A sheriff deputy responded to a single vehicle accident. Apparently, the driver hit a patch of water and hydroplaned into a median. However, the driver smelled of alcohol and admitted to having had a few beers. Apparently satisfied that the driver was not intoxicated, the deputy nonetheless charged him with Reckless Driving. After a trial, the court found him guilty of Improper Driving.
Is Reckless Driving just a lesser version of drunk driving (DUI)? The answer is no. Reckless Driving under Virginia Code sec. 46.2-852 means that a person drives a vehicle “recklessly” or in an manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person. “Recklessly” means driving with a disregard for the consequences of one’s act and an indifference to the safety of life, limb, or property. “Improper Driving,” under Virginia Code sec. 46.2-869 is Reckless Driving where the degree of culpability is “slight.” However, other than culpability (and, of course, punishment), Reckless Driving and Improper Driving have the same elements.
The fact that one has alcohol in his body does not mean that he is violating the Reckless Driving statute. It is not a lesser DUI charge to bring when the evidence doesn’t show drunk driving but there is an accident. Certainly, if he is intoxicated, a driver could violate this law by being impaired and, thus, acting indifferently to the danger he causes. However, as in this case, an accident by one who had a few beers but who is not impaired by alcohol has not committed the crime of Reckless Driving. Thus, he could not be convicted of Improper Driving. The case was reversed and dismissed.
The case is Berger v. Commonwealth, 0445-12-4 (February 19, 2013) (Unpublished)