So you’ve killed somebody with your car, now what?

Motor-vehicle collisions remain the leading cause of death in the US for a broad swath of ages. Notably, you are more far more likely to be killed by a driver than you are to be the victim of murder. A minority of traffic fatalities which involve impaired (mostly alcohol, and a few drug impairments) are treated as serious homicides (something like 30%) however the majority elicit no more than a traffic ticket.

The numbers for serious injury are analogous; e.g. you are far more likely to be injured by a driver than by a mugging or forcible assault, or fall or whatever.

So, suppose you’ve killed or seriously injured somebody with your car, now what? The remainder of this article will focus on the only civil sanctions, and minor criminal offenses — in other words, there is no impairment either suspected or otherwise. It also excludes the possibility of hit-and-run; you didn’t do that, did you?

Arizona has no specific vehicular homicide (or vehicular assault) law, see here for some background.

You will, or perhaps may receive some special treatment in the following ways:

  1. Defensive Driving (DDP) school, a.k.a. diversion, which dismisses the citation is not an option,
  2. Traffic Survival School (TSS) is required if found or plea responsible,
  3. You MAY be required to appear in court, even if you plea.
  4. You MAY be subject to an enhanced fine if  you plea or are found responsible for a particular infraction.
  5. Police have a longer time to cite you in crashes involving serious injury or death

Not eligible for Defensive Driving School

Normally in Arizona a violating driver can have one violation (every couple of years; and as of 2015 was loosened to every year) DISMISSED (which is like saying it never happened) automatically simply by paying/attending/passing defensive driving school.

I believe all the cards correctly state this as eligible for DDS/dismissal if “…your citation was not issued as the result of a collision in which any person was seriously injured or killed”

A.R.S. §28-3392; Defensive Driving School; eligibility
…An individual who commits a civil or criminal traffic violation resulting in death or serious physical injury is not eligible to attend a defensive driving school, except that the court may order the individual to attend a defensive driving school in addition to another sentence imposed by the court on an adjudication or admission of the traffic violation.

Driving (TSS) School is REQUIRED:

According to ADOT/MVD: “All convictions for … moving violations resulting in death or serious injury… require successful completion of Traffic Survival School”

(Though i can’t find why this is so; i mean i can’t find any statutory basis?). Who keeps track of this?

You MUST appear in court?

Well, at least in some jurisdictions:

PhoenixTempe,  and Gilbert, from their bond card: “YOU MUST APPEAR IN COURT …. (if) Your complaint was issued as a result of an accident involving death or serious physical injury”

But why? i don’t see any statute that compels it? On the other hand, neither Scottsdale, Sedona (retrieved 5/2/201), or Tuscon‘s bond card say anything about having to appear when pleading responsible (except for criminal traffic charges, e.g. reckless driving, excessive speeding, etc). Mesa simply says if your violation is listed on the civil traffic sanction list you can just pay the fine by mail or whatever.

Maricopa County Justice Court’s Bond card just says “If you are charged with a CRIMINAL violation, you must appear in court.” so presumably a civil violator never needs to appear.

The enhanced fine

There is a statutory $250 limit (plus surcharges, see §28-1598  ) on civil infractions, which is what most traffic violations fall under. The legislature has seen fit to raise that limit in recognition of a particular problem. One such special, enhanced fine is  §28-735B , allows for a raised limit of $500 and $1,000 in the event of a violation of that statute that results in serious injury, or death, respectively.

It appears that some or perhaps many courts are unware of the enhanced fine. In the most recent case, Amy Alexander was assessed only the standard fine of $210 by the city of Scottsdale in connection with the death of Shawn McCarty. Here’s another one, this from Green Valley, a few years ago — no enhanced fine.

It’s not at all clear who would assess the enhanced fine. A clerk? Seems unlikely that a clerk would or even should have the authority. Perhaps this is why some courts (wisely) insist on requiring those accused — even to simply plea responsible — so that a judge or magistrate can assess a more-correct fine. Or does or should a prosecutor need to become involved, and if so how would that work since civil traffic violations normally work completely without any help from a prosecutor (they involve strictly the police dept, and courts).

I wonder if this is a glitch in the court’s system? — for example here is Tempe’s “bond card” (or an older copy) and 735 is covered only by a range of statutes and they’re all the same dollar amount, $271 in Tempe. City of Phx is similar. I can’t find 735 at all on Tuscon’s bond card (!? see link above). Scottsdale lists only a range of statutes “28-721A to 28-776A (except 28-737A) $210” (see link above).

