Vehicular Homicide in Law: Definition, Sentence & Statistics

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  • 0:03 Vehicular Homicide Defined
  • 0:52 Sentencing
  • 3:41 Vehicular Homicide Statistics
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brittany McKenna

Brittany is a licensed attorney who specializes in criminal law, legal writing, and appellate practice and procedure.

In this lesson, we'll define vehicular homicide, examine how criminal sentences can vary greatly from one jurisdiction to another, and look at some national vehicular homicide statistics.

Vehicular Homicide Defined

Danny Driver is driving down Main Street when he hears a familiar beep coming from his cellphone. Knowing that he just received a text message from his girlfriend, Danny picks up the phone and begins typing a reply. In his distracted state, Danny runs a red light and hits Paul Pedestrian in the crosswalk. Paul tragically dies from his injuries.

Danny didn't mean to kill Paul, but his careless behavior caused Paul's death. What should Danny's punishment be? Should he be punished at all?

Vehicular homicide is a crime that involves the death of an individual caused by the negligent or dangerous operation of a vehicle by another. In many jurisdictions, death caused by negligent driving is called vehicular manslaughter.


All states (with the exception of Alaska, Arizona, and Montana) have vehicular homicide laws on the books. These laws vary from state to state, but most states classify a dangerously-operated vehicle as a deadly weapon.

In a vehicular homicide prosecution, the government must typically prove that the defendant committed the wrongful act of dangerously or negligently operating a vehicle, which resulted in the death of the victim. Other factors, such as if the defendant was under the influence at the time of the collision, will be considered in determining the appropriate punishment (or sentence). The sentence for a vehicular homicide conviction depends on two elements: the jurisdiction in which the case is prosecuted and the circumstances surrounding the incident.

Jurisdictions like California recognize multiple degrees of vehicular homicide, each with varying levels of punishment. Murder charges are generally reserved for the most egregious vehicular homicides. A defendant charged with murder could receive anywhere from twenty years in prison to a life sentence.

Minnesota vehicular homicide falls under a broad set of laws concerning criminal vehicular operation. Louisiana, on the other hand, has a very narrow vehicular homicide law. Under the Louisiana law, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the victim was killed. The minimum sentence for vehicular homicide in Louisiana is five years in prison and a $2000 fine with the maximum sentence reaching thirty years.

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