In September 2016, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) took a step to increase safety on our roads. On some portions of Interstates 81 and 95, new signs were to warn drivers: Above 80 miles per hour is reckless driving. Penalties higher.
“Though it’s not a new law, many drivers may not realize that they can be charged with reckless driving for traveling 10 mph over the speed limit in a 70 mph zone,” the VDOT release said.
Whether from in state or out of state, your speedometer reading can result in a Class 1 misdemeanor, with penalties of up to a $2,500 fine and one year in jail. Now, the General Assembly is considering bills that would relax the threshold for reckless driving from 80 to 85 mph on those high-speed interstate highways.
Not so fast: Speed is one of the highest risk factors in crashes. Whether you’re traveling 79, 81, 84 or 86 mph , you’re putting fellow drivers in danger. Loosening reckless driving standards detracts from safer practices on our roads and makes us wonder: Are we considering the bigger picture?
Exceeding the speed limit is one of more than a dozen behaviors that the Code of Virginia outlines as reckless and improper. What if VDOT manufactured warning signs for:
§ 46.2-854: Passing on or at the crest of a grade or on a curve
§ 46.2-860: Failing to give proper signals
§ 46.2-861: Driving too fast for highway and traffic conditions
§ 46.2-863: Failure to yield right-of-way
What if reckless driving was enforced through the catch-all section of the code?
§ 46.2-852: Reckless driving; general rule. “Irrespective of the maximum speeds permitted by law, any person who drives a vehicle on any highway recklessly or at a speed or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person shall be guilty of reckless driving.”
According to the Virginia Highway Safety Office, 25,892 traffic crashes were speed-related in 2018, resulting in 13,346 injuries and 339 deaths. Those numbers should go down, not up.
We’re for comprehensive road safety measures, from ending handheld cellphone use behind the wheel to funding transportation initiatives that address critical infrastructure needs. Compared to other states, Virginia has a generous speed limit of 70 mph for rural and urban interstates.
We understand the sentiment of lawmakers like Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, who spoke forcefully against the idea that traveling 11 miles per hour over the speed limit warrants the jail time or fines. But if the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, let’s consider solutions other than higher speeds.