Making a mistake on the road is common, but some can be costlier than others. Vehicular accidents—collisions involving motor vehicles—happen more often than you might realize. According to recent personal injury statistics, there were 4.5 million medically consulted injury cases due to vehicular accidents in 2019.
While some accidents may only lead to injuries, others can be fatal—this is vehicular homicide, and it has serious legal consequences. In many jurisdictions, it’s considered a criminal offense and can result in costly penalties, such as fines and imprisonment.
Let this article guide you through what vehicular homicide means for you.
What is Vehicular Homicide?
Vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter is when a motorist wrongfully causes the death of another person while driving. However, not all vehicular accidents can be considered vehicular homicide. Courts will consider these elements in determining whether an accident is a vehicular homicide or not:
- Level of intent: Driving with the intention to harm another person will immediately elevate the case from vehicular homicide to a degree of murder.
- Degree of negligence: California law defines gross negligence as the failure of a person to exercise great care or an amount of care that is still indifferent to the consequences of their actions. If your attorney can prove that you cared about avoiding accidents, it means you were driving without gross negligence and can ease the punishment.
- Resulting death: Vehicular accidents leading to serious injuries, but not death, can’t be considered a homicide.
- Driver or the person behind the wheel: You can’t be charged with vehicular homicide if you weren’t behind the wheel at the time of the accident.
As is with other legal cases, vehicular homicide isn’t black or white. There are still many nuances to these cases. It helps to review scenarios to understand the crime even more.
5 Types and Examples of Vehicular Homicide
Besides a vehicular accident leading to someone’s wrongful death, each vehicular homicide case is unique. You will face varying degrees of culpability and charges depending on several factors.
According to the California Penal Code, Part 1, Title 8, Chapter 1, Section 192 on homicide, vehicular homicide can occur in these cases:
- Driving with gross negligence and committing an unlawful act leading to someone’s death
- Driving with gross negligence and committing a lawful act resulting in someone’s death
- Driving carefully (i.e., without gross negligence) and committing an unlawful act leading to someone’s death
- Driving carefully and committing a lawful act but resulting in someone’s unlawful—in other words, preventable—death
- Driving with the intent to cause an accident for financial gain, which accidentally led to someone’s death
To illustrate, suppose Driver A checks a notification on their phone while on the road. They fail to notice that they’ve already exceeded the speed limit and swerved into the opposite lane, crashing into an oncoming car with Driver B, who is killed on impact.
Besides needing to negotiate with their insurance company about the cost of the damages, Driver A could potentially be charged with vehicular homicide. The unlawful death of Driver B and Driver A’s reckless driving are core considerations in a California courthouse.
3 Factors Contributing to Vehicular Homicide
The previous scenario highlights how different factors can contribute to vehicular homicide.
1. Driver’s impairment
If you were under the influence of alcohol or a drug, prescribed or not, it could lead to even more serious charges. Drowsy driving may also elevate the charge since it endangers others.
2. Driver’s manner of driving
How you drive will be a significant factor in your vehicular homicide case. Speeding over 100 miles per hour can be considered gross negligence under California law. You could also be considered grossly negligent if you were texting or looking around while driving.
3. Vehicle’s state
Malfunctions with how the vehicle operates can contribute to your ruling. It could be considered gross negligence if you knowingly ignore checking your vehicle’s operability, but it could become a misdemeanor if something breaks along the way and causes an accident.
Legal Consequences of Vehicular Homicide
What does vehicular homicide mean for you? The typical vehicular homicide sentence can be six months to a year in jail if found to be a misdemeanor. This will also typically include a fine of $1,000 and license suspension for a year or more. However, if it was found to be a felony, it can raise your vehicle homicide sentence by a lot: a maximum of six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Of course, these will differ depending on the nature and factors of your case. A good personal injury lawyer should be able to negotiate more favorable sentencing for you.
Vehicular Homicide Prevention and Safety Measures
It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep roads as safe as possible. Here are a few ways communities can avoid cases of vehicular accidents.
1. Launching education and awareness campaigns
These initiatives will help drivers in the community understand the potential consequences they face if they drive recklessly. Communities can conduct workshops or seminars to help drivers brush up on their driving skills.
They can also release public service announcements to disseminate key road information, such as which areas to avoid driving through due to construction projects, to help cultivate a road-safe culture.
Education campaigns can teach drivers about their rights and the proper procedures in case they are involved in a vehicular accident. It can empower them to avoid worsening their legal case.
2. Promoting responsible and defensive driving habits
Communities must encourage drivers to focus on the wheel and maintain safe speeds on the road. Companies can run campaigns that visualize the impact of driving recklessly to convince drivers to be more careful on the road.
3. Implementing stricter laws and regulations
More severe punishments for vehicular homicide cases can deter drivers from being reckless. It’s worthwhile for authorities to revisit their vehicular homicide laws to impose tighter regulations, such as speed limits in more areas or sobriety checks outside well-known drinking locations to stop drunk drivers from getting into their cars.
4. Encouraging technological advancements for safe vehicles
Car manufacturers are also responsible for their vehicle’s operation on the road. They can implement safety features such as blind-spot monitors or better collision avoidance systems to help drivers remain safe.
Practice Road Safety with the Right Lawyer
Road accidents are bound to happen, though some cases will need legal expertise more than others. Choosing a personal injury lawyer experienced with vehicular homicide is key to your defense. They’ll work with accident reconstructionists to understand the true cause of the unfortunate accident while defending you in court.
If you’ve been involved in a vehicular homicide and need an attorney to guide you through the process, reach out to us at RMD Law as soon as you can. Our team of experienced lawyers is ready for the tireless representation you deserve. Contact us for a free case evaluation.