If someone is texting and driving and a pedestrian walks out in front of them on a side street and dies, what will the driver be charged with and what is the penalty?
If you are texting while driving and you kill someone, you can expect to be charged with vehicular homicide or manslaughter with an aggravating factor. The crime can potentially carry a penalty as high as any other manslaughter charge that arises from a gross indifference to the safety of others.It could be as high as 20 years in some circumstances. That said, it's usually much less. The penalty for such a conviction will differ based on the circumstances and the remorse/attitude of the defendant; the judge has wide discretion in sentencing. The charge may differ by state from vehicular homicide, to manslaughter, but the fact that you intentionally engaged in a distracting activity is an aggravating factor that gives rise to these type charges, where otherwise you may have been able to avoid the accident or limit the injury caused.
In the state I practice in most, an 18-year-old was convicted just a couple of years ago for vehicular homicide, texting while driving, and negligent operation. He was sentenced to nearly 5 years, all but 1 suspended. He was 18 and he killed someone.
In MA, texting while driving is its own offense, as it is in CA. In nearly every state in the union, texting while driving either is illegal under its own statute (or one is pending in legislature), or it is prima facie proof of reckless driving if you cause injury or death. In Santa Ana, just this past August, a 23-year-old CA woman killed someone texting while driving. After a first mistrial, due to a hung jury, she was finally convicted of manslaughter and inattentive or distracted driving causing injury or death as an aggravating factor. She got a similar sentence.
The NTSB has recently released a report finding that more injury occurs in the 16-30 age group from texting while driving than drunk driving, causing nearly 3,000 deaths last year and nearly 300,000 injuries. There is no doubt with these statistics why nearly every state has either already regulated/banned this practice or has legislation pending.
In New South Wales the crime is Dangerous Driving Occasioning Death and carries a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment or 14 years if aggravated.
If the DPP is feeling particularly belligerent they may charge the perpetrator with manslaughter on the basis that there was a "reckless indifference to human life". The maximum penalty is 25 years.