Drivers caught doing 81 mph on a Virginia highway with a 70 mph speed limit could end up with a criminal record, and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers hopes to change that.
Del. Joe Morrissey, one of the state House's most liberal Democrats, and Sen. Dick Black, a conservative Republican, don't see eye to eye on much. But both have filed legislation that would prevent state troopers from charging drivers doing 80 mph or more with reckless driving, a Class 1 misdemeanor.
"Reckless driving is a pretty serious offense, and we need to get current with the times," said Black, of Loudoun County.
Gov. Bob McDonnell championed legislation in 2010 that raised the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph on rural stretches of Interstates 95, 64, 77 and 81. But lawmakers didn't change the rule that defines reckless driving as anything above 80 mph. Reckless driving is punishable by up to a year in prison or a $2,500 fine, which means motorists clocked at 81 mph -- or 11 mph over the speed limit -- face a penalty far worse than a speeding ticket.
"It's a criminal offense," said Morrissey, who represents the Richmond area. "If you have a reckless-driving offense, you have a criminal record."
The Virginia law was causing even more serious problems for drivers from the District, who had their licenses revoked by the city if they were charged with reckless driving in any jurisdiction.
The problem got so bad that the D.C. Council in September passed emergency legislation ordering the District Department of Motor Vehicles to more carefully analyze out-of-state cases before pulling a resident's license.
DMV officials did not respond to requests for comments.
The changes lawmakers seek in the law would apply reckless-driving charges only against motorists caught traveling 20 mph or more above the posted speed limit. In a 70 mph zone, no one driving under 90 mph would be charged.
A McDonnell spokesman declined to comment on the legislation.
Morrissey said his bill has overwhelming support among Democrats, but Republicans control the House and could hold up the bill. He's hopeful that Black can win support from conservatives to the measure.
"Some people's thought process is they never lost an election being tough on crime and don't want to be lenient," Morrissey said. "This isn't being lenient, it's just being practical."