Criminal Law

Vehicular Homicide: Unlawful Killings Behind the Wheel

By John McCurley, Attorney
Fatal accidents that can lead to criminal charges and serious consequences.

Depending on the circumstances, a motorist who’s involved in an accident and causes the death of another person could face a vehicular homicide charge. Lots of states have a crime called “vehicular homicide,” (sometimes called “vehicular manslaughter” or “homicide by vehicle”) but states vary greatly on how the offense is defined.

See below for an overview of different types of vehicular homicide laws.

Negligent or Reckless Driving

In many states, including Florida, Minnesota, and Washington, you can be convicted of vehicular homicide for:

  • driving a vehicle in a grossly negligent or reckless manner, and
  • causing the death of another person.

(Fla. Stat. Ann. § 782.071 (2016), Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.2112(1) (2016), and Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 46.61.520(1)(b) (2016).)

To prove gross negligence or recklessness, the prosecution typically needs to prove the driver understood but disregarded that his or her driving posed a substantial risk to others. Proving “simple negligence”—which is often defined as ordinary carelessness—isn’t enough. (For more on the difference between reckless and negligent behavior, see What is criminal negligence?)

(Go to Driving Deaths and Manslaughter to find out more about vehicular homicides involving negligent or reckless driving.)

DUI-Related Homicides

Lots of states also have a form of vehicular homicide that applies when an impaired driver causes the death of another. Generally, a DUI-related homicide conviction only requires proof that the driver was:

  • driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and
  • caused the death of another person.

But in some states, like Maryland, prosecutors must additionally show that the motorist was driving negligently. (See Colo. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 18-3-106(1)(B)(I) (2016), Md. Code Ann., Crim. Law § 2-503 (2016), and N.M. Stat. Ann. § 66-8-101 (2016).)

Being “under the influence” typically means having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or .08% or greater or being impaired by drugs or alcohol.

(To learn more about DUIs involving death, see When Someone Gets Killed in a DUI Accident.)

Deaths Resulting from Traffic Violations

Some states define vehicular homicide as causing the death of another person while committing a traffic violation. For instance, in Georgia, a driver can be convicted of first degree “homicide by vehicle” for causing the death of another while:

  • illegally passing a school bus
  • committing a “reckless driving” offense
  • driving under the influence, or
  • fleeing from or eluding an officer.

And if a Georgia motorist kills another person while committing any other traffic offense, the crime is second degree homicide by vehicle. (Ga. Code Ann. § 40-6-393 (2016).)

Talk to an Attorney

Vehicular homicide is a serious offense, and the laws of every state are different. If you’ve been arrested in connection with a fatal auto accident, it’s best to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. A qualified lawyer can tell you how state law applies to the facts of your case.

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