Vehicular manslaughter is a charge which can be used to prosecute someone who kills someone with a motor vehicle as a result of negligent or illegal driving. In regions where there are specific laws which cover vehicular manslaughter, people can still be eligible for other types of charges, such as murder, depending on the circumstances of the case. Prosecutors may pursue this charge as a felony or misdemeanor offense once they have evaluated the circumstances of the case and the applicable laws.
The idea behind vehicular manslaughter laws is that they are designed to hold people accountable for actions which cause the death of someone else, and to distinguish between genuine accidents and cases in which someone died because a driver was being reckless. Drivers are expected to exercise due caution behind the wheel and to behave responsibly while driving, and if it can be demonstrated that a driver was reckless, negligent, or violating the law at the time of a death, it can be charged as vehicular manslaughter. On the other hand, someone may be eligible for murder charges if it is clear that she or he used the car as a weapon and intended to kill.
For example, if someone blows through a stoplight without stopping and collides with another vehicle, killing the passengers inside, this may be treated as vehicular manslaughter, because the driver was violating the law. Likewise, if a driver failed to observe a safe rate of speed in dangerous driving conditions and this caused an accident, this would be considered negligence, and grounds for a vehicular manslaughter charge.
When someone drives drunk or under the influence of drugs and causes an accident, this may be treated as vehicular manslaughter, or it may be prosecuted under a separate charge of intoxication manslaughter. Not all regions offer intoxication manslaughter as an option to prosecutors. The driver can also face other charges, such as a charge for driving under the influence, and may be sentenced to jail time and damages.
Charges of negligent manslaughter, of which vehicular manslaughter is an example, can be brought in any situation which results in death. This includes the death of friends or family members involved in an accident caused by someone's negligent behavior. People are not exempt from criminal liability when they cause the deaths of people they know and they can also incur civil liability. For example, if a reckless driver kills a friend, the friend's family may sue the driver for damages.