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Thomas Gallagher has a long history of alcohol-related offenses and, sadly, it is not surprising that he was drunk when he caused the car crash that killed Meredith Demko earlier this month in West Lampeter, PA.

What is noteworthy is that the people in his car knew he was in no shape to drive. In statements to police, his two passengers reported seeing him drinking heavily and using heroin shortly before he got behind the wheel. Moreover, Gallagher must have been visibly impaired—the drugs aside, his BAC was three times the legal limit at the time of the crash.

The DA has vowed to make sure Gallagher receives a substantial sentence, but some in the community also want Gallagher’s passengers held responsible. Even if they couldn’t keep him from driving, they could have called the police. By doing nothing, some argue that the passengers are complicit in the fatal crash.

A duty to speak up?

A number of countries have “duty to rescue” laws that require people to assist others in danger or, at a minimum, contact law enforcement. And in the U.S., there are some situations where individuals are legally obligated to intervene if they believe someone may harm others. For example, many states require therapists and doctors to break confidentiality if their patient poses a clear threat.

When it comes to drunk driving, some jurisdictions allow bars or alcohol vendors to be prosecuted or sued for over-serving a person who goes on to cause a crash. However, in most cases there is no legal requirement for bystanders—or in this case passengers—to sound the alert. But should there be?

Drunk driving is everyone’s problem

Often, people around drunk drivers know what is happening. If those individuals could be held accountable for a crash, they might be more willing to intervene. The possibility that everyone in the car—and not just the driver—could be charged might also give drinkers additional motivation to make plans ahead of time for a safe ride home. And the law already allows people to be held responsible as accomplices or accessories for other crimes. If you drive the getaway car instead of pointing the gun at the bank teller, the law still considers you guilty of armed robbery. Why should drunk driving be any different, especially when someone is hurt or killed?

On the other hand, imposing such a requirement might be hard to enforce and prosecuting onlookers could lead to a slippery slope. For example, under such a law if you were in a bar at the same time as someone who later caused an alcohol-related crash, you might be held responsible. Another difficulty: if the passengers or onlookers are also intoxicated, they may not be capable of making a call to the police, let alone assessing the sobriety of another person.

Reporting drunk drivers is certainly the moral thing to do, but should it be legally required? What do you think?

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up: A blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice, is anything but a corporate blog. Sobering Up is an opportunity for anyone interested or involved in the issues of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled crime, alcohol dependence and addiction, and the justice system to participate in the conversation.


  1. Unfortunately many girl friends, wives and children have had the experience of driving with a father that they are too fearful of to challenge them. I would not want them killed, injured or prosecuted. However in the case of friends or co-workers too stupid to challenge a drunk driver in my opinion is a different case. How you legislate the difference is the dilemma.

  2. In many cases the driver is so impaired they aren’t making a real decision at all. If they have passengers who are with them, I think they are responsible to challenge them; they are all getting in the car together, after all. I have been a driver and passenger when I know I should not have been.

  3. Many passengers would not want to intervene, in fear of being a back seat passenger and telling the driver what to do.

    If the driver is really not capable of driving the passenger could refuse to get in the car, they would remain safe, it would not stop the drink driver though. Other problem with this is peer pressure of getting into the car and also the problem of being abandoned and not getting back home.

  4. I think most states have statutes that require citizens who witness crime to report it. The closer one is to the crime and the more severe the offense the stronger that duty is according to a Colorado attorney whose lecture I attended several years ago.

  5. Yes, the passengers are responsible for drunk drivers. If the passenger feels that the driver is in a drunken state then they should not allow those people to drive. In some cases the passengers themselves force drunken people to drive because they may have to reach somewhere soon and there is no one else to drive. I think the passengers must also be charged when a person is held for DUI. It is not fair that only the driver get charged and then he will have to get a dui lawyer to bail him out and for defending him.

  6. If you ever ask a guy, “Are you gonna get really pissy drunk tonite and drive your car home?” His response will be no. This is a crime that normally lacks intent. Their is no other such crime in the books that people are more willing to drop huge penalties on than this. Jurors slam drunk drivers harder than auto thieves or burglars or any number of other crimes where the intent to commit the crime is so clear. The idea of charging the passengers is not a slippery slope we wish to go down. For example if your driver litters, do you pay half the cost? How about speeding? How about some seeds or a roach clip in the ashtray. Paraphernalia is an awfully expensive fine these days. The court system is already clogged to the ceiling with cases just like this. We actually need to take a deep breath, sit back and decide what is an appropriate fine or sentence for drunk driving and go with it. No fair lumping up on the driver for what might have happened but didn’t. We have to be realistic in these cases and not go overboard on these drivers who may or may not have decided what they were doing was wrong and did it anyway. Remember these events are called accidents and as the name implies not on purpose.

    1. While i understand your point, i respectfully disagree. Drunk driving is a choice. I will not accept the “alcohol made me do it” defence. The dangers of drunk driving are taught in schools now making everyone aware. I Believe if one allows another to drive under the influence, (knowing the driver is under the influence) and an incident occurs they should be held accountable.


  8. There is not a one fit all in law. There are the drunk drivers who kill innocent bystanders. And then there are the drivers with passengers that should be held responsible for making the decision of driving with a drunk driver. My son got waisted with his friends and cousins one night. An accident happened and the driver was the only one charged, with DWI” manslaughter and severe body injuries of the passenger. So the passengers make the decision to ride with a drunk driver and that’s ok. But that driver make the decision to drive and that’s wrong. It is wrong, but what about everyone be responsible of their decision? They Should !!! Especially if the liquor is provided by the passengers! Now, that’s not fair!! Everyone should be responsible for their owe actions!

  9. It’s not about reporting. It’s about making everyone In the car responsible for their own decision. It’s not right, you go out with a friend or family and even drive their car because she is in a worse condition, and the accident and hell! THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE!!! But let’s not forget, the multimillion industry this is. The courts, jails and prisons all benefit from it. They don’t care, if the family don’t press charges they will.

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