Vehicular homicide

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Vehicular homicide is a crime that involves the death of a person other than the driver as a result of either criminally negligent or murderous operation of a motor vehicle.


In cases of criminal negligence, the defendant is commonly charged with unintentional vehicular manslaughter.

Vehicular homicide is similar to the offense, in some countries, of "dangerous driving causing death."

The victim may be either a person not in the car with the offending motorist (such as a pedestrian, cyclist, or another motorist), or a passenger in the vehicle with the offender. [1]



The Criminal Code does not have a specific offence for vehicular homicide, but has a series of provisions covering driving offences causing death, [2] among them:

The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death, absent any of the remaining 5 elements mentioned above, is 14 years' imprisonment. [3] The maximum penalty is otherwise life imprisonment. Anyone sentenced to life imprisonment for a Criminal Code driving offence is eligible to apply for parole after serving 7 years, but there is no guarantee of parole.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, there is no offense of "vehicular homicide". Where a vehicle has been used as a weapon as part of a deliberate assault; and the intention was to kill or cause serious injury; and that assault resulted in the death of the victim then the driver may be charged with murder contrary to the Common Law.

Where death is the result of driving that falls short of a deliberate assault, the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA 88) governs the disposal of the case. [4] The offenses created by this act relating to road deaths are as follows ...

The RTA 88 introduced the simple concept of dangerousness by removing the offence of "reckless driving" as the concept of recklessness in UK law requires a mens rea. This had been difficult to prove in court. C. M. V. Clarkson, an advocate of a vehicular homicide offense, opines that while people's perceptions are that death resulting from a motor vehicle is in a different "family" to other killings, "in terms of fault there can be little distinction between those who kill through the dangerous operation of their cars and those who kill with machines, trains, etc." [5] [6]

In addition to the above there also exists the option of charging offenders with causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving.

Originally framed in the era of horse-drawn vehicles this legislation is now applied where offences involving motorised vehicles take place outside the provisions of the Road Traffic Act (on private land, when driving off-road or in pedestrianised areas) and in the small number of serious cases involving non-motorised collisions such as the few that involve cyclists and result in severe injury or loss of life, typically of pedestrians.

United States

The definition and penalties of vehicular manslaughter in the United States vary by state.

All states except Alaska, Montana, and Arizona have vehicular homicide statutes. The laws have the effect of making a vehicle a potentially deadly weapon, to allow for easier conviction and more severe penalties; in states without such statutes, defendants can still be charged with manslaughter or murder in some situations. [7]

In the Model Penal Code, there is no distinction between vehicular homicide and vehicular homicides that involve negligence; instead, both are included in the overall category of negligent homicide. [8] [9]


In the state of California, depending on the degree of recklessness and whether alcohol was involved, a person could be charged with progressively more serious offenses: vehicular manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or second-degree murder. In any of these cases, the prosecution must prove that the driver committed some wrongful act (which could be a felony, a misdemeanor, an infraction, or a lawful act that might cause death) and that the wrongful act caused the collision and the death of the victim. Murder charges are usually reserved for the most egregious cases, such as a convicted DUI offender who drives recklessly while intoxicated and thereby causes a fatal collision.


In the state of Georgia, vehicular homicide is more properly known as homicide by vehicle. It is defined, by statute, as the unlawful killing of another person using a vehicle. To be guilty of the offense, the perpetrator does not have to have an intent to kill, malice aforethought, or premeditation. [10]

There are two degrees of vehicular homicide:

First degree homicide by vehicle
This is a felony that, upon conviction, will result in a sentence of between 3 and 15 years of imprisonment (or between 5 and 20 years for habitual violators), with no parole for at least 1 year. A homicide is first degree homicide by vehicle if the driver "unlawfully met or overtook a school bus; unlawfully failed to stop after a collision; was driving recklessly; was driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs; failed to stop for, or otherwise was attempting to flee from, a law enforcement officer; or had previously been declared a habitual violator". [10]
Second degree homicide by vehicle
This is a misdemeanor that, upon conviction, will result in a sentence of up to 1 year (which may be suspended), a fine of up to US$1,000, or both. Second degree homicide by vehicle encompasses all other homicides by vehicle, involving any other violation of the laws governing motor vehicles, that are not classed as first degree homicides. [10]


In the state of Louisiana, vehicular homicide is defined as the killing of a human being while operating a motor vehicle, or other means of conveyance, under the influence of alcohol and/or controlled substances. The minimum punishment is a fine of at least $2,000 (not more than $15,000) and 5–30 years in prison.

