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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume III : Number 9

Traffic Laws


Question:

A. Are traffic laws that were enacted by a secular government binding according to Halacha? What should a person do if he sees a person driving recklessly and endangering other people's lives?

B. A person recklessly drove through a red light, crashed into another car that had the right of way, and killed one of the passengers in the other car. Would this person be considered a murderer in the times of the Sanhedrin when such cases were being judged? What would the Halacha be regarding such a person today?


Answer:

  1. A. Traffic laws that are enacted to save human lives and property are obligatory according to the laws of the Torah on every person, at all times and everywhere in the world. It makes no difference what type of government enacted them. (1)

  2. B. If a person knows of someone who drives recklessly and endangers people's lives, he must do everything within his power to prevent the reckless driver from driving in this manner. Therefore, if he is able to personally warn the driver, or summon him to appear before a Rabbi or Bais Din to warn him to refrain from driving recklessly, he must do so. If he is certain that these steps will not be effective, the Halacha requires him to inform the police of this danger to the public safety, so that the reckless driver and others like him can be prevented from causing tragedies. (2)

    This is true any time a person causes a danger to the public. Even if he only causes danger by parking improperly on a sidewalk, for example, in a manner in which pedestrians will have to walk in the street to get by, steps must be taken to prevent him from doing so. (3)

  3. C. The case of a person who drives recklessly and kills someone is in the category of "Shogeg Korov L'Maizid", unintentional but caused by negligence (lit. "close to deliberate"). This means that, in the times of our Sanhedrin, although he could not be found deserving of capital punishment, as in a case of deliberate premeditated murder, nonetheless, a "Go'el HaDam" (lit. redeemer of the blood, i.e. a heir of the person killed) would be permitted to kill the reckless driver wherever he may find him, even in an Ir Miklat (city of refuge). This is because an Ir Miklat only provides protection for someone who killed in an entirely unintentional manner (Shogeg), and not for someone who killed unintentionally but was reckless. (4)

  4. D. Today, when we don't have Dayanim (Rabbinic judges) authorized to judge cases of capital punishment, a Go'el HaDam is not permitted to do anything to someone who killed his relative through reckless driving. However, the driver must repent in a manner that is befitting his terrible action. He also must financially support the family of the victim, especially if the victim was the bread winner of his family. Torah Sages should be consulted to advise him what actions he must take to repent, and how to make sure that this does not reoccur in the future


    Sources:

    (1) This is discussed in the Teshuvos Chassam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 44.

    (2) The Rema in Choshen Mishpat 388:12 states that a person may inform on money counterfeiters that live in his community in order to save himself from danger, since the money counterfeiters have the status of a Rodef (lit. pursuer, someone who is trying to hurt you, since if the authorities find out they will hold the entire community liable). It would logically follow that this is true all the more so in a case of a reckless driver, where he is directly endangering lives with his actions. The Minchas Yitzchok (Vol. 8 Siman 148) states this unequivocally, and states that if such a person pays no attention to warnings he must be reported to the authorities, even though this will result in his arrest and incarceration. The Minchas Yitzchok there also discusses numerous situations that must be avoided by drivers according to Halacha, so as not to present a danger to pedestrians and other drivers.

    However, this is only if the driver is violating laws that affect others. If he violates a law passed for his own safety, e.g. wearing a seat belt, it would be forbidden to report this to the police, even if he pays no attention to your warnings.

    (3) Since a sidewalk is public property designated for pedestrians only, it is absolutely forbidden by our Torah to place something there that endangers people who are walking, even if he does so only temporarily. Such a person is a Mazik, a damager, just as if he had dug a pit (Bor) in the public property. Additionally, such a person is a thief, since he is stealing the public's ability to use something that they own (public property). This is similar to the case of someone who builds his Succah in public property without permission from the proper authorities. In this case, the Rema (Orach Chaim 637:2) rules that such a person does not fulfill the Mitzvah of Succah in this manner, as it is a "stolen Succah".

    (4) The Gemara in Makkos (8a) which is quoted in the Rambam (Hilchos Rotzeach 6:4-6) states that if someone were to carelessly throw a rock from his home into a public area, and it hit someone and killed him, the thrower is negligent, and is considered a Shogeg Korov L'Maizid. This means that he may be killed by a heir of the deceased, and the Ir Miklat does not offer refuge for him. It makes sense to say that there is no difference between someone who recklessly throws a rock into an area where the public has a right to go, and someone who recklessly drives in such an area.

    It makes no difference if the driver was driving at a high speed and crashed into someone or something, or if someone else stopped and he back ended that person because he was unable to stop in time. Since it is common that people must make quick stops, drivers must make sure that they are maintaining a speed and distance from the car in front of them so that they can make a quick stop, if necessary.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av Bet Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission and approval. His columns have recently been compiled and published in a three volume work called Mishpetei HaTorah, which should be available from your local Sefarim store.

    Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent toatendler@torah.org.


    This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission and approval.

    We hope you find this class informative and stimulating! If you do not see a subscription form to the left of the screen, access the Advanced Learning Network to subscribe to Business-Halacha.

    For information on subscriptions, archives, and other Project Genesis classes, send mail to learn@torah.org for an automated reply. For subscription assistance, send mail to gabbai@torah.org.

    Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the presence of all parties involved!

 


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