Arizona flood rescues and the ‘stupid motorist law’

The law was passed in 1995.
The law was passed in 1995.(Arizona's Family)
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 3:01 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 at 3:44 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Arizona has been experiencing a lot of flooding recently due to rainfall and snowmelt spread across the region. With the flooding comes evacuation advisories and people taking risks in high flood waters despite those advisories, which appears to be the case Wednesday morning in Cave Creek.

In 1995, Arizona passed the so-called “Stupid Motorist Law,” a nickname given to Section 28-910 of the Arizona Revised Statutes. The section states that anyone who drives through an area temporarily covered by a rise of water level and is barricaded due to flooding is liable for any expenses from an emergency rescue and removal of their vehicle. The law essentially places all financial liability on the person being rescued. The law was rarely enforced, but it made headlines in 2005, according to a Cronkite News report when Cave Creek resident Paul Zalewski was charged in municipal court after driving his Hummer around barriers and into a flooded road.

Back in 2018, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said the agency would not enforce the law out of fear that people who can’t afford the fine wouldn’t call for help. “After that, people refused to call for help because they thought everybody that does something that’s not smart gets arrested. They don’t,” Deputy Kevin Kraayenbrink said in the report. “I don’t know how many times we pull up and people are like, ‘I can’t afford this rescue.’”

On Wednesday, MCSO says it continues not to charge for rescues. “MCSO does not charge for rescues,” Sgt. Monica Bretado says. “However, the ‘stupid motorist law’ requires there to be barricades and for the motorist to go around the barricades to be cited for this law. If a deputy determined an individual violated the law, he may issue a citation, but the court will be [the] ultimate decision maker.”

So, it appears the two men who needed rescue Wednesday morning in Cave Creek likely did not violate the so-called ‘stupid motorist law,’ given there were no barricades at the flood site.

Public agencies that are responsible for the driver and/or passengers’ rescue(s) can charge up to $2,000 for a single incident. Also, the driver’s insurance can exclude coverage for emergency response. The law was If you want to read the full bill, click here. In any case, if you feel uncomfortable crossing a potentially flooded area, turn around and don’t drown.