One of the main questions concerning the laws of safeguarding life – and in our generation, perhaps the most important question, is: What does ‘halacha’ (Jewish law) have to say about people who transgress traffic laws? Does somebody who drives excessively fast, passes on a white line, or drives too close to the car ahead of him, transgress a Torah prohibition or not?
Since this is an important question, and since I knew that, perhaps, the true answer would not be pleasing for some people, I did not rely on my own judgment, but turned to the Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, and asked him if, according to ‘halacha’, there is a prohibition to violate traffic laws. And if there is a prohibition, what is its severity – is it a Torah prohibition or a less-severe rabbinical prohibition? His answer was unequivocal: someone who drives excessively fast (speeding which is customarily punishable), or one who does not comply with the rest of the laws of safety, transgresses a Torah prohibition. This is because the Torah commanded us to greatly guard our lives. In other words, not only is it forbidden to commit suicide, but we must also distance ourselves from danger and be careful. Obviously, traffic laws were not fixed arbitrarily in order to anger drivers. Rather, they were fixed by experts in the field, who checked and investigated the issue and came to the conclusion that driving at such a speed, or passing in such a spot, etc., is dangerous. Consequently, one who violates these laws transgresses a Torah prohibition.
The basis for the obligation to be cautious of dangerous situations is learned from the mitzvah of placing a guard-rail, as it is written (Deuteronomy 22:8): “When you build a new house, you must place a guard-rail around your roof. Do not allow a dangerous situation to remain in your house, since someone can fall from [an unenclosed roof].” The Sages expanded and explained (Sifri, ibid) that by way of the mitzvah of the guard-rail, the Torah comes to teach us a general mitzvah – to be careful and guard ourselves from all types of danger.
In other words, a roof without a guard-rail is an example of a dangerous situation which the Torah commands us to prevent by placing the railing. This is the case concerning all hindrances and dangers – we must guard ourselves from them and remove them.
It must be emphasized that someone who does not obey traffic laws, even if he was lucky and did not cause an accident, nevertheless, because he was not cautious, transgresses a Torah prohibition, for the Torah commanded us to be careful. Accordingly, the answer of Chief Rabbi Shapira is clear; anyone who violates traffic laws, which are intended to prevent the loss of life and were fixed by experts, at a high price of human blood, cancels a mitzvah from the Torah, and transgresses the prohibition “Do not allow a dangerous situation to remain in your house.”
Furthermore, someone who drives hazardously should know that even if he personally did not cause an accident, he is nonetheless guilty of accidents occurring. Due to his speeding and recklessness, he has helped create a negative standard, and has surely caused other drivers to follow in his path – trying to match his fast speed, and more than likely, one of them will get hurt.