Reckless driving can change your life permanently; it can also change the lives of others. In 2021, 42,915 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. The wanton or willful disregard of others’ safety or consequences when on the road is considered reckless driving. Not only can it result in accidents but it can also lead to a charge of vehicular manslaughter.
To understand what separates this charge from homicide, you need to have a broad understanding of manslaughter. In addition to criminal proceedings, drivers charged with manslaughter may also face a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Is Vehicular Manslaughter?
Often, people have trouble distinguishing manslaughter from murder. The difference in these charges can be difficult to grasp because the line between the two is sometimes blurry or complex, but understanding it is vital for comprehending what a vehicular manslaughter charge means. Manslaughter and homicide both result in the death of another person, but a latter is a more serious charge.
Manslaughter vs. Murder
The main difference between manslaughter and murder is that manslaughter does not involve malice beforehand. When a person commits homicide, he or she has the serious intent to harm or kill someone. On the other hand, involuntary manslaughter typically involves criminally negligent conduct that results in the death of another person.
There are several degrees of homicide. First-degree murder, for instance, is the highest degree possible. It refers to killing someone intentionally and with premeditation. Second-degree murder refers to committing an act that the perpetrator knows for sure will kill another person. It may be intentional for that purpose or an act without regard for the harm it could cause others. Second-degree murder is not necessarily premeditated.
Vehicular manslaughter occurs when a driver causes the death of another person because of illegal driving. This could include reckless driving such as speeding or gross negligence such as drunk driving. The victims of vehicular manslaughter can be passengers, drivers or passengers in other vehicles or pedestrians. Several actions can lead to this charge.
Street racing can be thrilling. Unfortunately, it is also hazardous. Most racers push their vehicles beyond 100 miles per hour and sometimes reach speeds as high as 200 miles per hour. Street racing is not only dangerous for the drivers but also for any other cars on the street and bystanders.
In addition to the dangers of driving at high speeds, street racing often involves alcohol and other substances. Driving impaired multiplies the risk of a serious accident.
Driving Under the Influence
Most people understand the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When you drive while drunk or impaired, your reaction time slows, and you are more likely to make mistakes that could result in serious injuries and the death of another person. Intoxication makes it challenging to keep your vehicle in the right lane, and you have a higher chance of acting impulsively or using limited judgment.
While anger can be helpful in some situations, it is never good when you are behind the wheel. It can lead to aggression and impulsivity. You are less likely to think about the consequences of your actions when angry. For example, say that someone tailgates you. You already had a rough day and you’re becoming irritated at the person behind you. To stop him or her from tailgating, you slam on the brakes; the car rear-ends you and the driver suffers serious injuries because of it.
You probably weren’t thinking about hurting anyone when you slammed on the brakes. After all, you probably didn’t want anyone to rear-end your vehicle. Anger can blind us to rational thought and make us act without considering the consequences. When on the road, unfortunately, the results can be severe.
Other examples of aggressive driving are failing to yield, failing to obey traffic signals, making unsafe lane changes and passing a vehicle on the right.
Excessive speeding plays a significant role in traffic injuries and death. When drivers go above the speed limit, they have less time to react to dangerous situations. Fast cars need a longer stopping distance and other safety structures have reduced effectiveness. For instance, guardrails may not keep you safe, and median dividers and concrete barriers may harm you more than they help you. In 2020, 29% of all traffic fatalities occurred because of speeding, killing about 30 people every day.
In Arizona, criminal speeding has serious legal consequences. Examples of criminal speeding include:
- Driving over 45 mph when there is no posted speed limit
- Driving 20 mph over the posted speed limit
- Driving 30 mph over the speed limit in a school zone
- Driving over 85 mph anywhere
When guilty of criminal speeding in an accident where another person dies, you could face vehicular manslaughter charges.
People die each day from distracted driving accidents. It’s common for drivers to assume it’s OK to multitask behind the wheel if they don’t do so for too long. However, distracted driving includes anything that takes your attention off of driving for even a few seconds. When it comes to distractions, there are three main types: cognitive, visual and manual.
Cognitive distractions include anything that takes your mind off the road. Your eyes may be on the road ahead and your hands may be placed on the wheel, but your mind is elsewhere. Cognitive distractions could be a conversation happening in the car or could be intrusive thoughts. For example, driving when emotionally disturbed or preoccupied by something that happened before you got in the vehicle can result in cognitive distractions.
Manual distractions, on the other hand, take your hands from the wheel. One of the most common manual distractions is changing radio stations or adjusting the GPS. When you take your hands off the wheel even for a second, you lose the ability to react quickly to obstacles on the road.
Visual distractions take your eyes off the road. Even glancing down at the radio can cause you to miss essential obstacles. Our Phoenix car accident lawyers know how texting is one of the most dangerous distractions because it is a visual, manual and cognitive distraction. Taking your eyes off the road to answer a text is the equivalent safety-wise of closing your eyes and driving across the length of a football field.
