Everyone gets into a motor vehicle accident at some point in their lives. It is just part of the nature of driving on ever more congested roads with ever more distracted drivers. Most motor vehicle accidents result in no real bodily injury and only minor damage to one or more vehicles involved. Unfortunately, accidents can quickly become fatal: a second or two too late on the breaks, or just a few miles per hour over the speed limit can mean the difference between a car accident and vehicular homicide.

Surprisingly, where you are driving can also have a significant effect on your likelihood of being involved in a major collision that results in a fatality. Recent studies have shown that, although the causes are not clear, the rates of fatal crashes are significantly different when examining urban areas compared to rural communities.

The Statistics

According to CDC data, deaths from motor vehicle accidents are generally more common in rural communities than in urban areas. However it is important to note that the definition of rural used for this analysis includes any area outside of city limits as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning that rural areas include suburban, exurban and truly rural areas.  Using this metric it has been shown that in 44% of traffic fatalities occur in urban areas while the remaining 56% occur in rural areas. The majority of these rural driving fatalities however occurred within 10 miles of city limits, based on a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The factors leading to an increase in the number of vehicle related deaths in rural communities are not entirely clear, although researchers hypothesize that, despite the reduced number of cars on the road compared to the big city, differences in driving behaviors and limited or restricted access to medical care play a factor. For example, in rural communities, with fewer cars on the highways it would be easier for a driver to drive at unsafe speeds, until an obstacle (such as a person or other vehicle) came into view at which point it would be more difficult to avoid said obstacle. If the accident occurred far from a hospital, or both parties involved were unconscious, help may not arrive for hours.

Other factors, such as limited public transportation, higher posted speed limits, lower police presence, and infrastructure maintenance on country roads may also play a role in the increased number of fatalities in rural counties compared to urban ones.

The Crime

Now that the different rates of vehicular crimes committed in these two distinct communities has been established, it is important to define the crime itself. What is vehicular homicide exactly? According to the Nevada law, a person is liable for vehicular homicide if he or she meets the following criteria:

A. He or she is under the influence of drugs or alcohol

B. He or she already has three prior DUI convictions, or

C. He or she proximately causes the death of another person while in control of a motor vehicle

Thus, in Nevada, the vehicular homicide law is intended to target habitual drunk drivers who have caused a fatality. One, who is not a habitual drunk driver, who causes a death while behind the wheel will likely be charged with either felony DUI causing death (if alcohol or drugs are involved) or vehicular manslaughter (in which a negligent caused an accidental death), both of which carry a less severe penalty.

A person convicted of vehicular homicide can be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole and a suspension or revocation of their driver’s license at the judge’s discretion. Those convicted of vehicular homicide are generally housed in minimum security prisons as they are not considered to be violent criminal offenders.

Anyone involved in a vehicular homicide, or manslaughter for that matter, is deeply affected by the incident. Not only are they in danger of spending the rest of their life in prison for what was essentially an accident, they must live with the guilt and shame of having killed someone in their negligence. This is why both detectives and the defendant’s attorney conducts in depth investigations into cases where there are potentially justifiable charges of vehicular homicide. Based on the results of their investigation, a defense lawyer will be attempting to prove one of three things:

  • The driver’s level of intoxication was not the cause of the accident.
  • The victim was at fault for the accident, i.e. the victim ran out in front of the vehicle or was himself driving negligently.
  • The driver was not intoxicated before or during the crash but became so after.

If none of these defenses are found to be valid and charges cannot be dropped, many Las Vegas law firms recommend taking a plea bargain to have the charges reduced to felony DUI, reckless driving, or vehicular manslaughter, all of which have less severe penalties.