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September 14, 2016

Working draft of bill for new ORC provision to criminalize "Crashing while driving in rain"

In order to facilitate further discussion by students/legislators concerning the bill I have proposed in the hope of reducing the harms that too often result from driving in the rain or on wet roads, I have now formally drafted/revised this bill language:

PROPOSED ORC Section 2999.99: Criminal Damaging While Driving in the Rain or on Obviously Wet Neighborhood and Express Roads
(A) No person shall cause any physical harm to any other person or to the property of another person while driving in the rain or while the road are obviously wet.
(B) Whoever violates this section is guilty of criminal damaging while DROWNER, a misdemeanor of the second degree.  If a violation harms property valued in excess of $5000, this offense is a misdemeanor of the first degree.  If a violation harms a person or property valued in excess of $50,000, this offense is a felony of the third degree.  If a violation causes serious harm to multiple persons or the death of any person, this offense is a felony of the second degree.

For further support for this proposal, consider these excerpts from a Science Daily publication from 2008 headlined "Bad Weather: Bad Drivers":

Researchers and statisticians found that 24% of all crashes occur during adverse weather conditions, including ice, snow, and rain.  The research showed that most drivers do not account for adverse conditions created by rainy weather.  They suggest slowing down and increasing the distance between traveling cars as a way to decrease the number of accidents in bad weather.

Each year, nearly 7,400 people are killed and over 670,000 are injured in crashes.  But not all wrecks are because of driver error.....  Rainy weather can wreak havoc on highways.  When a big storm rolls in, drivers tend to either slow down too much or not enough.  Drivers need to be wary of driving in any change in the weather.  A new study by transportation engineers reveals that nearly one-quarter of all crashes occur in bad weather conditions.  Most happen on wet pavement....

Unlike snow and ice covered roads that scare drivers into staying home or driving more carefully.  Many drivers don't consider rain as 'bad' weather, so more cars end up on wet roads, and drivers don't slow down enough to avoid serious accidents.

For more research on this front (which further supports the need to do whatever is necessary to try to make our roads safer during inclement whether in order to save more innocent lives), check out this related story headlined "Rain Is More Lethal For Drivers After A Long Dry Spell."  Here is its key fact based on a review of many years of roadway accident data:  "For any given day in the state, on average, each centimeter of precipitation increases the risk of fatal crashes by about 1 percent, [and] for nonfatal crashes, the increased risk is 11 percent."

September 14, 2016 in Class reflections | Permalink

Comments

I'm all for drafting statutes based on scientific research, especially (reputable) public health research! But this new UC Berkley article, "Rain Is More Lethal For Drivers After A Long Dry Spell" brings up a point I was thinking about. If people are better drivers when it rains more frequently, and worse drivers after a long dry spell, this statute should only be implemented in areas where it doesn't rain often. People who live in places like Seattle, are more accustomed to driving in the rain, and the frequent rainfall will remove the dangerous debris on the road. How much rainfall does Oliwood get per year? How does the amount of rain Oliwood get compare to other states? What is the data (about accidents in the rain) specific to Oliwood? If we're drafting a statute for a specific area, we should use area specific data-not national data.

Posted by: Claudia Cash | Sep 15, 2016 7:48:29 AM

Also, I would suggest having Health Educators create a public education program to tackle this problem, instead of punishing people criminally.

Posted by: Claudia Cash | Sep 15, 2016 7:52:34 AM

I agree with Claudia's point that the rule needs to find ways to include people who live in particular rainy areas, but for different reasons. The rule will, essentially, force some people to stay at home whenever it rains for fear of being held strictly liable for causing an accident. Say it rains 183 days a year. Are these people supposed to put their life on hold for half of year simply out of fear of accident liability? Also, what happens if someone drives to work while it's sunny, but it is raining when they are getting ready to go home? It isn't fair to force these people to sleep at the office.

Additionally, I don't think that the rule will deter as much reckless driving as it claims it will. Much like reckless drivers are not deterred by speed limits, they will not be deterred by this statute. Instead, the statute will deter drivers who, either already take extra precautions when driving in the rain, or, simply do not drive in the rain at all, from driving. Therefore, the statute is not accomplishing its desired goal of making driving in the rain any safer than it was before.

Posted by: Max Pristic | Sep 15, 2016 4:24:46 PM

Max,

I think it is a far stretch to assume, without any evidence, that the proposed statute would "force some people to stay at home whenever it rains..." Traffic laws imposing jail time and fines for causing injury or death to workers in construction zones haven't deterred people from utilizing the highways when they are being worked on, and I imagine that neither would a statute that holds people criminally liable for causing damage to persons or property while operating a vehicle in the rain or on obviously wet roads.

In regards to your hyperbolic example of the person stuck at home 183 days out of the year due to rain and the proposed statute, according to https://rainfall.weatherdb.com, only five cities in the U.S. experience such frequent rainfall, all of which are in Hawaii, so I hardly think this extreme example is pertinent in the discussion of the proposed statute . Perhaps your example would be better put to use in asking the question "should drivers be expected to take more precautions while driving in the rain, and incentivized to do so through a statute that would hold them criminally liable for damages caused while driving in the rain or on obviously wet roads, especially if doing so would reduce the number of traffic collisions?" I would certainly answer this question affirmatively, but I am interested in your thoughts, as well as the thoughts of the rest of the class.

