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September 8, 2018

"Why are Oliwood's legislators not troubled by spilled blood on our roads? Are they all in the pocket of Big Oil?"

Published this morning in the Oliwood Daily FN Reporter Beacon Plain Dealer Dispatch Enquirer Blade was this editorial under the headline that serves as the title of this post.  Here is how it reads:

The statistics are grim, even though we do not like to think about them. Here in Oliwood, as in neighboring Ohio, throughout the summer months more than three people died and nearly 300 persons are injured every single day on our state's roadways.  Among the hundreds killed on our roadways were more than a dozen innocent young children; hundred of children were among those crippled in car accidents.

Perhaps we want to believe the these problems are cause by drunk drivers or mostly night driving, but data reveals that alcohol-impaired drivers generally account for less than 4% of all crashes and that more than three-quarters of all car crashes occur during the daylight in the summer months.  So what's to blame?  Of course, distracted driving is a persistent problem, but our legislature has wisely passed criminal laws to address this modern problem.

What data and research show is that an age-old problem is a big part of the story: rain and wet roads.  A government research paper has documented the huge number of crashes that occur due to wet weather, and it has suggested that, for the sake of public safety, more should be done to ensure "drivers understand the dangers of rain and wet pavement."

Against this backdrop, it was heartening to see a brave staffer propose yesterday to the Oliwood legislature a bold new approach for making our roads safer.  The proposal makes it a minor crime if a driver causes injury or damage while driving in the rain.  As with criminal laws prohibiting texting while driving, it seems to us unlikely that this proposed law would lead to prosecutions after every rainy crash, but it does seem likely that this law could raise needed awareness about the extra hazards that come with driving in the rain and lead to more caution exercised by drivers.  We also expect prosecutors could use this law to better go after reckless drivers who repeatedly drive and cause harm in dangerous conditions.

Especially with a rainy weekend forecast, the editorial board was hopeful the proposed "Criminal Damaging While Driving in the Rain" statute would get a warn reception among Oliwood's legislators.  But, disconcertingly, very few Oliwood Senators seemed inclined to support the bill during initial discussion.  The editorial board of the Oliwood Daily FN Reporter Beacon Plain Dealer Dispatch Enquirer Blade is left to wonder why Oliwood's legislators seem not at all troubled by all the spilled blood on our roads. 

One would hope our representatives would be proactive and creative in response to the daily (and seemingly preventable) slaughter of the people they are supposed to represent.  Some Senators were heard to express concern that the proposed statute might reduce driving, but would that be so bad if less driving means more young lives preserved and injuries averted?  Of course, less driving might mean less profits for the big oil companies.  Could that be who Oliwood's legislators really care most about?

UPDATE: The Oliwood Daily FN Reporter Beacon Plain Dealer Dispatch Enquirer Blade editorial board wishes to add: "The need for greater efforts to encourage safer driving should be clear every time you open the paper, as this article from neighboring Ohio shows: 'Semi crash closes I-70 EB on East Side during soggy Sunday'."

September 8, 2018 in Course materials and schedule | Permalink


As a concerned citizen, I was disheartened to hear about the reaction to this proposal from the Oliwood Senate. It seems to me that few drivers take rainy conditions seriously; while we're content to stay home in snowy or icy weather - even making preemptive trips to the grocery to stock up on essentials in anticipation of being snowbound - rain does little to deter us from our usual schedule. Despite the data regarding rain-induced car accidents, the effect rain has on automobile control, and decreased visibility, our average driver seems oblivious to the fact that one's technique and focus should be different in the rain versus clear weather.

That said, I question the implications of such a law. Car accidents, while undesirable and sometimes tragic, are sometimes unavoidable. It is entirely possible that a cautious driver, following every law of the road and focusing on the task at hand, could be in an accident in the rain. For instance, what if a deer jumped in front of their car, and upon swerving, the driver side swiped someone in the adjacent lane and caused a rollover? What if they hit an oil slick in the road, made worse by the rain, and lost control of their vehicle? The only TRUE way to prevent a rain-induced accident would be to stay off the roads entirely, as we do in a level 3 snow emergency.

In this vein, I would propose an alternative to criminalizing causing car accidents in rainy conditions - let us implement a rain emergency system, much like the one we follow for snow. When torrential rainfall is anticipated, for example, it would be a crime to be mobile on the roads. To prevent punishing those who were driving before the emergency was declared, the system would require such drivers to pull over and wait until the rain lessened. Such alerts could be delivered the same way Amber Alerts operate, via a text and alert on one's cell phone.

