Iowa's Vehicular Homicide Laws and Penalties

Depending on the circumstances, a driver who causes the death of another person while behind the wheel may face vehicular homicide charges.

In Iowa, a person can be convicted of "homicide by vehicle" (sometimes called "vehicular homicide") for causing the death of another person while:

Under the influence. For purposes of the vehicular homicide statute, "under the influence" means the person:

  • has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or .08% or more
  • has any amount of a controlled substance in the blood, or
  • is actually impaired by drugs or alcohol.

You're considered impaired if your judgment is diminished, your emotions are visibly excited, or to any extent, you've lost control of your bodily actions or motions.

Reckless driving. Iowa law defines "reckless driving" as operating a vehicle in a manner that indicates a "willful or a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property." The term "willful" refers to conduct that is intentional or purposeful. And "wanton" generally means the person understood but disregarded the consequences of the conduct.

For purpose of Iowa's vehicular homicide law, proof that a motorist was texting while driving is sufficient to show reckless driving.

Causation. A motorist can't be convicted of vehicular homicide unless there's proof that the motorist's driving was a legal cause of the death. In other words, there needs to be a direct link between the defendant's driving and the death.

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

The consequences of an Iowa vehicular homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But the possible penalties are:

  • Offenses involving OWI. An OWI-related vehicular homicide offense is a class B felony. A conviction carries up to 25 years in prison and a six-year license revocation. Convicted motorists must also complete a drinking-and-driving course and may have to complete a substance abuse treatment program.
  • Offenses involving recklessness or fleeing an officer. Vehicular homicide involving reckless driving or fleeing from an officer is a class C felony. Convicted drivers are looking at up to ten years in prison and $1,000 to $10,000 in fines.
  • Offenses involving drag racing. Vehicular homicide based on drag racing is a class D felony. A conviction carries up to five years in prison and $750 to $7,000 in fines.

All drivers convicted of a non-OWI-related vehicular homicide offense are looking at a license revocation of up to one year.


Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a "minimum" jail sentence that's longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior, "suspended" sentences, and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

Vehicular homicide is a serious criminal charge that can result in a long prison sentence. If you've been arrested for vehicular homicide—or any other crime—get in contact with a criminal defense attorney right away. The facts of every case are different. An experienced defense attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on the best plan of action.

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