Arizona's Stupid Motorist Law

Ignoring the Law Can be Dangerous and Costly

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••• The sign is there for a reason. © Judy Hedding

It was August 2012 in the desert. One of our monsoon thunderstorms dumped so much rain in certain parts of town that authorities placed a sign at a low spot on a city street, Do Not Enter When Flooded. This sign happened to be accompanied by a measuring device indicating that the water was about two feet deep. A driver of a medical transport van with a wheelchair-bound passenger aboard was on her way to pick up a second passenger to take them to doctor appointments.

The driver saw a smaller vehicle enter the flooded area and slowly, but successfully, make it through. She drove on, and the van becomes stuck. The water level where she had driven was up to the handles on the doors, and the water pressure had sealed the doors shut. Emergency personnel were summoned.

Not only is this a true story, but unfortunately it is a familiar story. A severe rain, that doesn't drain in certain areas and causes strong, rushing water in others. People driving into streets or washes with warnings posted, thinking that their vehicle is different or that the signs are merely suggestions -- I'm not sure what (if anything) they are really thinking! In their effort to save two or three minutes by taking another route, they are breaking the law and endangering themselves and any passengers they have on board.

In 1995 a statute went into effect in Arizona. It is referred to as the stupid motorist law.

Basically, it says if you are stupid enough to drive your vehicle into an area that you should have known was dangerous, you may be held financially responsible for the expenses of emergency personnel who come to rescue you. That can be a hefty tab, and may involve police, fire and medical expenses.

Sometimes helicopters are used to pick stranded people off the roof of the vehicle. That process, too, can get expensive. In addition to financial responsibility, a driver may be cited for reckless driving. That means a host of other issues regarding fines and potential criminal charges. Let's not talk about what that might do to your auto insurance premiums.

The Official Stupid Motorist Law

Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 28, Chapter 910 is the associated statute. I will quote a portion of it here:
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 ... the driver or any passenger in the vehicle that becomes inoperable on the public street or highway or the vehicle ... or both.
It's pretty clear. If you see standing water on the road, you have no idea how deep it is. If you see a sign that reads Do Not Enter When Flooded, it is there for a reason. Save yourself the humiliation of being featured on the local news being hauled out of your car through the window.
Save yourself the potential damage to your vehicle, the expense of the rescue and the court appearances. If you are driving for work, don't risk your job. Don't be a stupid motorist.