- When did the Vehicular Homicide Law come into effect?
- What happens if someone is hit by a vehicle?
- When does the criminal liability arise in a vehicular accident?
- What is the penalty for vehicular homicide?
- Other Aggravating Factors
- Limits of the Current Law
- Law and Prevention
- A New Traffic Code Coming Soon
The current law on vehicular homicide prescribes various types of penalties and sentences, depending on the circumstances in which the death occurs.
When did the Vehicular Homicide Law come into effect?
In March 2016, the Italian Parliament approved Law No. 41 on vehicular homicide.
The legislator’s intent, driven by strong public pressure, was to reduce the number of accidents in Italy and implement European directives on this matter.
To better understand the conditions leading to the enactment of Law 41, one must refer to the Istat statistics of the period. In 2015, it was indeed a disastrous year in terms of road accidents:
- A total of 174,539 accidents causing injuries to people.
- 3,428 fatal accidents, or accidents with victims within 30 days of the incident.
- 246,920 injured individuals.
- A total estimated cost of over 20 billion euros. An intolerable war report.
What happens if someone is hit by a vehicle?
If a person is hit by a vehicle and does not die, the perpetrator is charged with the offense of serious or severe vehicular injuries, based on the damages caused to the victim.
In this case, the offense is prosecuted ex officio: anyone can report the accident, even if they were not the victim.
Depending on the behavior, imprisonment and license revocation are prescribed.
If the victim of the accident has suffered very minor personal injuries, healable within twenty days, the offense is prosecuted upon a private complaint.
In this case, only the victim has the right to report the incident to the authorities within three months of its occurrence.
Vehicular homicide is applicable when the person who was hit dies due to the accident.
When does the criminal liability arise in a vehicular accident?
If a vehicular accident causes serious injuries with a prognosis exceeding 40 days or results in death, the person responsible must be criminally accountable for their driving conduct. The consequences depend on the circumstances of the accident; the law distinguishes between negligence and intent, but in general, the 2016 reform made vehicular homicide a crime subject to very severe penalties.
What is the penalty for vehicular homicide?
In the case of vehicular homicide, the penalty can result in sentences of more than 18 years of imprisonment.
The most important legal provisions include:
- Anyone who, by violating the Highway Code, causes the death of another person will be prosecuted for vehicular homicide.
- Prosecution is not (anymore) dependent on the victim’s complaint.
- Prescription periods have doubled.
- In the most serious and proven cases, immediate arrest can be made (in flagrante delicto).
- Forced collection of biological samples has been introduced.
A conviction for vehicular homicide normally entails 2 to 7 years of imprisonment.
If the vehicle driver is heavily under the influence of alcohol (blood alcohol level exceeding 1.5 grams per liter) or drugs, the penalty increases, ranging from 8 to 12 years. (check Road killing and driving while drunk)
In cases of less severe alcohol impairment (but with a blood alcohol level exceeding 0.8 grams per liter), vehicular homicide can be punished with imprisonment for 5 to a maximum of 10 years.
The same prison sentence applies to those who cause the accident due to their irresponsible conduct (speeding, driving in the opposite direction, disregarding traffic lights, overtaking, risky maneuvers, etc.).
Other Aggravating Factors
An aggravating factor is the lack of a driving license, either because it was not obtained or because it was suspended or revoked.
The absence of car insurance is also aggravating.
If the homicide involves multiple victims or if there were injuries in addition to the death, the penalty can be increased.
A driver who flees the accident scene after causing it will face an increased penalty, from one-third to two-thirds (no less than 5 years for homicide, 3 for injuries).
Drivers of heavy vehicles (trucks, buses, coaches, etc.) face harsher penalties.
The penalty is reduced by half if there is shared responsibility with the victim or other vehicles involved in the accident.
Automatic license revocation is stipulated in the case of conviction or plea bargain with probation.
The license can be regained after 15 years in the case of homicide, after 5 years in the case of serious or severe injuries. If the driver fled, the license suspension can extend up to 30 years. Foreign driving licenses result in a driving ban in Italian territory.
Limits of the Current Law
The previous law did not consider vehicular homicide as a separate offense but as an aggravating factor of homicide due to negligence. Consequently, the penalties were appropriate for a lesser offense. The current law, while imposing higher penalties for what has become a standalone crime, does little or nothing for prevention. This is likely why it has not significantly reduced vehicular accidents. After its enactment, accidents did not decrease significantly, except during the pandemic period when only essential vehicles were on the roads.
Law and Prevention
It became clear shortly after the introduction of the vehicular homicide offense that this law was designed to punish rather than prevent.
This is evident from the increase in injuries and reckless drivers and the statistically insignificant reduction in the absolute number of deaths.
The ASAPS Observatory, the Association of Supporters and Friends of Road Police, judging the law when it was first introduced, emphasized that it was affecting justice more than accident rates.
According to ASAPS’ assessment, what was needed to reduce accidents was not a law of this kind but more law enforcement officers actively patrolling the roads day and night to check drivers’ sobriety and conditions of vehicles and roads.
A police officer who stops a drunk driver before they enter the highway the wrong way has already saved more lives than a law that sentences them to ten years in prison. Because when punishment is imposed, it is already too late.
A New Traffic Code Coming Soon
We are waiting for the new traffic code to come into effect, hoping that it will support with its directives.
The new code:
- Advocates a strict stance against the use of mobile phones and electronic devices while driving,
- Introduces precautionary measures for new drivers,
- Imposes higher penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
The draft law, titled “Interventions on Road Safety and Delegation for the Revision of the Traffic Code,” is currently being approved in Parliament.
If you or your relatives have been involved in an accident with serious consequences, do not hesitate to contact our lawyers from our Personal Injury Department who can clarify the current legislation and assist you.
For further information, you can check our guides:
- What to do in the event of a car accident in Italy
- How compensation for road-traffic accidents has changed
- Road accidents in Italy
- Retracing a licence place owner can prevent future accidents
- Road accident: who protects passengers?
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