Maricopa County Justice Court’s Bond card (that link leads to a document that’s dated 7/3/2015 so it’s apparently a living link), like Tempe’s, doesn’t mention 735 specifically; however there’s a much longer version (over 30 pages! Who gets which version?) Title 28 Uniform Bond Schedule  (if that link goes dead the same document is archived here) that have every violation under the sun including all sorts of minutia where they correctly and specifically note the enhanced fines for 28-735, page 5. That longer version is dated 2010 and I can’t find a newer one; though there is a newer Administrative Order, No. 2015-002, which directs an update so there’s probably a newer version floating around.

The other criminal driving charge, 28-672

Short of Negligent Homicide / Manslaughter / 2nd Degree Murder; there is a very low-level misdemeanor crime if the infraction involved is one of a particular list — see 28-672. The MAXIMUM penalty for 28-672 involves a short jail stay, a smallish fine, and a brief license suspension. In practice it normally means no jail time, a small additional fine, and no license suspension.

The law is a bit of a kludge, and doesn’t seem to be often charged.

What is a ‘Serious Injury’?

The term pops up a lot, normally (unless otherwise specified) normal sanctions apply to violating drivers who either 1) simply violate, or 2) violate and cause “non-serious” physical injury… The next step up is a “serious injury”, defined in  §13-105. “39. ‘Serious physical injury’ includes physical injury that creates a reasonable risk of death, or that causes serious and permanent disfigurement, serious impairment of health or loss or protracted impairment of the function of any bodily organ or limb.”

So that’s not completely clear either, I’m looking for some sort of working definition? How about a broken bone?

The Arizona Traffic Ticket and Complaint

There is a generic ATTC (if dead: link from archive; I have a nice email from Marretta Mathes) controlled by the Az Supreme Court: “Rule 4, Arizona Rules of Procedure in Civil Traffic Violation Cases and Rule 3, Arizona Rules of Procedure in Traffic Cases and Boating Cases,(go to azcourt and click through to “current rules”, a westlaw page) require each law enforcement agency or public body responsible for issuing ATTCs to submit any ‘substantial variations’ to the ATTC form to the Supreme Court for approval”.

I note that the ATTC has checkboxes for useful things like accident/injury/fatality. It is likely that somebody is collecting this information, but who and where?

Here is an e-citation of the generic ATTC via

The MVD Abstract

When anyone is found guilty/responsible for any sort of driving related infraction or crime, the court is required (the enabling statute is 28-1559; and also note 28-1441 for dui’s) to send such info the ADOT MVD via a “court abstract” form (or electronic equivalent). The MVD is responsible for keeping track of (see e.g. 28-3004) driver license status, points, suspensions, revocations, etc. As you might imagine, this is a veritable flood of data.

This general procedure is explained in some detail at  MVD AND COURTS: Training Manual (which is currently dated 9/2013. Archived copy of 2012 version) by Silvia Gerts, criminal justice liaison of AZ MVD. (an older version dated 9/2009 of substantially same info is  MVD AND THE COURTS: Reporting Procedures & A Guide to Conviction Reject Reports (archived copy) by Richard Schweinsburg of AZ MVD).

The form ties back to a complaint number; and lists checkboxes to note if the incident involves an accident (form should say ‘crash’ and not accident!), death, serious injury, injury, and so forth.

One thought on “So you’ve killed somebody with your car, now what?”

  1. This was submitted as an “ask ADOT” today, reference ID=1607445433; replied 3/25; passcode 6526258061. And a follow-up answer on 3/28, Passcode 6646588061… this is an example of why it’s so painful to use “Ask Adot” — 11 days to reply with a pretend-answer:

    ADOT Response: Good afternoon. Thank you for your inquiry. Sorry, but that is the only website MVD has available for statistics. Thank you for using our email service. Have a nice day.
    3/28/2016 3:28:51 PM
    Your Input: I visited that link and found nothing about traffic violation statistics.
    3/28/2016 3:20:19 PM
    ADOT Response: Good morning. Thank you for your inquiry. You can go online to for assistance. Thank you for using our email service. Have a nice day.
    3/25/2016 7:14:29 AM
    Your Input: As you know, the department (ADOT) receives and is required to maintain records on every traffic violation conviction which has occurred in Arizona. I would like to find (but can’t) some sort of report which details this. It would, for example, list the numbers of each particular violation, on a year-by-year basis. It should alse be cross-referenced somehow by issuing police department, as well as by collision/injury/fatality occurred (if any). If no such report is available; please release (de-personalized) records as a database.
    3/14/2016 12:29:52 PM

    Here is what State of Florida does:
    Just got City of Scottsdale public records results for some year (2012) showed like a dozen or so 28-735s, nearly all had to do with a report# which implied a collision — i’m going from dim memory, but the raw records are here:

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