Raleigh, NC -- The state Senate gave tentative approval to a bill that makes it a crime if a driver and a passenger switch places after an automobile accident and flee an accident scene.
A driver would be convicted of a crime if after an accident the motorist allows or agrees to let the car be moved from the scene until an officer says the investigation is over. The crime would be a felony if a death or serious injury occurred in the wreck, and a misdemeanor if the accident resulted only in significant property damage.
The measure was prompted by the traffic death of Tar Heel Sports Network commentator Stephen Gates in October 2003. Gates was struck and killed by an approaching car on an interstate ramp in Orange County while he examined a flat tire.
A woman was driving the SUV and stopped, but a male passenger took the wheel and drove away, authorities said. The woman pleaded guilty to failing to report a traffic accident, a misdemeanor. The man was acquitted of a more serious hit-and-run charge.
"As you can see, we have a major loophole in that law," said Sen. Kay Hagan, D-Guilford, during the Senate debate.
There are exceptions in the bill if someone leaves to get medical attention or emergency help. A passenger who is less than 12 years old also would be permitted to leave.
A final Senate vote was delayed at least until Wednesday after questions were raised about whether an adult passenger could be found criminally liable if a hit-and-run driver fled against the passenger's will.
The House has passed a nearly identical version of the measure.