Just in time for hurricane season and the prospect of roads that become rivers, Volusia County has enacted an ordinance to discourage people from driving into high waters on roads and streets.
“There’s nothing currently that prohibits a person from going around a barricade and getting stuck in the water,” Assistant County Attorney Maureen Sikora said, before the County Council adopted the new measure.
The council June 20 followed Arizona’s example in passing what is known as the “stupid motorist” law. With a unanimous vote, the council adopted the ordinance.
The stupid-motorist law applies during periods declared to be a state of local emergency, such as a hurricane. Under the county’s ordinance, any person caught “driving around a barricade to enter a flooded stretch of roadway” may be fined as much as $500 or sentenced to 60 days in jail, or both. Such a violation of the ordinance is a second-degree misdemeanor.
The support for the new law came from Sheriff Mike Chitwood and the police chiefs of four cities within the county. The move to enact the ordinance followed the widespread flooding caused by the heavy rains brought by Hurricane Ian. Many of those who went into the high waters became stranded and had to be rescued when their cars stalled and stopped. Those calls for help added to the other emergencies with which 911 dispatchers and first responders had to contend during and immediately following the storm.
“Drivers who become stranded have to become accountable,” Council Vice Chair Danny Robins said. “There’s a taxpayer investment in the lives of our first responders.”
Robins added the ordinance “would really make people make better life decisions.”
“We need our resources at the heart of the problem,” she said, referring to the emergency situations in a major storm.
In the 48 hours of Sept. 28 and 29, 2022, when Ian lashed and waterlogged Volusia and surrounding counties, the Sheriff’s Office’s Communications Center logged 11,954 calls, according to information released by the agency. Of those calls, more than 1,000 were requests for high-water rescues.
The law — with its penalties — is supposed to prevent increases in calls during an already-stressful time.
It’s going to make people think twice,” Sikora said. “If you play stupid games, you get bad prizes.”
One of those “prizes,” County Chair Jeff Brower noted, may be costly damage to a car whose engine compartment becomes flooded.
“The stupid consequences of the action are its own curse,” Brower said.