Arizona’s Stupid Motorist Law

Arizona is home to the so-called “stupid motorist” law, A.R.S. § 28-910.

That statute provides that the driver of a vehicle on a public street or highway that is temporarily covered by water  and is barricaded because of flooding is liable for the expense of any emergency response when the vehicle becomes inoperable in the water.

A person’s liability for expenses incurred by public agencies, for-profit or not-for-profit entities that incurred the expense is capped at $2,000 per incident. The statute specifically provides that an insurance policy may exclude coverage for a person’s liability for the expenses of an emergency response.

That’s the law. It is punitive, and designed to discourage people from ignoring barricades on flooded streets and potentially putting emergency responders at risk. But the law may also have a significant undesirable consequence. It may discourage people from calling 911 in the event of a real emergency. We don’t want a car full of kids imperiled because the driver is afraid to call for help.

We should note that the “stupid motorist” law is rarely enforced even though it has been on the books since 1995. This is because – as we discussed above – First responders do not want people to weigh their lives against a potential huge expense. In other words, they do not want people to be afraid to call.

In fact, in 2018, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office announced that it would not charge anyone violating the stupid motorist law during Monsoon season.

Further, Deputy Kevin Kraayenbrink told that

“We don’t charge people under the stupid motorist law … This is part of your tax dollars. We’re here. It’s free.”

As of 2018, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office reported that they respond to between 12 and 24 water rescues per year.


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The Central Arizona Mountain Rescue Association re-affirmed most first responders belief that the law has a chilling effect on reporting the need for rescues as “A lot of people that we come in contact with sometimes delay their own rescue by not calling 911 because they think they’re going to get charged”


Even though enforcement of the law happens infrequently, it does happen. And, in some cases, a driver can also be charged with reckless driving under A.R.S. § 28-693

Under 28-693(B), a person convicted of reckless driving is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor.

In Tucson, between 2015 and 2018, Fire departments responded to more than 250 stranded or stuck in fast moving water calls.

Why is the statute on the books? The short answer is that a water rescue can be one of – if not the most – dangerous situations for first responders to find themselves. The water can be rushing at extremely high speeds, the person needing rescue is often in a remote spot clinging to vegetation, and panicked individuals can cause otherwise strong swimmers to struggle with keeping everyone above water.

In some circumstances, a helicopter has to contend with the weather while also focusing on delivering rescue devices to stranded persons.

Regardless, it is increasingly clear that law enforcement will not charge anyone in Arizona with violating the stupid motorist law unless it involves extremely reckless conduct.


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