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Vehicular homicide (also known as vehicular manslaughter) in most states in the United States, is a crime that, in general, involves the death of an individual as a result of the negligent operation of a vehicle or as a result of driving while committing an unlawful act that does not amount to a felony. 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. It is comparable to the offense of dangerous driving causing death in other countries.
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.
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.
There are proposals in other countries to adopt the single nomenclature of "vehicular homicide" as it is used in the United States.
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.
In the United Kingdom, there is no offense of "vehicular homicide". The offenses are "causing death by dangerous driving" and "causing death by careless driving while unfit through alcohol/over prescribed limit", under the Road Traffic Act 1988. This act removed the offense of "reckless driving" as the concept of recklessness in law requires a mens rea that was often difficult to prove in court. Additional offenses connected to fatal road collisions were enacted in the Road Safety Act 2006, but they have yet to be brought into force. Legal reformists have pressed for the adoption of a categorization more akin to that of the United States. 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."
The definition and penalties of vehicular manslaughter in the United States vary by state.
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.
There are two degrees of vehicular homicide:
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. Vehicular homicide in Minnesota requires, at a minimum, a mens rea of gross negligence.
Vehicular homicide in Washington state, is governed by RCW 46.61.520 Vehicular homicide—Penalty.
The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death, absent any of the remaining 5 elements mentioned above, is 14 years' imprisonment. 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.