Criminal Vehicular Assault Under the Law
Vehicular assault is a form of assault that involves the use of a vehicle to cause another person harm or threaten him or her with harm. The crime of vehicular assault often accompanies other traffic offenses. For instance, if a driver acts recklessly by operating a vehicle at an excessive speed and injures a pedestrian or another driver in the process, he or she may be liable for both reckless driving and vehicular assault. Other common traffic offenses that may lead to vehicular assault charges include driving while under the influence and driving without a license.
Addressing Vehicular Assault
Not all states provide for a separate crime of vehicular assault. In some states, whether or not an individual was injured during a traffic offense is a factor that is considered in evaluating the level of punishment that the perpetrator should receive. In these circumstances, vehicular assault is considered an aggravating factor rather than a separate crime. Often, a victim will also have a remedy in civil court to sue the driver for damages he or she experienced as a result of the driver’s actions, including property loss, medical expenses, pain and suffering, or lost wages.
In other states, vehicular assault may be punished as a separate criminal offense. Often, the injury incurred must be severe for the crime of vehicular assault to be charged. States that have passed statutes criminalizing vehicular assault include Colorado, New York, and Oregon, among others. In these states, for instance, a driver who gets behind the wheel after drinking a significant amount of alcohol would be charged with DUI, while a driver under similar circumstances who also injures another person would be charged with both DUI and vehicular assault.
It is also important to remember that causing injury to another person is treated differently under criminal traffic laws than causing the death of another person. If a driver’s reckless actions result in death, vehicular homicide would be charged instead of vehicular assault.
Punishment for Vehicular Assault
States vary as to whether they categorize vehicular assault as a felony or a misdemeanor. In many states, if the vehicular assault results in serious bodily harm, or is the product of driving under the influence, the driver may be charged with a felony. This can result in several years of prison time and significant fines. If the consequences of the assault are less severe, a driver’s charge may be reduced to a misdemeanor. In most circumstances, however, a charge of vehicular assault will result in some form of jail time.
Since a driver who commits a vehicular assault represents a threat to the safety of other drivers and pedestrians, a common punishment for vehicular assault is the temporary suspension of the driver’s license. Depending on the circumstances that led to the charge, the driver may be required to undergo remedial classes or pay certain fines in order to have his or her license reinstated.
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