Question: What is Arizona’s “stupid motorist law” and is it enforced in the county?
During Arizona’s monsoon season, flooded washes and roadways are common threats for drivers. Often times, when a motorist attempts to cross a flooded area they get stuck and need rescue.
This occurs so commonly that the state passed a law in 1995 to try and relive the financial burden upon taxpayers for the costly rescues.
The rescues also pose safety risks to the public safety and law enforcement agencies who perform them.
The law is commonly referred to as the “stupid motorist law.”
Answer: The law, corresponding to section 28-910 of the Arizona Revised Statutes, states that any motorist who becomes stranded after driving around a barricade to drive through a flooded stretch of road may be charged for the cost of their rescue.
Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Carol Capas said that their office has not enforced this law thus far.
“We simply send people to rescue the people who have created the situation and we haven’t charged,” she said. “It has been problematic...including our personnel being placed in severe danger going into the water to rescue someone.”
Capas said often times people attempt to cross flooded areas due to “overconfidence” in their vehicles.
“In that four-wheel drive that same one or two inches of water can get them in as much trouble as a small car, or they have overconfidence that they can traverse any type of roadway,” she said.
Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels explained that they don’t enforce the financial penalty for rescue because his focus is on public safety.
“One of the reasons is the fact that search and rescue is paid through tax dollars and people make mistakes, some are intentional but that’s at a different level,” he said. “It’s just a mistake, and we aren’t in business for making a profit — our job is to keep you safe.”
He said that unfortunately, these types of rescues happen often in the county.
The cost of rescuing someone in this kind of situation is high. Capas said that multiple agencies typically respond to a call of this nature with people that must be paid. There is also a cost associated with putting up a barricade to prevent other motorists from doing the same thing.
Though the county doesn’t enforce the stupid motorist law, Capas said it’s important for people to remain mindful of flooded roadways and the dangers it brings for not only motorists but other people.
“It’s important for people to understand that if they make ignorant choices it impacts other people including public safety officials,” she said. “We want to make sure people obey any traffic device — that’s why they are there.”
“Don’t try to go around it; it’s not worth it and making such a poor choice doesn’t just impact you.”
The stupid motorist law caps the damages they can charge someone who was rescued from a flooded roadway at $2,000. Only “reasonable costs” can be charged including “the cost of providing police, fire fighting, rescue and emergency medical services at the scene of an incident and the salaries of the persons who respond to the incident,” according to the statute.
A warning sign, such as one that reads “Do Not Enter When Flooded” is enough to trigger the stupid motorist law.
To view the law, visit www.azleg.gov/ars/28/00910.htm.