New Indiana law requires ‘passenger responsibility’

| 4/24/2008

In hopes of preventing needless deaths along roadsides, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has signed a bill into law to require passengers of vehicles to take action and call police in life-or-death situations. It takes effect July 1.

The new law, previously HB1052, requires passengers to help injured or trapped drivers and immediately report the incident to law enforcement. The law applies only to passengers involved in wrecks who are 18 years of age or at least 15 years of age with learner’s permits or driver’s licenses. It requires them to attempt to notify someone for aid and render “reasonable assistance” if the driver is unable to.

Failure to act could result in up to 60 days in jail and as much as $500 in fines. If inaction results in serious injury, violators would face up to three years in prison and as much as $10,000 in fines. If inaction results in death, penalties would increase to as much as eight years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Existing Indiana law requires only drivers to contact emergency personnel if a wreck results in injury or death.

Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, introduced the bill in relation to the death of Thomas Hoopingarner in November 2005. Hoopingarner, a 17-year-old, died after two passengers in his vehicle left him trapped while the vehicle was inverted and underwater in a pond in northern Indiana, The Associated Press reported.

The two teenage passengers left Hoopingarner at the scene without seeking aid or reporting the wreck. The case against the pair was closed a month later because no laws in Indiana supported filing charges against the teens.

Neese said it is unfortunate there is a need to legislate common sense and logic. But he said it has been proven some people would not even try to save a life by calling authorities, even anonymously.

“Passengers and drivers should be held to a standard of care if they are involved in an accident,” Neese said in a written statement.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Indiana, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor