Abandoned – What Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois Law Says About Vehicles Left on the Side of the Road
You've seen them countless times. Cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs sitting off the shoulder of the highway, sometimes for days on end. Their existence usually forces other drivers to switch lanes in an effort to try and keep a safe distance because you don't know if someone's in there, and if they are, will they open the door as you get close? Or, it's hugging the thin, white line that separates the lane of traffic from the shoulder and you don't want to risk accidentally clipping its side-view mirror with yours. So, who's responsible for getting rid of them? That depends on which state you live in.
My commute to and from work each day consists of hopping on Interstate 69 from Newburgh and riding it all the way into downtown Evansville where the station is located. For at least the last week, there has been an abandoned car sitting on the shoulder of the southbound lanes between the Green River Road and Highway 41 exits. Like most drivers, as I make my way into Evansville on the southbound lanes each morning, I flip on my turn signal and slide at least partly into the left lane just to be safe. Each day I wonder if it will still be there on my way, and so far, it has been. This isn't the first time I've seen this on I-69 or other highways in the area. My first thought is always, "Who walked away from this car and decided to just leave it there?" I realize car trouble always happens at the most inconvenient time, so my guess is that's how most of these stories start. What I don't fully understand is why they're left there for so long. Granted, I don't know everyone's story, so it's entirely possible they don't have the money to have it repaired, much less towed somewhere.
Eventually, they all just disappear. But, it's not by magic. To my knowledge, there's no abandoned car fairy that flies in at night, sprinkles a little magic dust on it, and swishes it away under the cloak of night. An actual human being has to deal with it. Did the owner finally call a tow truck? Or, did they say to hell with it, and let it become someone else's problem? For argument's sake, let's say they chose the latter, and take a look at what happens in Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois (our part of the country, if you will).
According to Indiana Code 9-22-1-11, it is the responsibility of a law enforcement officer to tag a vehicle they have either spotted or been told is abandoned. "Tag" means the officer literally places a piece of paper in a visible area of the vehicle that includes the date, time, their name, the agency they represent, along with the address and telephone number to contact for information. The code states that if a vehicle is left "on or within the right-of-way of an interstate highway or any highway that is designated as part of the state highway system," like the one I've seen recently on Interstate 69, the vehicle is to be removed within 24 hours of the tagging. That jumps up to 72 hours if it's on private property. It's obviously been far longer than 24 since the car I see every day has been left behind, but I know law enforcement officers are busy and have to prioritize, and I imagine an abandoned car on the side of the road is a pretty low danger level threat.
The officer is to also attempt to contact the owner and tell them the vehicle needs to be removed from wherever it's sitting which is easy to do if they leave the license plate on it. If it is not removed by the owner, the agency the officer represents will have the vehicle towed to a storage yard and the owner will be responsible for covering the cost along with any fines.
I should note that while these are the state's codes, individual cities and counties do have the liberty to set their own rules when it comes to abandoned vehicles.
The Bluegrass state gives owners three days (72 hours) to remove the vehicle on their own. After that, like Indiana, they contact a towing company to have it removed and taken to a storage yard of the towing company's choice. Law enforcement officers also attempt to identify the owner. If they do that successfully, they send a letter to that person letting them know where their vehicle is and that they are responsible for any and all costs. The notification also says that if the owner does not reclaim their vehicle in 60 days, it will be sold and the state will get whatever money is leftover once any and all loans on the vehicle are paid off.
Illinois gives owners anywhere from two to 24 hours to remove a vehicle before they take matters into their own hands. The amount of time depends on where the vehicle is. According to Illinois Code 625 ILCS 5, cars left on "a toll highway, interstate highway, or expressway," have only two hours to move it. Vehicles on "a highway in an urban district," get 10, while any vehicle left on a highway that isn't a toll highway, interstate highway, or an expressway has the full 24 hours to do something with it. With that said if an abandoned vehicle is, "a traffic hazard because of its position in relation to the highway or its physical appearance is causing the impeding of traffic," the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction can have it removed immediately. Like Indiana and Kentucky, regardless of the situation, if the law enforcement agency has to have it removed, the owner of the vehicle is responsible for any and all towing and storage costs.
Hopefully, you don't ever find yourself in a situation where you have to leave your vehicle on the side of the road, but if you do, you'll want to make sure you get a plan to remove it yourself as quickly as possible. I imagine the fines and costs you'd be responsible for if the state has to remove it would be far more expensive.