RICHMOND, Va. -- The threshold for reckless driving on Virginia interstates could soon go up after bills increasing it from 80 mph to 85 mph passed both the House of Delegates and Senate.
Under current Virginia law, a driver clocked at 81 mph in areas where the speed limit is 70 mph could face the punishment of a class one misdemeanor, which is up to a $2,500 fine and a year in jail.
The proposed changes would increase the reckless threshold to over 85 mph on certain interstates.
The current law that 20 mph over the speed limit on any roadway would remain in effect in both versions of the bill.
Supporters of the change said the possible punishment is extreme for someone going 11 mph over the speed limit and that other nearby states have higher thresholds.
“I’ve not met anyone who actually thinks that driving 11 miles per hour over the speed limit should be punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine. Unfortunately, that’s what the current law allows.” said Sen. David Sutterlein (R-Roanoke), who has long sponsored the legislation in the Senate.
Sutterlein said a low threshold leads to selective enforcement of the law, meaning different people get treated differently by law enforcement in different parts of the Commonwealth.
Opponents of the bill said the threshold provides a deterrent for some drivers that it prevents them from excessive speeding. Law enforcement groups are worried increasing the threshold would lead to increased safety risks.
“The chiefs are concerned that drivers already exceed the speed limit and we expect to see more drivers push it to 90. Each mile of increased speed contributes to the incidence and severity of crashes with injuries or fatalities,” said Dana Schrad, Executive Director of VA Association of Chiefs of Police.
Supporters of the bills said speeding tickets would still be issued to those who drove too fast.
Audra Brown, who was traveling from D.C. to Norfolk with her family, said she was not aware drivers could face such stiff punishment for going 81 mph.
“They should raise that because if you're just one mile over and you can get a $2,500 fine. I feel like that's reckless,” Brown said, adding that her family would be impacted financially by paying a fine that stiff. “That means no mortgage payment, no car payment, no nothing.”
Anita Twyne echoed safety concerns voiced by law enforcement. Twyne said most drivers would interpret increased speeds for reckless driving as a license to speed.
“Raising it five miles, it gives you the mentality of, hey, it's just five miles… but your car's reaction speed is totally different,” Twyne said. “You're not only jeopardizing your life; you're jeopardizing the lives of others.”
Both the House and Senate bills contain different provisions, so after crossover day, which is the deadline for when each chamber can vote on their own bills, the fate of threshold change will likely end up in a conference committee.