This "Stupid Motorist Law" Makes Drivers Pay for Their Flood Rescues
As dependable as the sunrise, every flash flood disaster produces photos of people who drive into floods only to get stuck and need to be rescued by emergency crews. Arizona actually has a law in place that charges these less-than-bright drivers for the full cost of their rescue, plus a hefty penalty.
Over the past couple of days, parts of the desert southwest have seen some extremely heavy rainfall. In fact, so much rain has fallen that today is the wettest day ever recorded in Phoenix. The arid terrain prevents these downpours from absorbing into the ground, so the sudden onslaught of water runs off and pools up wherever it can. This leads to major flash flooding problems, which are exacerbated when the floods cross heavily-traveled roadways.
To address the problem of people trying to drive through floodwaters, the state's legislature passed a law in the mid-1990s that attempts to provide a financial deterrent to keep people from being stupid. According to Arizona law, the false hope of "I think I can make it" or "it's not all that deep" or the all-too-common "I really need to get to where I'm going" just doesn't fly.
The Stupid Motorists Law is outlined by section 910 of title 28 in the Arizona Revised Statutes:
A. A driver of a vehicle who drives the vehicle on a public street or highway that is temporarily covered by a rise in water level, including groundwater or overflow of water, and that is barricaded because of flooding is liable for the expenses of any emergency response that is required to remove from the public street or highway the driver or any passenger in the vehicle that becomes inoperable on the public street or highway or the vehicle that becomes inoperable on the public street or highway, or both.
In other words, if you drive through a flooded roadway or drive around flood barricades and you need to have your stupid self rescued by emergency responders, you're liable for the full cost of your water rescue. The law goes on to state that in addition to the cost of your rescue, you could be charged an additional $2,000 as a penalty.
A report by 12 News last summer states that people are rarely prosecuted under the law; the station interviewed a former prosecutor who said that "the law has been effective as a deterrent" while also attributing the low number of prosecutions to the fact that there are fewer motorists being, well, stupid.
As the National Weather Service says with every flood warning: turn around, don't drown.
[Image via Dan Marries | h/t Bryan Wood]