Washington's Vehicular Homicide Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives recklessly or under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causes the death of another person will likely face vehicular homicide charges.

In Washington, a person can be convicted of “vehicular homicide” (sometimes called “vehicular manslaughter”) for causing the death of another person by operating a vehicle:

  • while under the influence of drugs or alcohol in violation of Washington’s DUI laws
  • in a reckless manner, or
  • with disregard for the safety of others.

Under the influence. For purposes of the vehicular homicide law, “under the influence” means the motorist:

  • is impaired by drugs or alcohol to an extent that the motorist’s “ability to drive a motor vehicle is lessened in any appreciable degree”
  • has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater, or
  • has a concentration of five nanograms or more of THC (the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood.

Recklessness and disregard. Driving in a “reckless manner” means operating a vehicle in a “rash or heedless manner,” with indifference to the consequences. And a motorist drives “with disregard for the safety of others” by knowingly driving in a dangerous manner; in other words, the driver is aware the driving is dangerous but opts to do it anyway.

Causation. A driver can be convicted of vehicular homicide only if there’s proof that the driver was a legal cause of the death. It’s not enough to merely show the defendant drove recklessly or under the influence and someone died—there needs to be a direct link between the driving and the death.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 46.61.520 (2017).)

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

Vehicular homicide is a class A felony in Washington. Convicted motorists face up to life in prison and/or a maximum $50,000 in fines. And if a motorist is convicted of vehicular homicide involving driving under the influence, the judge must add two years to the sentence for each of the motorist’s prior DUI convictions. A vehicular homicide conviction also results in a two-year license revocation, starting when the driver gets out of jail.

(Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § § 9A.20.021, 46.61.524, 46.20.285 (2017).)


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 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 crime in Washington. 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 course of action.

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