Two states want laws criminalizing hidden compartments in vehicles

Hidden Compartments: A bill halfway through the Ohio statehouse is intended to get tough with truckers and others who are believed to be involved in drug trafficking. Pennsylvania lawmakers are moving forward with a similar effort.

The Ohio Senate voted 30-2 to advance a bill that targets hidden compartments in vehicles, including large trucks and trailers. The legislation is part of an anti-drug trafficking effort outlined by Gov. John Kasich.

Vehicles found to include hidden compartments, with or without drugs, could result in severe consequences for the person behind the wheel, and the owner. Offenders could face up to 18 months in jail and $5,000 fines.

Only compartments added after a vehicle leaves the factory would be affected.

Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, said the bill is needed to meet drug traffickers “head on.”

“The drug trade is an ever-evolving criminal activity, and offenders are resorting to sophisticated new ways of deceiving state and local authorities,” Hughes said in a statement.

However, aftermarket-installed compartments that truckers may build are not specifically covered.

OOIDA officials say such hiding spots are not uncommon for over-the-road drivers. Truckers who travel for days at a time have few options to hide cash they carry as part of operating their business.

Hughes attempted to quell this concern.

“The rights of law-abiding residents to use similar compartments for legal and licensed purposes are preserved through this legislation,” he stated.

The bill – SB305 – is in the House Transportation, Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, a bill is awaiting consideration on the House floor, which would make it a crime to possess a vehicle, including trucks, with concealed compartments used for smuggling.

Specifically, HB1521 would create a provision in state law covering “possession of instruments of crime.” Convictions of such crimes could result when there is intent to use the false compartments for illegal activity.

Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, said the rule is needed to help police that often stop the same vehicles multiple times for alleged smuggling.

“False compartments in cars and trucks are often used along I-95 to transport illegal drugs, guns and even people from Florida to New York,” Harper stated. “And they are used repeatedly, so the bill gives the district attorney the ability to have a vehicle used this way forfeited.”