The Moral Obligation to Follow the Rules of the Road

Although I write frequently about moral philosophy, I often struggle to live out the moral code I believe to be of utmost importance. I try my best but fail more often than not. One area where this is especially true is with regard to my driving. Lately, I’ve been driving carelessly. In the past week and a half, I’ve gotten three tickets: one for entering an intersection way too late, one for merging in an intersection, and one for blowing through a stop sign. Until the third ticket, I’ve been ignoring the moral ramifications of unsafe driving. I was relying on two faulty philosophical principles in order to justify my actions:

  1. INDUCTION: My unsafe driving has not resulted in any injuries to anyone until now; therefore, it will not injure anyone in the future
    1. COUNTER-ARGUMENT: See The Problem of Induction 
  2. CONSEQUENTIALISM: The outcome of my unsafe driving is arriving to my location faster than I otherwise would; therefore, the ends justify the means
    1. COUNTER-ARGUMENT: See Kant

By employing these basic but problematic philosophical arguments, I have been able to justify driving recklessly. However, three tickets is definitely a sign that it’s time to actually evaluate the moral legitimacy of my behavior. It took about five seconds of actually thinking about it to realize that I’ve been wrong my entire life.

Moral Arguments for Obeying the Rules of the Road

  • It’s the law
    • I have written elsewhere on my faith in the law as an institution. It’s by no means a perfect code; however, it has safeguards in place to ensure that it can be altered when a rule becomes outdated. As a subject, participant, and beneficiary of the US government, I am obligated by social contract theory to obey the rules it has put in place to maintain order.
  • Not doing so puts others in danger
    • There is a large degree of moral gray area when it comes to actions that may harm oneself. One could argue endlessly about whether self-harm is justifiable. However, one would have a hard (pretty much impossible) time successfully arguing that harm towards others is justifiable. Driving recklessly doesn’t just put yourself in danger, it puts the numerous other people on the road in danger.
  • The roads belong to the government
    • Although I pay a small amount of money for their maintenance, the roads ultimately belong to the government. I wouldn’t want someone using a combustion-powered metal box to recklessly traverse through my house, so I don’t blame the government for not wanting to allow me to do the same thing in theirs.

Practical Arguments

  • It’s expensive to get ticket after ticket
  • It’s probably not actually that much faster to disobey the rules of the road
  • I might end up saving some gas money in the end
  • Etc.

I hope to continue updating this post on why I should drive carefully to ensure that I actually do. At the end of the day, it’s not that hard to follow the rules of the road. My personal autonomy will survive sacrificing the right to act like a fool while operating a two-ton death machine.

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