Asleep at the Wheel? You Could Face ‘Involuntary Vehicular Homicide’ Charges

According to a recent article in Baton Rouge’s Times Picayune, drivers who fall asleep at the wheel and cause an accident could be in more trouble than ever before. Earlier this month a Committee of the Louisiana State Legislature approved a bill that would create the new crime of involuntary vehicular homicide.

A Galiano couple who lost their son in an accident caused by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel provided tearful testimony leading up to the unanimous vote in favor of House Bill 628 in the Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice. The next step for the bill will be debate on the House floor.

Tina and Anthony “T-Boy” Charpentier lost their 33 year old son when a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel. Anthony doesn’t think the bill is tough enough but hopes it will at least make guilty drivers think about what they have done.

Under the legislation, involuntary vehicular homicide is defined as:

The killing of a human being by someone who fails to maintain control of a boat, car, truck, or any aircraft, watercraft or motor vehicle by falling asleep whether or not the offender has the intent to cause death or great bodily harm.

The penalty for involuntary vehicular homicide includes up to 250 hours of community service, a lesser penalty than the up to five year jail sentence sought in an earlier proposed version of the legislation. According to Ellis “Pete” Adams of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association said that DAs may have trouble proving that a driver was asleep at the wheel if the bill is passed. Unlike proving violation of a law against intoxicated driving, proving sleepy driving does not happen via a blood or breathalyzer test. Most likely, prosecutors will need rely on witness testimony about how much a particular driver slept leading up to the accident and whether or not they have a propensity to drive while sleepy.

Every state and the federal government currently aim to cut down on these kinds of accidents by regulating commercial drivers’ hours of services and restricting how long truck drivers can be on the road. If this law passes, however, it will be the first law that could affect how long private drivers can be on the road.

Currently, New Jersey is the only state with a “drowsy driver law.” Many like the Charpentier’s, would like Louisiana to be added to that list in hopes to cut down on the number of accidents attributed to drivers who fall asleep while driving. According to data from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, in the last three years there have been more than 4800 accidents attributed to drivers who were asleep or blacked out on Louisiana roads, 27 of which ended in fatalities. The problem stretches nationally as well. A 2002 survey of the National Sleep Foundation reported that nearly 2 in 10 drivers said they had actually fallen asleep at the wheel in the past year.

The civil implications are obvious with a new crime being introduced by the legislature. Families who lose a loved one due to someone falling asleep at the wheel may now have a stronger case given the new criminal penalty. A finding of guilt in criminal court can have strong implications on a civil suit that could follow. What’s more, civil lawsuits can be difficult to navigate if an attorney does not have a lot of experience. Whether in employing technical experts who can carefully outline the complex events that took place on that tragic day or using various technologies to best represent your interest, our firm has the experience you need to prosecute any matter of case you might find yourself hampered by.