From a legal standpoint, most car accidents are civil matters. The drivers exchange information. Insurance covers the damages. If there are any disputes, they are sorted in civil court. But there are certain circumstances when a vehicular crash become a criminal matter.
When a car accident becomes a crime scene
Two obvious examples stand out. The first is when a driver leaves the scene of a crime. The second is when a driver’s blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit. Each circumstance has varying degrees of severity. Charges in a hit-and-run incident will depend on how serious the accident was. Penalties for a DUI depend on the same thing, as well as whether it’s a driver’s first offense.
The stickier issue in determining when a car accident becomes a crime is in cases of negligence. Perhaps one driver imprudently thought they could make the yellow light, or wasn’t paying close enough attention at a four-way stop sign to who had the right of way. But while these are negligent and the drivers may indeed face a civil lawsuit, they aren’t the kind of infraction that rises to the level of a criminal matter.
The key threshold that has to be established to make a car accident a crime would be “recklessness.” Or, more precisely, a “reckless disregard of the substantial risk.” Driving at 100mph in a school zone is often cited as a clear example of this.
Texting while driving is a key flashpoint in the current discussion of this issue. Increasing numbers of states are banning texting while driving. It’s possible to receive a citation simply for doing this, regardless of whether there were consequences. And if there was an accident? It’s becoming increasingly likely that this will be cited as grounds for recklessness. Put that cell phone away until you’ve reached your destination.
Driving best practices include staying vigilant while on the road and staying informed on car safety, like knowing the most common places for a car accident.