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Johnny is 18, newly moved out of his parents’ home and eager to embark on his journey into adulthood. He hops into his car that is parked on his parents’ driveway and starts the engine. Without looking at his rear view mirror, he shifts the car in reverse and screeches out of the driveway onto the neighborhood street. Racing toward the first four-way stop, Johnny briefly glances to the left and right without stopping and pushes the accelerator harder. Unfortunately, Johnny didn’t see Mildred, an elderly neighbor, out on her afternoon walk and hit her causing serious but nonfatal injuries. Johnny’s new independence begins with an arrest.
In Pennsylvania, Johnny would be charged with aggravated assault by a vehicle. Aggravated assault by a vehicle is recklessly or with gross negligence causing a bodily injury of another while in violation of laws covering the operation of a vehicle or traffic regulations.
What is “Recklessly or with Gross Negligence”
To behave with gross negligence is to act with such reckless disregard for the safety of others that the behavior is willful. There are four elements to negligence:
• an individual owes a duty of care to another party;
• the individual failed to perform the duty of care;
• the other party suffered an injury; and
• the individual’s failure to perform the duty of care resulted in the other party’s injury.
A driver’s duty of care is to abide by the laws, including traffic laws. This is for the safety of the public, including other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and so on. When a driver breaks the traffic laws with willful and reckless abandon as opposed to just ignorance, then he intentionally fails to perform his duty of care. In other words, the difference between being just negligent and grossly negligent is in the awareness and intention of the perpetrator. A driver who knows that the speed limit is 35 mph and drives 80 mph is intentionally not performing his duty of care. If a pedestrian or any other person is injured because of a driver’s willful failure to perform his duty of care while operating a vehicle, then he has committed aggravated assault by a vehicle.
In Johnny’s case, he knowingly sped in a neighborhood, intentionally failed to properly stop at a stop sign and ultimately caused injury to Mildred.
Penalties for Aggravated Assault by a Vehicle
Aggravated assault by a vehicle is a felony of the third degree. In Pennsylvania, a third-degree felony sentencing is up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of $15,000. An additional two years may be added if the incident occurred in an active work zone. An additional two years may also be added to the sentence if there were other violations related to driving without a license and texting while driving.
What about DUIs?
If Johnny had been driving while under the influence when he injured Mildred, the charge is an aggravated assault while driving under the influence. This is a second-degree felony. The sentencing for a second degree is heftier with a maximum ten years imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $25,000. Unlike with aggravated assault by a vehicle which is a grossly negligent action, aggravated assault by a vehicle while driving under the influence is a simple negligent action. That means that a person does not have to commit the action intentionally, so that impairment due to drunkenness is not a defense.
Aggravated assault by a vehicle is a challenging charge and requires expert advice and guidance to garner the appropriate evidence, expose the weaknesses of the opposing party’s evidence, and secure expert witnesses when needed. Contact an attorney if you are faced with an aggravated assault by a vehicle charge.