Running down pedestrians with your car is wrong. Whether the act is intentional or negligent, running down pedestrians is absolutely wrong. That ethical absolute extends to encouraging others to commit such an act. Unfortunately a couple of Republican lawmakers in Tennessee want their state courts to take a much more permissive approach to vehicular murder and assault. State Representative Matthew Hill and State Senator Bill Ketron have introduced matching bills in the Tennessee General Assembly which establish an effective legal incentive for motorists to ‘accidently’ kill or maim political protestors.
Hill’s House Bill 668 and Ketron’s Senate Bill 0944 reads as follows:
(a) A person driving an automobile who is exercising due care and injures another person who is participating in a protest or demonstration and is blocking traffic in a public right-of-way is immune from civil liability for such injury.
(b) A person shall not be immune from civil liability if the actions leading to the injury were willful or wanton.
Little imagination is needed to construct a legal defense that what was actually intentional was somehow unintentional, and that the victims deserved what they got.
Had Hill and Ketron been interested in protecting motorists from civil liability from accidentally killing or injuring a pedestrian, they wouldn’t have included the “protest or demonstration” language in their bills. Had they been interested in the public health problem of pedestrian safety they might have sought more funding for pedestrian overpasses and other measures that have reduced the rate of automobile collisions with pedestrians in Western Europe below those in the United States. Roughly 5,000 pedestrians are killed every year in the United States, or one pedestrian death roughly every 2 hours [CDC].
What the two attention-grabbing Republicans are after is votes. In the GOP that means appealing to the worst instincts of resentful white voters. Hill and Ketron know that some of their base fantasize about committing political violence using vehicles. A Daily Caller video posted by Mike Raust offers less than subtle encouragement to conservatives to commit ISIS style terrorist acts with vehicles like those seen recently in Europe.
Hill and Ketron appear oblivious not only to the most of fundamental of ethical prohibitions but also to a traditional precept of conservatism: the law of unintended consequences. They and their supporters are no doubt thinking that the targets of such wink wink nudge nudge unintentional but actually intentional vehicular terrorism would be Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights or feminist protestors. Not necessarily.
The problem is that some conservatives also protest and are therefore vulnerable as pedestrians. The legal immunity from civil penalties in Hill and Ketron’s auto kill bill would also protect someone seeking to enter a Planned Parenthood Clinic and faced with a threatening mob of screaming anti-abortion demonstrators. Consider how dangerously close such people stand to the road outside the Memphis Planned Parenthood on Popular Avenue. Already nervous clinic patients seeking to access services might panic and accidentally run down one or more of the demonstrators in such a fraught situation. Tennessee Right to Life has given both Hill and Ketron 100% ratings but given its prioritization of fetuses over viable humans, perhaps the implications of the proposed legislation is of no concern.
While pro-like activists might profess to care little for their own lives, gun rights activists exist in a heightened state of anticipation of possible physical harm. Consider what might happen should a motorist encounter one of those little gatherings of open carry gun rights demonstrators. Conspicuously armed white men standing about compensating for their emotional insecurity are likely to alarm citizens peacefully going about their business, and a panicked motorist might accidentally run them down in an effort to escape from the situation. Fear might cause them to take out as many as possible lest any survivors open fire.
Whatever the state of mind of drivers who end up crunching anti-abortionists, gun nuts other conservative activists beneath their wheels, the auto kill bill would permit them to escape any civil liability. Make a behavior less costly and you make it make it more likely. From the perspective of Hill and Ketron the increased likelihood of conservatives being killed or maimed is a small price to pay for the sort of public attention that helps get them re-elected or might help them win higher office. Sacrifices must be made … so long as they made by others.