I'm interested to hear if the Oliwood legislators would consider such a plan.

Posted by: Kristen Eby | Sep 9, 2018 11:35:11 AM

As drafter of PROPOSED OPC Section 55.55: Criminal Damaging While Driving in the Rain, I am glad to hear concerned citizen Kristen appreciates the need to do something to reduce car accidents in rainy conditions. But her proposal seems to me much more costly/challenging to implement and enforce and much less likely to be effective. Are we going to shut down Oliwood schools and hospitals and highways every time a heavy rain is forecast? Are we going to send out teams of police to monitor the roads to make sure emergency rules are followed in every neighborhood?

As it stands, police are already called to the scene of serious car accidents, so enforcing PROPOSED OPC Section 55.55 will not be costly. Even more importantly, prohibiting/criminalizing driving in the rain (or the snow) in a sense penalizes everyone and is sure to hurt our economy. But if only criminalize crashing in the rain, we have no impact on anyone who can and does drive safely; the proposed law only impacts those who are likely to crash (and, ideally, encourages those who fear crashing to get a ride with a safer driver or think twice about the need to be mobile in bad weather).

In other words, rather than order everyone off the roads, my proposal usefully (1) encourages dangerous drivers to stay off the roads, (2) incentivizes less safe drivers to do whatever is needed to drive more safely, and (3) enables safe drivers to continue to drive (and to do so without the dangerous and less-safe drivers causing problems in bad weather). And it achieves this with little or no added enforcement costs.

Posted by: Doug B | Sep 9, 2018 5:35:00 PM

The law's idea of punishing offenders automatically regardless of any measure of voluntariness looks like pure retribution, but then the degree of punishment to be determined by the judge without any guidelines defeats the retributive goal of "do the crime, do the time." I guess there is actually no such thing as "pure" retribution since this approach always contains an element of the utilitarian goal of deterrence. Here the criminal chose to drive that day which can carry the Actus Reus element of this crime. Case closed; every offender goes to court.

However, the court element defeats the retributionist equal justice goal, since each judge will presumably weigh the degree of culpability of the offender for the degree of voluntary behavior (actus reus) and the mental state of the offender (mens rea) and then deliver on utilitarian aims of "deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation" with a method that will work to reduce societies desire to drive in the rain and have accidents (very few offenders are totally innocent). Perhaps the judge could sentence some offenders to rehab to reduce their desire to drive in the rain and have accidents.

Suppose the law is reformed to just place an automatic fine of $500 on every offender. This strict liability approach could significantly reduce accidents which occur while it rains. It might work like handicap zones, if well publicized. This could benefit the city in its finances (hit em where it really hurts, the wallet). Equal justice? Think again. The well healed would be barely affected. For those who are poor, rent money and eviction stand in the background haunting their thoughts.

"Legislator think" is the real crime, since they already pass laws that sounds like the $500 law. Often it works like this speech:

"This $500 law would work great as a deterrent for folks with low incomes. Is that fair? Of course its fair. Society benefits by deterring accidents in the rain, more money for the government to spend on worthy goals like education, and this would be an incentive for these low income folks to improve their lot by getting a second job, or establishing savings plans to learn thrift. After all most of them choose poverty by not studying hard, learning a trade, or getting a University degree like my co-students." Continuing:

"Those on the (left) just want to spend more tax money helping people who should be helping themselves by taking a part-time job on the side to pay for a car. The (right) way to improve society is pass laws that punish violent offenders harshly and for the rest just make them pay money for their mistakes (libertarian view). That way we don't have to raise taxes on the law-abiding citizens to pay for police and courts. Pay them with the fines they collect."

Legislator think aside, there are ways that could reduce rain accidents. How about a free city bus system which goes even more places? This would take many off the rainy highway. Of course to make it actually work would require bus stops which all have shelters, and traffic barriers to prevent splashes and curb jumpers. Too bad those bus riders are mostly poor non-voters. Do you drive in the rain? Of course you do. Ever since some poor woman was hit in my neighborhood and killed while standing at her bus stop, I can't drive in the rain and not think about "our" people in America standing next to the road with little or no shelter and the indignity of being splashed, while every construction site is totally lined with bright orange barriers and every fast highway has guard rails.

Posted by: Gary Josephson | Sep 10, 2018 3:10:25 AM

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