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Reporting a fender-bender

You are an independent taxi driver. One morning, you back out of the driveway into the side of an illegally parked FedEx van. No one sees it happen. Your car is okay but the van is clearly damaged. You now risk losing your cab due to skyrocketing insurance rates. Do you report the mishap?

By Lee Simpson and Kevin Little

Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.

I have to step outside the role of (ahem!) “informed” ethical adviser and confess: I am not and never have been a driver. I know so little about the rules of the vehicular road that I did not perceive that there could be an issue. I thought you would break the law if you failed to report an accident of any kind and be liable to a criminal or municipal offence. Plus schoolyard morality maintains “two wrongs don’t make a right” — his illegal parking doesn’t cancel my collision. That the act went unnoticed is both irrelevant and unreliable.

However, conversations with drivers subsequently revealed that there are bumps in parking lots that constantly go without reporting of the
formal kind (calling the police) or informal (a note under the windshield wipers for insurance follow-up).

The question is set up like David and Goliath: big, bad corporate, illegally parked FedEx hit by poor, put-upon independent cabbie at risk of losing his self-employed livelihood. As a good United Church representative, I want to give the little guy
a break.

However, ethical acid-testing necessitates role reversal and arrival at the same destination: would I defend the FedEx driver if it were he or she who hit a cab (illegally parked or otherwise) and shot off, spraying slush in all directions?

A pedestrian perspective: I often depend on public transit and taxis, and I don’t want to be at the mercy of this driver. How did he overlook such a big van? How many other accidents, reported and otherwise, has he been involved in that this ding is going to put his insurance over the edge? Do I want to be the unsuspecting passenger as he simultaneously texts his cousin, screams at his dispatcher and backs up into a FedEx van? (Oh wait, I have been . . . )

The cabbie must report the accident and take the consequences. Maybe it’s time for a switch to dispatching.
Author's photo
Rev. Kevin Little is a minister at St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon, N.S.

There are two good reasons to report an accident. The first is that it is the right thing to do. I have caused an accident, and it’s my responsibility to step up and admit it. Secondly, even though I think no one has seen it happen, there is always the likelihood someone has. Should the FedEx driver canvass the neighbourhood and find a witness, I will be in some serious trouble.

We all live in a cellphone camera world, so one never knows who is taping us as we walk down the street or smash into another vehicle. Frankly, beyond all the pious legalisms of Scripture, there is, first and foremost, Jesus’ personal motto: “Love your neighbour as you would love yourself.” We owe it to the driver, the local franchise owner and FedEx to make this right.

While it is my responsibility to report the accident, it is also my right to call my insurance agent to find out if the fact that the van was parked illegally makes any difference in liability. And yes, I would take pictures with my cellphone camera.

When it comes to ethical decision making, what bothers me most is the “tit for tat/golden rule” lens we use to make these calls. Too often it seems that our first instinct is to exact from ourselves not what we should do but rather what we are expected to do. My sense of the Gospel stories is that they are less about following a conventional formula and more about extravagant love.

Imagine the Good Samaritan approaching a Jew in a ditch. Does s/he weigh the legal issues or take stock of what s/he might owe the sad soul in distress? No, the Samaritan immediately dives into the ditch, offers real care to the wounded and then finds a resting place to heal.

Whether in an accident or a ditch, we followers of Jesus can do no less.
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