and turn off the engine. If it’s dark outside, turn on your emergency flashers and your interior light. Don’t get out of the car unless the officer asks you to! Keep your seat belt on, and keep your hands in plain view, preferably on the steering wheel. Your passengers should do the same. If an officer can’t see your hands or sees you reaching for something, he might think you’re hiding contraband or holding a weapon. If the officer asks for a document (such as your license, car registration, or insurance card), tell him where it is and reach for it slowly.
If you have questions about why you were pulled over, hold them until the officer finishes. If you disagree with the officer, don’t argue; save your arguments for court. If the officer asks you to sign the ticket, do so. Signing the ticket doesn’t mean you agree with the officer; it just means that you promise to either appear in court or pre-pay the fine. If you don’t sign, the officer can arrest you and take you before a magistrate who might require you to post bail before you’re allowed to leave.
OUT-OF-STATE TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS
Most states are participants in an agreement (“The Driver License Compact”) that requires member states to send information to the home state of any driver convicted of a traffic violation. For example, if you’re licensed to drive in Virginia and you are convicted of a DUI in Maryland, Maryland is required to inform Virginia of your conviction. Virginia will then place the conviction on your DMV record. Minor offenses sometimes don’t get placed on your record but major ones will, and then your insurance company will find out and possibly raise your rates.
If you’re an out-of-state driver and you’re convicted of an offense in Virginia that would normally result in a suspended license, Virginia can’t suspend your license. Instead, Virginia will suspend your privilege to drive in the Commonwealth and notify your home state. Then your home state will likely suspend your license. So having an out-of-state license usually doesn’t help you avoid a license suspension.
What should you do if you’ve been charged with a traffic violation?
If you’re a VT student, make an appointment to see the SLS Attorney.