Vehicular homicide (sometimes called vehicular manslaughter) is the unlawful killing of another with the use of a vehicle. Neither malice aforethought nor intent to kill is required.
First degree homicide by vehicle is a felony. For vehicular homicide to be considered first degree, the driver must have:
- Unlawfully met or overtook a school bus.
- Unlawfully failed to remain at the scene of a collision.
- Been driving recklessly.
- Been driving while intoxicated.
- Failed to stop for, or intentionally fled from a police officer.
- Been declared a habitual violator.
The punishment for first degree vehicular homicide is anywhere from 3 to 15 years of imprisonment. If the suspect is a repeat offender, the range is between 5 and 20 years of jail time.
Second degree vehicular homicide includes all vehicular homicides that do not involve the intent to kill but do involve any other traffic or motor vehicle violation. If a fatal motor vehicle crash occurs, and the culprit is guilty of failing to yield, speeding, driving too slowly, or reckless driving, the driver can be charged with committing homicide by motor vehicle in the second degree.
This classification of vehicular homicide is a misdemeanor and is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and fines of up to $1,000, or both.
Excluding Alaska, Montana, Arizona, and Oregon, all states have vehicular homicide statutes. These statutes say that a vehicle is a potentially deadly weapon and were introduced to allow for easier conviction of offenders and more severe penalties.
The only difference between a vehicular homicide and other homicides is the use of a motor vehicle as the weapon, instead of a gun or a knife. While automobiles are not intended or designed to be used as murder weapons, when used improperly, automobiles can become deadly.
Statistics show that almost twice as many people die in vehicle crashes per year than by any other form of homicide. Also, more people are murdered in crashes where alcohol is involved per year than are killed by guns.
If a driver who commits vehicular homicide is impaired by alcohol or other drugs at the time of the crime, their inebriated state can be used in court as a partial defense. If it can be proven that a defendant’s intent to kill was affected by his level of intoxication, his charge may be dropped from voluntary homicide to involuntary homicide.
The victim of vehicular homicide may be either a passenger in the car of the motorist or an outside individual, such as a pedestrian or another motorist.