The law is LSA RS 14:32.1.


In the state of Minnesota, vehicular homicide is one of the six levels of criminal vehicular operation, and is defined as causing the death of a person, that does not constitute murder or manslaughter, as a result of operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, or in a negligent manner while in violation of the driving while intoxicated law, or where the driver flees the scene in violation of the felony fleeing law. [11] Vehicular homicide in Minnesota requires, at a minimum, a mens rea of gross negligence. [12]


Vehicular homicide in Washington state, is governed by RCW 46.61.520 Vehicular homicide—Penalty. [13]

(1) When the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor vehicle:
a While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by RCW 46.61.502; or
b In a reckless manner; or
c With disregard for the safety of others.
(2) Vehicular homicide is a class A felony punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW, except that, for a conviction under subsection (1)(a) of this section, an additional two years shall be added to the sentence for each prior offence as defined in RCW 46.61.5055.


A study by professors at Dartmouth College and Harvard University found that those convicted of vehicular homicide are given, on average, shorter sentences than those found guilty of other types of homicide. The study found that the gender of the offender does not statistically affect the length of the sentence, but the race does. The identity of the victim is a more important predictor of sentencing length, with longer sentences given to offenders in cases where the victim was female and/or had no violent criminal record. [1]

Some states, such as Minnesota, have statutes allowing for a charge of a vehicular homicide if an unborn child is killed or injured by a motorist. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

Drunk driving is the act of operating a motor vehicle with the operator's ability to do so impaired as a result of alcohol consumption, or with a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit. For drivers 21 years or older, driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher is illegal. For drivers under 21 years old, the legal limit is lower, with state limits ranging from 0.00 to 0.02. Lower BAC limits apply when operating boats, airplanes, or commercial vehicles. Among other names, the criminal offense of drunk driving may be called driving under the influence (DUI), driving while intoxicated or impaired (DWI), operating [a] vehicle under the influence of alcohol (OVI), or operating while impaired (OWI).

Driving under the influence Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of an impairing substance

Driving under the influence (DUI) is the offense of driving, operating, or being in control of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or other drugs, to a level that renders the driver incapable of operating a motor vehicle safely.

The rule of felony murder is a legal doctrine in some common law jurisdictions that broadens the crime of murder: when an offender kills in the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime, the offender, and also the offender's accomplices or co-conspirators, may be found guilty of murder.

In criminal law, criminal negligence is a surrogate mens rea required to constitute a conventional as opposed to strict liability offense. It is not, strictly speaking, a mens rea because it refers to an objective standard of behaviour expected of the defendant and does not refer to their mental state.

Road rage Aggressive or angry behavior in road traffic

Road rage is aggressive or angry behavior exhibited by motorists. These behaviors include rude and verbal insults, physical threats or dangerous driving methods targeted toward another driver or non-drivers such as pedestrians or cyclists in an effort to intimidate or release frustration. Road rage can lead to altercations, damage to property, assaults and collisions that result in serious physical injuries or even death. Strategies include long horn honks, swerving, tailgating, brake checking, and attempting to fight.

Culpable homicide is a categorisation of certain offences in various jurisdictions within the Commonwealth of Nations which involves the illegal killing of a person either with or without an intention to kill depending upon how a particular jurisdiction has defined the offence. Unusually for those legal systems which have originated or been influenced during rule by the United Kingdom, the name of the offence associates with Scots law rather than English law.

Negligent homicide is a criminal charge brought against a person who, through criminal negligence, allows another person to die.

Causing death by dangerous driving is a statutory offence in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is an aggravated form of dangerous driving. It is currently created by section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Many countries have adopted a penalty point or demerit point system under which a person’s driving license is cancelled or suspended based on the number of points accumulated by them over a period of time because of the traffic offences or infringements committed by them in that period. The demerit points schemes of each jurisdiction varies. These demerit schemes are usually in addition to fines or other penalties which may be imposed for a particular offence or infringement, or after a prescribed number of points have been accumulated.

