Sunday, July 17, 2011

Driving high and paying the consequences

A reader in Ohio is at a loss about what to do.

A friend of a friend of hers, writes my reader, drives while "being impaired by marijuana." She's worried that the driver, who lives in her neighborhood is endangering the life of her friend, who sometimes rides with her, and her family, who share the same roads.

Apparently, the fellow has already caused an accident that injured another driver, but, "clearly that wasn't a wake-up enough call to stop."

My reader says she has considered speaking with the impaired driver's wife to share her story about one of her relatives who is serving jail time for a fatal drunk-driving accident and the impact it has had on her family. She'd emphasize the possible consequences for the wife: "death (since impaired drivers tend to kill people riding in their cars), injury, possible lawsuits and loss of a breadwinner." The driver and his wife have three children.

Since the wife does not seem to object to her husband's behavior, my reader considers the odds of this approach being successful to be very low.

She also has considered calling in and reporting his behavior to the authorities, which, she reasons, "could result in additional legal action that could also cost the family its breadwinner."

But calling in to report the driver worries my reader, since it might lose her the friend who sometimes rides with the dope smoking driver if the friend finds out she reported the driver.

"Are there other options I have available to me?" she asks. "Ethically, I feel I need to do something."

My reader's concern about her friend's safety should trump her worry that she will somehow annoy her by calling attention to the impaired driver's actions. The safety of her friend, her own family, her neighbors and anyone else who comes across this fellow's driving path trumps other concerns she's raised.

While the reader doesn't believe the driver's wife will act on her concerns, my reader should exercise whatever routes she can reasonably and legally undertake to try to get this fellow off the road when he is under the influence. She should also stress to her friend that she risks her own life every time she rides as a passenger with this fellow when he is high.

Of course, she has no way of knowing for certain when the driver is operating under the influence. Calling the authorities to register a complaint that she suspects a neighbor of hers sometimes operates under the influence of marijuana is not likely the most effective approach to solve this neighborhood problem. But if she sees him driving erratically in her neighborhood, the right thing is to call the authorities and register her concern. Again, safety trumps concerns about hurt feelings.

But concern about safety sometimes also trumps fearing that you will come off as preachy or judgmental for trying to right some wrong. The consequences of doing nothing in this situation far outweigh the alternatives.

"I don't want to do nothing and later wish I had after someone is harmed," writes my reader.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business," is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to

(c) 2011 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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