by Charles Platt
I’d like to extend my previous post on drunk driving to examine the relationship of trust between driver and passengers.
If I am a passenger in a car, and the driver knows that I don’t want him to drink, we might argue that a relationship of trust exists, and if the driver is secretly violating that trust, he’s not being ethical. If the passenger is an infant who cannot assess the condition of the driver, the relationship of trust becomes especially clear.
What about other people–pedestrians and drivers–sharing the highway? Do they have an implicit relationship of trust with a possibly drunk driver?
I don’t think so. I think all of us should operate on the assumption that the roads are richly populated with people who are not entirely competent, for a wide variety of reasons, alcohol being only one. We know that drivers routinely do dumb things, and laws don’t stop them. They will drive while dialling cell phone numbers, eating dinner, sorting through music CDs, or trying to control an animal that isn’t in a carrier. This is the way the world is. I think you have to accept that when you venture out in your car.
To me, the relationship between driver and passengers is the ethical issue, because the passengers are forced to take a passive role. But whether the heavy hand of criminal law should punish a driver for failing to make full disclosure to his passengers about possible impairments, regardless of whether an accident occurred, is another matter.
I note that many state laws criminalize a driver who allows passengers not to wear seat belts, regardless of whether there was an accident. Personally I feel that such laws should only apply where the passengers are children.