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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: September 26, 2017 09:35 AM
From: Representative John D McGinnis
To: All House members
Subject: Homicide by Vehicle Negligence Legislation
Pennsylvania’s Homicide by Vehicle statute (Title 75 Section 3732) previously made it a felony of the third degree if a person caused the death of another while engaged in a violation of the vehicle code or a local ordinance pertaining to the operation of a motor vehicle.

In 1987, the PA Supreme Court, in a case called Commonwealth v. Heck, held that the General Assembly did not intend for the statute to apply to a motor vehicle violation that was the result of simple negligence. Justice McDermott dissented and questioned the legal basis for the majority’s conclusion, suggesting it was based more on a concern about classifying an act of simple negligence (albeit one that resulted in death) as a felony rather than on divining the intent of the legislature.

In 2003, apparently in response to Heck, Section 3732 was amended to expressly require proof that the violation rose to the level of gross negligence or recklessness. The amendment maintained the grading as a felony of the third degree. Consequently, a person who violates the motor vehicle laws and kills another person, may face only a traffic citation for careless driving.

I believe the change made to the vehicle Code in 2003 was inadequate to address the issue decided in Heck. Though I agree that simple negligence should be treated differently from gross negligence and reckless behavior, I do not agree that a person who fails to follow the rules of the road and kills an innocent person should face only a traffic ticket for careless driving, a summary offense.

To remedy this, I will soon be introducing legislation to amend Section 3732 that will take an intermediate approach by making homicide by vehicle, which results from a negligent violation of the vehicle code, a misdemeanor of the third degree.

Please join me as a co-sponsor on this legislation.