Whether done intentionally, negligently, or while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, injuring another person with a car can lead to a vehicular assault charge in many states. In some cases, a vehicular assault conviction can result in prison time, thousands of dollars in fines, and driver’s license revocation. However, the specific penalties for this offense depend on the circumstances of the case and state laws.
Not all states have a crime called “vehicular assault.” But the states that do generally define the offense as injuring another person while driving under the influence or driving irresponsibly.
Reckless driving. Many states—including Pennsylvania and Ohio—define vehicular assault as causing serious bodily injury to another person while driving recklessly. Reckless driving (though it also goes by other names) is illegal in every state. Excessive speeding, erratic lane changes, and overly aggressive driving involving disregard for the safety of others are all examples of conduct that might qualify as reckless driving.
Negligent driving. To qualify as reckless driving, a motorist’s action generally must involve driving that was obviously dangerous; something more serious than a simple mistake. But some states also include negligent driving that leads to bodily injury in the definition of vehicular assault. Negligent driving could be as simple as not paying attention to the road, using a cellphone, or failing to stop for a red light—conduct that could be dangerous but isn’t particularly egregious.
DUI-related injuries. In many states, a person can be charged with vehicular assault for causing an injury to another person while driving under the influence. DUI-related vehicular assault is considered a strict liability offense. In other words, a conviction doesn’t require proof that the driver intended to injury anyone. If the driver was legally impaired and another person was injured, the offender can be convicted.
The penalties for vehicular assault vary greatly depending on the jurisdiction and circumstances of the offense. For example, negligently causing minor bodily injury to another person (say for accidentally running a stop sign) would likely be a misdemeanor. A conviction for this type of offense would normally carry a few hundred dollars in fines and no mandatory jail time.
However, the potential penalties are normally more severe when the offender’s conduct was particularly reckless or the injuries are serious. In these more serious cases, vehicular assault can be a felony and lead to thousands of dollars in fines and years of prison.
A vehicular assault charge can also result in traffic violation demerit points and the driver’s license being suspended or even permanently revoked.
Reckless or negligent driving that leads to the death of another person, could result in vehicular homicide charges. Vehicular homicide is normally a felony and carries potential prison time.