Another Defect in Virginia’s Reckless-Driving Statutes

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Pedestrians Take Care Apparently you can be convicted of reckless driving in Virginia even if you weren't driving.

As I wrote the other day, a Virginia man was acquitted of reckless driving recently after his attorney noticed that there was an "at" missing from the statute, and convinced a judge that, as written, the law required drivers to "stop school buses," not "stop at school buses." As reader Michael Gordon points out, if the reckless-driving laws have to be construed that literally, then some of them would cover pedestrians.

For example, the law that makes "failing to stop school buses" a crime has this problem, too, because neither the statute's title nor its first sentence says anything about a vehicle:

§ 46.2-859. Passing a stopped school bus; prima facie evidence.

A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, [at] any school bus which is stopped . . . for the purpose of taking on or discharging children . . . and to remain stopped until all the persons are clear of the highway, private road or school driveway and the bus is put in motion.

Emphasis added. It's perfectly clear – whenever a school bus stops in Virginia, everyone in the area must stop and remain stopped until the bus is moving again. No exceptions.

Oh, sure, you could infer from the name of the offense or some of the context that the Legislature did not intend to cover pedestrians, if such things were done in Virginia. And other evidence supports the construction above, because other reckless-driving statutes do mention vehicles.  See, e.g., Va. Code § 46.2-862 ("A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives a motor vehicle" at 20 mph or more over the limit). Obviously, the legislature was capable of specifying when a motor vehicle is part of an offense and when it is not. And sometimes, it didn't. Therefore, Virginia pedestrians can be convicted of the following reckless-driving offenses:

  • passing two vehicles abreast moving in the same direction;
  • overtaking or passing a vehicle at a railroad crossing;
  • passing a stopped school bus;
  • failing to give adequate and timely signals of intention to turn, slow down or stop;
  • exceeding a reasonable speed under the circumstances; and
  • "racing [back and forth] between two or more motor vehicles."

Arguably, the signaling statute requires driving, since it contains a reference to another statute that does mention driving. But the idea that all Virginia pedestrians now have to go around giving those arm signals whenever they change direction is comical enough that I would encourage judges to reject such cross-referencing, just for humor purposes.

Obviously, the point is that legislatures are made up of fallible human beings (see the Legislatures at Work category if you disagree), which is why judges have some leeway to interpret statutes. That can present its own problems, but penciling in an "at" should generally be okay. (Seriously, though, make them do the arm-signal thing, just for a while.)