Posted by: Alex S. | Sep 16, 2016 7:48:12 AM

I think that my classmates point about the importance of scientific data is crucial in looking at reasons for implementing statutes. On the question of the effectiveness of deterrence however it is important to look at the ways that law shapes culture. As mentioned in class the laws imposing criminal penalties for drunk driving were unpopular when first passed. Today I think those laws have helped to create a stigma toward drunk driving. Clearly, there are still people who drive drunk and don't care about the implications but I think most people think driving drunk is problematic. Laws that attach criminal penalties to an action send a communal signal that those behaviors are unacceptable, which over time becomes somewhat internalized by society. Therefore, I think that the a law criminalizing crashing in the rain would over time have an impact on community attitudes towards driving in the rain that would positively impact their conduct. This law may not affect the most reckless drivers on the roads but it would certainly affect the average driver.

Posted by: Erica Duff | Sep 16, 2016 3:40:39 PM

The idea of imposing penalty upon those who destroy the properties of others is a concrete and well-founded criminal philosophy. There needs to be some type of recompense by which victims can receive reparation and by which they guarantee, at least to a minimal degree, that the offender will lack incentive to pursue the same course of action. Nevertheless, I find the “driving in the rain statute” too broad and vague to satisfy both of these goals. The premise which gives rise to this statute is the concern that rain causes an excess of accidents which ordinarily would not occur in the presence of favorable weather conditions. However, there are various elements of this law which make it unsuitable for implementation.

The criminalization of crashing in the rain would set an unfavorable precedent for the citizens who reside underneath the jurisdiction of the penal code. Criminalizing an accident in the rain would disincentive reasonably prudent individuals from driving in the rain to begin with. As students, we can only merely presuppose that no individual has the intent to crash their vehicle, let alone crash the aforementioned vehicle under inclement weather conditions. Furthermore, reasonable persons understand that there is a risk to be assumed when driving a vehicle in general. Nevertheless, the state of our economy demands that we transport ourselves via our own personal vehicles in weather that is either favorable or unfavorable. Every time we get behind the wheel of a vehicle, we assume the risk that an accident may occur. Furthermore, we assume the risk that we may harm the property or bodies of others. Nevertheless, our current economic state as a society demands that we drive.

Criminalizing an accident which occurs as a result of driving in the rain is indistinguishable from criminalizing the risk one takes when choosing to drive in the rain in general. Accidents occur as an unintended result of a decision which was previously made. Especially in the circumstance of driving, the gravity of the accident demands that the reasonably prudent person would not assume this risk. Thus, the criminalization of the possibility of a risk when in combination of an action that is inseparable from our day to day economic affairs is essentially overstretching the boundaries of legislative power, whether it be back by statistical findings or otherwise.

Posted by: Matthew Carpenter | Sep 19, 2016 5:32:58 PM

I understand that this statute would potentially deter reckless drivers from driving in the rain and result in only careful drivers using the roads and thus less accidents, but I think we should instead focus more on the larger problem, being that there are so many reckless drivers to begin with. I do not know about the driving laws in Oliwood but I know that in Ohio if you're over 18 and want a license all you have to do i go to the BMV and take a test where you basically drive around a neighborhood and pull through some cones. There are no courses or displays of knowledge needed. I think if we want to tackle the cause of crashes across the board we should address the root of the problem and require people to be more educated before driving. The fact that drivers do not account for adverse weather conditions could be solved by mandating more courses in driver education. In places where the infrastructure is not set up to adequately serve and accommodate public transport and the necessity of driving is a reality, implementing a law where people are criminally responsible if they cause a crash in the rain would only cause people to be more nervous in the rain would do much less than a statute that requires people to be more educated in the rain.
In Germany for example you have to take intensive courses, are not allowed to drive without an instructor until you take your license test (which you cannot take before age 17) and you cannot drive without a parent until you are 18. Even if you are over 18 these rules still apply to you. My parents had to take driving tests when we moved to Germany even though they had both held US drivers licenses for over 20 years. When you ensure people on the roads are educated and you can trust them to exercise good judgment and adjust their behaviors to the situation you won't need laws that prevent people from driving when the weather isn't ideal.

Posted by: Natalie Kannan | Sep 20, 2016 4:52:59 PM

While I appreciate the high-minded discussion that is going on here, it seems to me this statute would sweep up too many citizens that don't fit our societal conception of what it means to be a "criminal." Why get Chad and Mary when you're really just after D-Money?

*shoutout to LePage*

Posted by: David R. | Sep 20, 2016 5:00:06 PM

This is just a small point, but it is interesting that after our class discussion of driving in the rain, I had to drive to the airport in the rain Saturday morning. And as a result of having this statute in the back of my head and the facts of the numerous accidents in the rain, I actually found myself significantly slowing down and consciously thinking about not getting in an accident. So I think this does speak to the deterrence of a statute like this because it is not even enacted and I was consciously thinking about it even without the actual threat of criminal liability in place.

Posted by: Sophie D. | Sep 21, 2016 1:02:24 PM

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