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Is there a “buffer zone” for speeding tickets? And, how it may mean the difference between a criminal conviction and a traffic infraction.
It is safe to say that almost all drivers travel faster than the posted speed limits. In some regions, driving at or below the speed limit is downright dangerous. Of course, most people assume they will not get pulled over as long as their speed is within a so-called "buffer zone" or "cushion" above the posted speed limit. The only question is this: how far does the "buffer zone" extend? For an interesting discussion of this "buffer zone," read this article by the Virginian Pilot: Virginian Pilot Article. http://hamptonroads.com/2011/09/analysis-10-mph-cushion-speeding-not-myth A few comments on the article... 1) I have seen speeding tickets issued for less than 5 mph over the posted speed limit. Granted, it is very rare. Nonetheless, despite the percentages, it can – and does – happen. 2) In Virginia, "going with the flow of traffic" is not a legal defense. Even if the flow of traffic is traveling within the "buffer zone," it is not a legal defense. Under some circumstances, we may be able to argue the “flow of traffic” as mitigation, but it will not be considered a true, legal defense to speeding tickets or reckless driving charges. 3) Even if you think you are traveling within or near a “buffer zone,” the consequences could be very, very severe. In Virginia, there are several different reckless driving statutes. One of the most common examples is “Reckless Driving by Speed.” Like most every other state, Virginia has a basic traffic infraction of “speeding” (sometimes called “simple speeding”). The most common consequences of “simple speeding” are a fine, court costs, and DMV demerit points. However, Virginia’s reckless driving statute is very different from “simple speeding.”
Reckless Driving is not a basic traffic infraction. Reckless Driving is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. It is classified as a criminal conviction, of the same severity as charges of DUI, Pettit Larceny, or Assault & Battery. Reckless Driving carries the possibility of up to 1 year in jail, a fine of $2,500, and a suspension of the driver’s license. In Virginia, any time a driver exceeds the speed limit by 20 mph or more, the driver can be charged with Reckless Driving by Speed. Likewise, any time a driver exceeds 80 mph, no matter what the posted speed limit is, the driver can be charged with Reckless Driving by Speed. So, how can a 10 mph “buffer zone” yield severe consequences? In recent years, the posted speed limits have been raised to 70 mph for several stretches of Virginia interstates. And even though the posted speed limits have been raised, the Reckless Driving threshold of 80 mph has not been raised. So, if the posted speed limit is 70 mph, and an individual is traveling within a 10 mph “buffer zone,” they may be dangerously close to a charge of Reckless Driving by Speed. If the vehicle’s speedometer is inaccurate by only 1 mph, they may be driving over the 80 mph threshold. If they momentarily increase speed to pass a vehicle, they may be driving over the reckless driving threshold. Even if they unintentionally increase their speed when driving down a steep hill, they may exceed the 80 mph threshold. That small variation may be the difference between a Class 1 Misdemeanor conviction or a simple traffic infraction. 4) The article relied on data obtained from the Virginia Court Case Information systems (General District Courts and Circuit Courts). While these systems are generally accurate, they do contain errors. The authors of the article mentioned some of the limitations. Additionally, the analysis only considered three specific traffic statutes. It did not include traffic violations charged under local ordinances or other speeding statutes. This should not be construed to invalidate the basic premise of the article. Every research project has its own inherent limitations. Quite simply, these limitations should be taken into account. If you have been charged with simple speeding or Reckless Driving by Speed, feel free to call our office to discuss your options. For the majority of our traffic clients, we are able to achieve some measure a reduction in the charges, thereby minimizing or eliminating the impact on their driving records. Naturally, every case is unique, but you have nothing to lose by calling to discuss your options. To set up a free consultation today, call (757) 301-3636, or call toll free (877) 214-9640.