I created something of a stir over at a blog dedicated to “Education for the Driving Masses,” with my suggestion that we should address a spike in driving accidents by making the driving experience smoother [synchronizing lights to ease congestion, for example]. The experts argued, among other points, that this would be a case of rewarding unsafe driving rather than enforcing safe driving.
There is something to be said for their approach, within Torah sources; after all, the sages mention many times the concern for נמצא חוטא נשכר, that we don’t create legislation to reward sinful behavior. Community policing requires that we punish the criminal. [So, for example, a thief should be required to re-pay all of the untithed grain he stole, and he may not subtract the amount that the original owner should have paid in tithes. – Kiddushin 58b]
The same issue comes up consistently in conversations regarding our response to terrorism. Peace Now and similar groups insist that Israel should open border crossings and release prisoners as a show of goodwill and to ease the plight of Palestinians, with the ultimate goal of easing Palestinian life easier and reducing their reasons for aggression – to which I, and many others, point out that this only rewards terrorism and expedites attacks. The track record supports this; when crossings are opened, terror attacks follow.
So why do I think that bad behavior on the road should be ‘rewarded’?
Because there are two kinds of bad behavior: Intended and Unintended.
Intentionally bad behavior is a demonstration of ill will. A terrorist who attacks kindergartens or stones moving vehicles is exhibiting intent to harm others. Her planned actions may well be fueled in part by frustration, but in the absence of any remorse, it is clear that (1) easing her life and (2) making attack execution easier will only encourage her to repeat her offenses.
On the other hand, poor driving is generally not intentional; the people behind the wheel have simply lost control. I believe that the vast majority of drivers do not wish to harm pedestrians; the fact that they run Yellow lights, take turns at high speed and change lines without looking is not a plan, but a reaction to frustration. The more frustrated they become, the less controlled their actions. Remove the frustration, restore the control.
The same is true in parenting; parents who frustrate their children must expect them to act out. No, drivers are not children - but when they lose enough sleep, and when they face enough pressure, then they lose their adult control.
נמצא חוטא נשכר refers to situations in which sin is intentional; we don’t reward intentional crime. But if someone is sinning due to external pressures, it’s time to ask what we can do to relieve the situation.