Why Do People Drive Recklessly?
If vehicular manslaughter happens because of reckless drivers, you may wonder what makes people so careless. You might not think you are prone to reckless driving until you are in an accident or someone else gets hurt. Anyone can drive recklessly, but understanding the common reasons behind this behavior can help you avoid it.
Other Drivers Become Faceless
When driving, people are more likely to dehumanize other drivers than if they weren’t behind the wheel. When you bump into someone on the street, you are more likely to apologize and act politely because you are face to face. However, when someone nearly hits another car or makes a mistake on the road, other drivers tend to react with anger.
Drivers Lack Self-Awareness
People do not always realize how aggressive they are behind the wheel. Additionally, younger drivers tend to be more thrill-seeking and impulsive while driving.
Driving becomes automatic for most people over time. After you complete driver’s ed and earn your license, you know the motions for operating a car and can carry them out without much thought. Likewise, you learn how to predict other drivers on the road. This can make it feel like you are in complete control. People do not always recognize how fast they are driving or realize they don’t save that much time when speeding. Additionally, they may underestimate the room it takes to brake.
Vehicular manslaughter can occur when drivers are reckless without recognizing the hazards around them. People cannot process all the information their minds take in at once; they miss a lot more details than they typically realize. When driving, you have to consider that you are not infallible and pay close attention to everything happening at all times.
Drivers Pass the Blame to Others
It’s easy to pin the blame of a near-miss on another driver. Most people don’t think about why other drivers may get in their way or drive dangerously. Instead of thinking about the situation, people are more likely to think others made a mistake due to malice or a lack of competence. On the other hand, when you make a mistake yourself, you are more likely to excuse it because of the situation.
Most people think they have a higher skill level than other drivers. The majority of drivers believe they have an above-average driving ability. When people think they are more skilled than others, they are more likely to try reckless stunts.
What Are the Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter?
If convicted of vehicular manslaughter, you could face up to 21 years in prison in Arizona. Manslaughter is a Class 2 Dangerous felony. The minimum sentence is seven years. However, if you have repeat offenses or have been charged with a Class 2 Dangerous Felony before, you could get a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 28 years in prison.
What Are the Defenses for Vehicular Manslaughter?
To defend yourself against a vehicular manslaughter charge, you must prove that you did not act recklessly or differently than a reasonable person would have. An investigation takes place to prove that you did not act recklessly.
Your defense may analyze evidence from the scene of the accident. The vehicles involved and tire marks and photos from the scene can tell the story of the accident and possibly point to these exceptions.
Police Did Not Follow Procedures
The police cannot violate your constitutional rights in an investigation or traffic stop. They must honor your Fourth Amendment right not to face unreasonable searches or seizures. There are various formalities that the police have to adhere to when they arrest you. For example, if they searched your vehicle for evidence without permission or probable cause, then any evidence they found may not be admissible. Your defense may ask for some evidence to be excluded if the police did not follow the appropriate procedures.
You Did Not Cause the Death
To be convicted of vehicular manslaughter, your actions must be a substantial factor in the cause of death. In a car accident, there are multiple variables. If the prosecution cannot prove that your actions were a clear cause of another person’s death, you cannot be convicted of manslaughter. Instead, you can argue that your actions were removed from the person’s death.
What Civil Action Can Victims’ Families Take?
If someone dies due to another driver’s negligence, the survivors may file a wrongful death suit. Those charged with vehicular manslaughter may also face a demand for damages from the family. Working with a skilled Phoenix wrongful death attorney can help file a lawsuit to seek compensation for lost wages, companionship and final expenses.
Those who can file a wrongful death lawsuit include immediate family members, spouses or parents. Generally, personal representatives bring wrongful death lawsuits.
Wrongful Death After a Criminal Trial
Wrongful death lawsuits may occur before, during or after a criminal trial. In some instances, the family of the deceased may file a lawsuit after a criminal trial because the person was found not guilty. In a civil lawsuit, the family can use the same evidence as the criminal trial, but it has a lower standard of proof. A person can be found not guilty of manslaughter in a criminal trial but still have to pay the family damages.
Damages for Wrongful Death
Most courts measure wrongful death damages by the financial injury the family suffers because of the death, for example, medical and funeral expenses and loss of inheritance or support. Generally, wrongful death lawsuits are tried before a jury. If the case does not go before a jury, it is usually because it ended in a settlement.
Find an Arizona Personal Injury Attorney Who Can Help After an Accident
Vehicular manslaughter is a serious charge that arises when a driver’s recklessness results in the death of another person. At MDK Law Group, our Phoenix personal injury attorneys understand how a major car accident can turn your life upside down. Contact us to help you understand the charges that may arise following an accident and fight for any compensation you may deserve.