The Law, It’s a Funny Thing

Following up on a story I mentioned a while back, a driver in DeKalb County, Georgia, who struck and killed a child at a crosswalk in front of a school, despite a crossing guard and a line of stopped cars, has been charged with “misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.” My first question is: Do the words misdemeanor and manslaughter appear anywhere else together save the curious field of traffic law?

The second is a bit from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story:

“Misdemeanors can be punished by up to one year in jail. State law makes vehicular homicide a misdemeanor except in certain cases such as drunken driving or ignoring a stop sign on a stopped school bus.”

Well, first, if a driver claims to not see the stop sign on a stopped school bus, is that the same as ignoring it? Second, is there any reason for a driver to less cautious at a cross-walk in front of a school than around a school-bus dispensing children? If the law makes legal protections for children being dropped off from a bus, why wouldn’t it do the same when they are in a protected crosswalk, under the care of a crossing guard?

(Thanks Lucas)

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 31st, 2009 at 6:58 am and is filed under Traffic Laws. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “The Law, It’s a Funny Thing”

  1. Nick Says:

    “My first question is: Do the words misdemeanor and manslaughter appear anywhere else together save the curious field of traffic law?”

    Yes. When unintentional death occurs as the result of an illegal act, the person responsible for the death is guilty of homicide. If the underlying act is a felony the charge is felony-murder. If the underlying act is a misdemeanor the charge is misdemeanor-manslaughter.

    A basic tenet of our criminal justice system is that there has to be intent for an act to be a crime, the thinking being that there is no deterrent value for unintentional acts. What felony-murder and misdemeanor-manslaughter do is allow for enhanced punishment for the underlying act, due to the severity of the consequences, since the death itself is not a criminal act since it was accidental.

    Note that many states have “decriminalized” their traffic codes in recent years, making offenses that were misdemeanors civil offenses. This was done to strip defendants of criminal rights so that traffic cases could be heard in traffic courts and basically make it easier to get convictions. A side effect is that there is generally no consequence for killing or injuring someone in a civil infraction, which leads to puzzling outcomes like Robert Novak getting a $50 ticket after running down a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

    The whole notion of intent is tricky when it comes to driving because so much of driving is done without conscious thought. In drunk driving cases there is also the problem that impairment diminishes the ability to form intent. Legislatures have responded by making drunk driving an intent-less crime.

  2. Tom Vanderbilt Says:

    Thanks Nick for the elucidation. I was interested in your comment, “a basic tenet of our criminal justice system is that there has to be intent for an act to be a crime, the thinking being that there is no deterrent value for unintentional acts,” and wondered if we need some whole new way to think about this in light of the act of driving, in which few deaths on the road are “intentional” as we think of it (in the sense that someone had in mind to kill someone), but a great majority, rather than being unforeseen “acts of God,” nevertheless involve either negligence or violation of a traffic law.

Leave a Reply

Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage:

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency:

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau:

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013 “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Grand Rapids MI



March 2009
« Feb   Apr »

No, you probably won be compensated one million dollars; however, with the right blend of negotiating skills and patience, your efforts will be substantially rewarded!I have seen up to forty thousand dollars added to starting compensation through diligent negotiations. It is a way to significantly raise your standard of living and sense of self, simply by