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Virginia House Makes Rolling Right Turn Reckless Driving
Virginia House passes bill imposing up to $2500 fine and possible jail time for boulevard stops.

Del. Bill Janis
The Virginia House of Delegates on February 4 approved legislation that would make a rolling right-hand turn on a red light a reckless driving offense. The bill introduced by Delegate Bill Janis (R-Glen Allen) was approved with a 67 to 31 vote and is now pending before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

"Any person who drives a motor vehicle in violation of Section 46.2-833 is guilty of reckless driving," House Bill 1993 states.

Under current law, Section 46.2-833, as referenced above, makes it an infraction either to turn right without stopping on a red light or to enter an intersection a fraction of a second after the light changes to red. The effect of the bill would be to change the penalty for a California stop into a class one misdemeanor carrying six license points, a fine of up to $2500, up to one year in jail and a six-month driver's license suspension. US Department of Transportation statistics show that rolling stops rarely cause accidents (view report).

This outcome is clearly contemplated by the House Courts of Justice Committee which amended the original version of the bill which only sought to impose the reckless penalty on anyone who "unintentionally causes the serious bodily injury or death of another" through red light running. The committee also struck a provision ensuring that the reckless penalty is not applied to infractions detected by a red light camera.

Virginia lawmakers are notorious for turning what other states treat as ordinary traffic infractions into serious misdemeanors. For example, the offense of driving as little as 10 MPH over the limit on some rural interstates may only be charged as reckless driving. Section 46.2-860 of the state code allows police to cite motorists who fail to use a turn signal with reckless driving. In an interview with TheNewspaper, senior Virginia State Police officials confirmed that there are no written guidelines covering offenses that can be treated either as infractions or as reckless driving, leaving police officers free to cite under the reckless statute at their discretion.

The issue came to light in 2007 when the state attempted to impose a mandatory $1050 tax on reckless driving convictions which turned out primarily to involve minor speeding offenses. A bicyclist in Newport News was charged with reckless driving for pedaling too fast. In practice, the state uses the reckless charge to discourage motorists from challenging citations by forcing a plea bargain that is favorable to the state.

A copy of House Bill 1993 in the version as passed by the House, followed by the original version, is available in a 10k PDF file at the source link below. Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Senate committee had acted on the legislation.

Source: PDF File House Bill 1993 (Virginia General Assembly, 1/31/2011)

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