Indiana law takes effect July 1, requires ‘passenger responsibility’

| 6/24/2008

In hopes of preventing needless deaths along roadsides, a new law in Indiana requires passengers of vehicles to act and call police in life-or-death situations. It takes effect July 1.

The new law requires passengers to help injured or trapped drivers and immediately report the incident to law enforcement. It requires all people at least 18 years of age – and people as young as 15 if they have a learner’s permit or driver’s license – who are involved in wrecks to attempt to notify someone for aid and render “reasonable assistance” if the driver is unable.

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 and only if a wreck results in injury or death.

Indiana state lawmakers approved the rule change in response to the death of Thomas Hoopingarner in November 2005. Hoopingarner, a 17-year-old, died after two riders 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 him there and did not seek aid or report the wreck. The case against the pair was closed a month later because no laws in Indiana supported filing charges against the teens.

Rep. Tim Neese, R-Elkhart, 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 in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor