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Hit-and-Run; Threaten the Owner?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Hit-and-Run; Threaten the Owner?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
April 8, 2008

Proposed legislation in the Illinois House of Representatives would tighten the noose around the necks of vehicle owners whose vehicles were thought to be involved in hit-and-run accidents.

Is it fair legislation? Is it even Constitutional?

House Bill 5049 "(p)rovides that the owner of any vehicle alleged to have been in a motor vehicle accident resulting in injury to or death of any person or damage to any vehicle or property, whether driven, attended, or unattended by any person, where the driver of the vehicle did not stop and report the accident, shall, upon appropriate demand by the State's Attorney or other designated person acting in response to a signed complaint, provide a written statement or deposition identifying the operator of the vehicle if such operator was not the owner at the time of the alleged violation. Provides for a 3-month suspension of the vehicle registration for failure to provide the written statement or deposition. Provides that, in the event the owner has assigned control for the use of the vehicle to another, the person to whom control was assigned shall provide a written statement or deposition identifying the operator of the vehicle."

On the face of it, it doesn't seem like such a bad bill. But is it a good bill?

First of all, just how many hit-and-run accidents have there been annually in the past five years where it was suspected that the owner knew who the driver was and refused to identify him? Hundred? One hundred? Fifty? Twenty-five? Even five or ten each year?

So, do our legislators need to be fooling around with this, or should they be solving the financial crisis in which the State of Illinois finds itself, fixing Education or fixing the roads? I can think of many more important issues. This is clearly "low-hanging fruit" and can be confirmed by a vote in the House that passed the bill unanimously.

The more important question is whether it is fair or constitutional. Should an owner of a vehicle not under his control at the time of a hit-and-run be subjected to a threat of loss of his driving privileges for three months?

The proposed bill does not say that he must identify the owner "if he knows who the driver was." It says that the owner "...shall ... provide a written statement or deposition identifying the operator of the vehicle ..." What if the owner doesn't know who the driver was and, therefore, cannot identify the driver? He cannot meet the law, because the law will say that he must do so. If the owner wasn't in the car at the time of the hit-and-run, he cannot know who was driving!

Could there be circumstances where he might, knowingly or unknowingly, have allowed a person without a valid driver's license to use the vehicle? And, if he provides the statement, will the police then arrest him for allowing that unlicensed person to drive his car, even if the owner did not know that the driver did not hold a valid license?

Can you begin to get a feel for the unfairness of this legislation?

Who is going to write the statement that the owner will sign? Will the police officer or deputy provide a statement? "Sign here or else." Will he write his own statement? (If so, he should be sure to answer these questions - What color rope do you want around your neck? On what day do you prefer to be hanged?

Will he first pass it by his attorney (and at what expense?), in order to sure that he doesn't put the noose around his own neck?

Let the legislature spend its time solving real problems and not horsing around with this law any further.

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