Reckless driving is a serious matter that can result in significant criminal penalties ranging from fines to jail time. Each jurisdiction has its own traffic laws, meaning that the law is different in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Each jurisdiction treats reckless driving as a serious traffic violation, but each place has set forth different procedures and penalties for dealing with reckless driving. Beyond these regional differences, no two cases are ever the same. The severity of the violation, the discretion of the arresting officer, and a range of other factors will all be relevant to the outcome of any one case.

Maryland laws on reckless driving

Maryland law defines reckless driving as “deliberately operating a motor vehicle without regard for safety.” This standard is a broad one that may include many different types of behavior. However, the overarching concern is about public safety, so a citation for reckless driving usually occurs when a driver’s behavior puts himself or others at risk. Common reckless driving scenarios include eluding the police, fleeing an accident scene, or aggressive driving, a legal category that encompasses several different types of careless conduct. It is important to note that excessive speed, drunk driving, and tailgating each may constitute grounds for a charge of reckless driving.

Maryland penalties for reckless driving

In Maryland, reckless driving is part of the state transportation code, which is distinct from the criminal code. For this reason, reckless driving by itself does not carry criminal penalties in Maryland.

Virginia laws on reckless driving

Compared with Maryland, Virginia’s laws on reckless driving are extremely specific. Perhaps the most common basis for a Virginia charge of reckless driving is excessive speed: traveling over 80 mph anywhere in Virginia automatically qualifies as reckless driving, as does traveling 20 mph over any posted speed limit. Ultimately, the arresting officer also has the discretion to determine that any amount of speeding qualifies as reckless driving. Other conduct that qualifies as reckless driving in Virginia includes driving with faulty brakes, passing improperly, or failing to properly yield the right of way.

Virginia penalties for reckless driving

Virginia’s penalties for reckless driving are particularly robust. Possible penalties include fines of up to $2,500, 6-point license violations, and the suspension or loss of Virginia driving privileges for both in-state and out-of-state drivers.

Washington, D.C. laws on reckless driving

Like Maryland, Washington, D.C. law takes a broad construction of reckless driving. In D.C., you can be charged with reckless driving if your driving in any way endangers others’ safety or if an officer determines that your driving lacks due caution for others’ safety or property.

Washington, D.C. penalties for reckless driving

Because the standard in D.C. is so broad, police and prosecutors have tremendous discretion in determining whether to bring reckless driving charges. Moreover, the penalties are severe: even first-time reckless driving offenders face up to three months’ imprisonment and fines in addition to possible suspension of driving privileges. Those penalties increase for subsequent violations.

How to handle a reckless driving charge

Regardless of where a reckless driving infraction occurs, an experienced traffic defense attorney can provide guidance on possible defenses or plea arrangements. In many cases, an attorney will be able to negotiate for lesser charges or even dismissal. However, it will generally be much more difficult to obtain leniency for severe violations, violations that resulted in injuries, or violations by repeat offenders.


Because the potential penalties for reckless driving are so severe, it is important to take a reckless driving charge seriously. Though sometimes subtle, the differences in state law can also produce radically different outcomes depending on where a violation takes place. For example, conduct that qualifies as a civil violation in Maryland might qualify a driver for imprisonment in Washington, D.C.

However, it is important to note that dangerous driving is likely to qualify as reckless driving in any jurisdiction. Certain behavior, like excessive speeding, puts you at risk of a reckless driving charge no matter where the violation occurs. Even if you do not injure anyone, a police officer may determine that you acted in a way that endangered others. In the event that you receive a citation for reckless driving, an experienced traffic lawyer can best advise you on steps to protect your driving privileges and to avoid criminal penalties.

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