Friday, January 29, 2010

Please reward bad behavior!

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.


  1. I'll agree at least as far as driving is concerned. We just returned from a state where right turn on red is the rule unless otherwise posted to a state where no right turn on red is the rule unless otherwise posted. You bet it's frustrating to be sitting at a red light with no traffic coming and to just be sitting there. Then add in that you finally get to make the turn and go one block to a light that has just turned red, which you wouldn't have missed if only you could have made that right turn before. And then you're watching the four traffic lights up the road, each separated by only two blocks, none of which are in sync with each other. Just what logic was used that can make it possible to take 8-10 minutes to go 10-11 blocks?!

  2. נמצא חוטא נשכר refers to situations in which sin is intentional;
    So how do you explain that the 1st people who used shabbat clocks were over marit ayin (per R'HS quoting r'MF iirc) but when enough people did it, it became mutar?

  3. ProfK-

    Why is that a case of חוטא נשכר? The חוטא is still punished for his חטא, and the שכר only covers future actions, and is for society.

  4. and for him as well-he's now "allowed" to do it
    Joel Rich

  5. Hi there. As you know, drunk driving is another real problem among the driving public in Canada. It's a problem that's still very much a issue and often results in tragic consequences.
    Following along with your line of thought to reward frustrated drivers by making things easier for them, do you feel the same with rewarding drivers who can't seem to get the "don't drink and drive" message with a 3-beer maximum?
    The majority of people who display the driving behaviour you described are not driving out of frustration, but because they can. They've formed bad habits over the years primarily due to poor training, minimal real driving world experience and a hazy knowledge of traffic law.
    Most people in Canada learned how to drive by making mistakes and pushing the limits of their skill. Scarily, the more they could do something wrong and get away with it, the more they will. This includes the left lane hoggers, the curb laner passers and the yellow light runners.
    Disciplined drivers with advanced driver's training don't display the aggressive behaviour you mentioned.
    This kind of driving is rarely seen in countries such as Germany and Sweden because of the way drivers are licensed and trained.
    I think the advice and solution you're spreading around is wrong and dangerous. It only encourages the behavious because people who drive aggressively don't care about anyone else on the road and expect they should be allowed to drive faster and not share the road.
    Bad drivers should be removed from the roads. Driving is a privilege. These people don't deserve to be accommodated. It's not fair to those who drive with due care and attention.

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment.

    1. I certainly don't want to see drunk driving rewarded. Frankly, I don't understand why people who drive drunk ever get their licenses back.

    2. But I'm not talking about rewarding bad driving. I'm talking about eliminating a cause of bad driving. Just as we tell people not to drink before they drive, so we should avoid inciting anger in people who are driving.

    That doesn't mean they are right for 'driving angry' - but it means we should avoid creating the situation unnecessarily.