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Stupid Motorist Law--why is it rarely enforced?

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 9:47 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s a video that’s captivated us all, showing a major water rescue here in Tucson. And it’s going viral, nationwide.

While it is a team effort to conduct these rescues, it’s ultimately up to law enforcement to make the decision on whether to uphold the Stupid Motorist Law.

But KOLD learned it doesn’t happen often. And we’re told that is a method to keep people safe.

You’ve likely seen the heart-stopping video. It shows a man was swept away in fast-moving Tucson waters, with his daughters alongside.

“This individual risked the life of not just himself, but his family, his little ones, and also those who rescued him. that was a pretty harrowing event,” says Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos.

Several crews helped make this rescue a successful one, and firefighters risked their lives to get this family safely to dry land.

So many of our viewers asked, “will the driver be charged?” And “what about the stupid motorist law?”

If you’re not familiar, it’s a law that was enacted in 1995 and says if emergency services are called to rescue a flooded motorist, the cost of the services can be billed to that motorist if they did not obey the signs.

Sheriff Nanos says while he can’t speak for all agencies, to his knowledge, there hasn’t been a case in Pima County that has led to this.

And he says that’s because they do not want people to fear calling authorities if they ever need rescuing.

“I don’t want people to say, ‘oh man I’m in trouble now and I don’t want to call the cops, it’s going to cost me a lot of money.’ We’d much rather you call the cops. Call 911. We’ll come and help,” says Nanos.

Since Saturday July 10th, the Tucson Fire Department has responded to 18 stranded vehicle calls and 14 swift water rescue calls, including the one in the viral video.

Golder Ranch Fire District helped with this rescue as well, and officials say taking resources from other calls adds stress to their operations.

“They risk a lot, and that’s really what I’d rather people think about is you’re not just putting yourself at risk. You’re risking others. I hope this gentleman knows the risk he took and I hope he learns from this,” says Nanos.

We hear it every year--turn around, don’t drown.

And those who risk their lives to save others will repeat that, as many times as necessary.

PCSD officials say deputies did speak with the driver in this case, and whether the driver is at fault is still under investigation.

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