In the English law of homicide, manslaughter is a less serious offence than murder, the differential being between levels of fault based on the mens rea or by reason of a partial defence. In England and Wales, a common practice is to prefer a charge of murder, with the judge or defence able to introduce manslaughter as an option. The jury then decides whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty of either murder or manslaughter. On conviction for manslaughter, sentencing is at the judge's discretion, whereas a sentence of life imprisonment is mandatory on conviction for murder. Manslaughter may be either voluntary or involuntary, depending on whether the accused has the required mens rea for murder.

In United States law, reckless driving is a major moving traffic violation that generally consists in driving a vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property. It is usually a more serious offense than careless driving, improper driving, or driving without due care and attention and is often punishable by fines, imprisonment, or driver's license suspension or revocation. In Commonwealth countries, the offense of dangerous driving applies.

Forty-seven jurisdictions in the United States of America maintain the felony murder rule. In essence, the felony murder rule states that when an offender kills in the commission of a dangerous or enumerated crime, the offender, and also the offender's accomplices or co-conspirators, may be found guilty of murder. It means that the common law malice required for murder is "implied as a matter of law for homicides arising from felonies." It is a widely criticized feature of American criminal law. Initially, it was widely believed by scholars that the felony murder rule had originated in England. However, more recent scholarship has argued that it likely originated in America separately from England. Its historic roots have been called "deep but terribly obscure".

Manslaughter is a common law legal term for homicide considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is sometimes said to have first been made by the ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BC.

In United Kingdom law, dangerous driving is a statutory offence. It is also a term of art used in the definition of the offence of causing death by dangerous driving. It replaces the former offence of reckless driving. Canada's Criminal Code has equivalent provisions covering dangerous driving.

The laws of driving under the influence vary between countries. One difference is the acceptable limit of blood alcohol content before a person is charged with a crime.

In Canada, murder is defined in the Criminal Code, a statute passed by the Parliament of Canada that applies uniformly across the country. Murder is the most serious category of culpable homicide, the others being manslaughter and infanticide.

In the United States, the law for murder varies by jurisdiction. In most US jurisdictions there is a hierarchy of acts, known collectively as homicide, of which first-degree murder and felony murder are the most serious, followed by second-degree murder and, in a few states, third-degree murder, followed by voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter which are not as serious, and ending finally in justifiable homicide, which is not a crime. However, because there are at least 52 relevant jurisdictions, each with its own criminal code, this is a considerable simplification.

Hit and run Failing to stop after causing or contributing to a traffic collision

In traffic laws, a hit and run or a hit-and-run is the act of causing a traffic collision and not stopping afterwards. It is considered a supplemental crime in most jurisdictions.

Drug–impaired driving Driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of an impairing substance

Drug–impaired driving, in the context of its legal definition, is the act of driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of an impairing substance. DUID, or Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, is prohibited in many countries. Several American states and European countries now have "per se" DUID laws that presume a driver is impaired if they are found to have any detectable quantity of controlled substances in their body while operating an automobile and that the driver has no doctor's prescription for the substance. This is similar to the "per se" DUI/DWI laws that presume a driver is impaired when their blood alcohol content is above a certain level. There is some controversy with "per se" DUID laws in that a driver with any detectable quantity of controlled substances may not in fact be impaired and the detectable quantity in blood or sweat may be only the remnants of drug use in days or weeks past. It is against road traffic safety.

Manslaughter is a crime in the United States. Definitions can vary among jurisdictions, but manslaughter is invariably the act of causing the death of another person in a manner less culpable than murder. Three types of unlawful killings constitute manslaughter. First, there is voluntary manslaughter which is an intentional homicide committed in "sudden heat of passion" as the result of adequate provocation. Second, there is the form of involuntary manslaughter which is an unintentional homicide that was committed in a criminally negligent manner. Finally, there is the form of involuntary manslaughter which is an unintentional homicide that occurred during the commission or attempted commission of an unlawful act which does not amount to a felony.


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  11. 1 2 James Cleary & Joseph Cox. "A Brief Overview of Minnesota's DWI Laws: Minnesota Statutes Chapter 169A and Related Laws" (PDF). Minnesota Impaired Driving Facts Report. Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
  12. "609.21 Criminal Vehicular Homicide and Injury". Office of the Revisor of Statutes, State of Minnesota. 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-10.
  13. "RCW 46.61.520: Vehicular homicide—Penalty".