In the United States, car accidents are the cause of dozens of deaths every day. If the driver gets into an accident that kills another person, the driver may be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
If the vehicle operator was driving in a negligent or reckless manner, that person may be charged with vehicular manslaughter or “vehicular homicide” or “homicide by vehicle.” Most states have strictly outlined vehicular manslaughter laws. However, a small minority of states have less-specific laws which classify criminally negligent homicide as “death caused by the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle.”
It is important for the driver to know the difference between what classifies as a criminal allegation and what does not because many accident-related deaths do not result in criminal charges against the driver.
Vehicular homicide due to the drivers use of a substance before or during driving is another form of negligent driving. DUIs are a major cause of death in the United States. Every State has different laws outlining the legal blood alcohol limits its drivers can legally have while behind the wheel.
States including Washington, Florida, and Minnesota have very serious laws regarding vehicular manslaughter. In these states the driver can be convicted for driving negligently or recklessly, or for killing another person in an accident. Some states including Georgia, classify vehicular homicide as an accident “causing the death of another person while committing a traffic violation.”
In these states’ drivers can be convicted of first-degree “homicide-by-vehicle” for causing the death of another while committing a regular traffic violation such as illegally passing a school bus or fleeing from an officer. In order for the driver to be charged, the prosecution needs to prove gross negligence or recklessness.
If the prosecution proves the driver understood but disregarded that his or her driving posed a substantial risk to others the driver will likely be convicted for manslaughter because these states have zero tolerance for deaths caused by an act of “simple negligence.”
The state of Arizona does not have vehicular manslaughter laws for driving-related unlawful killings like many other states. Conversely, if a driver in Arizona causes an accident resulting in the death of another person he or she can be accused for homicide under the state’s general homicide laws. A serious accident involving death could consequence in a negligent homicide, manslaughter, or murder charge against the driver who was at fault.
There are four main driving related homicide charges in Arizona, negligent homicide, manslaughter, second degree murder, and driving under the influence (DUI). If an Arizona motorist is convicted of negligent homicide a class 4 felony, they should expect between one and four years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines. If an Arizona motorist is convicted of manslaughter, a class 2 felony, they should expect a punishment of between three years and 12 years in prison as well as up to $150,000 in fines. If an Arizona motorist is convicted of second-degree murder, a class 1 felony, they will likely have to serve between ten and 25 years in prison as well as pay up to $150,000 in fines. However, if the driver kills a victim under 12 years of age, they could face a much longer sentence up to life in prison. If a DUI accident results in any deaths, the driver may be charged with “gross” vehicular manslaughter DUI, the driver can be penalized with all DUI penalties along with up to 10 years in state prison.
According to the number of car crashes has significantly decreased since the implementation of nationwide stay at home orders. The lower frequency in traffic and overall accidents is due to the lack of non-essential travelers on the roads. However, the rate of car crashes resulting in injury and fatality has actually increased between March 15 and April 1 2020.
It is believed that the lack of traffic and naturally slowing due to congestion has given drivers a false sense of safety and therefore has promoted speeding, texting and driving, and many other behaviors deemed reckless by definition. A case study based on collisions in Massachusetts found that car accidents were down 73 percent between March 15 and April 1 compared to car accidents occurring during the same dates in 2019. However, despite an overall decrease in accidents, crash deaths were only down 38 percent during the quarantine indicating a much higher death rate.
The lack of correlation between the number of accidents and the death rate indicates the increase in reckless driving during the stay at home order period. In 2019, pre-quarantine there was an average of 0.45 chance of dying in a car accident, however during the pandemic the chances of death due to a car accident would be closer to 1.05. This huge increase shows the lack of responsibility during times when there are less cars on the road.
Vehicular homicide taken very seriously in every state. If a Defendant is charged with a vehicular homicide offense or any offense related to fatal auto accident, it’s critical they talk to their criminal defense attorney. Their lawyer will explain their rights and how the state law applies to their specific accident and lawsuit.