As some pretentious white guy once said, “I think, therefore I am.” Maybe the problem is that Miamians just don’t think enough about the philosophical repercussions of cutting someone off on the Dolphin Expressway or driving 40 mph in the left lane on I-95. Rather than do the ethical soul-searching ourselves, we enlisted a philosophy professor at the University of Miami to do the moral heavy lifting for us.
“Would the whole traffic situation be better in Miami if people gave more thought to the moral question?” asks Dr. Michael Slote, who has published a slew of books, including Commonsense Morality and Consequentialism, From Morality to Virtue, and Morals from Motives. “It’s a very good question because I think we would all benefit if we considered the moral issues in traffic, not necessarily the legal, or exclusively legal, ones.”
Here, he ranks ten of Miami’s most morally reprehensible traffic dilemmas:
10. Uber/Lyft drivers who put their hazard lights on and block a lane of traffic. “There might be some moral issues that arise around this, but it just doesn’t sound like a moral question. There might be nowhere else for them to park, and if it’s pretty easy to go around them, I wouldn’t worry too much about this one.”
9. Driving 5 to 9 mph over the speed limit. "I don’t think law enforcement gives you a speeding ticket if you go only a few miles per hour over the speed limit. So let’s say you are driving 9 mph over the speed limit: You know you are not going to get a ticket but it’s against the law. At this point, everyone does it and the police almost accept it by not giving people tickets for this. I have a feeling that speed limit laws are built with a certain allowance to go over the speed limit because people are inclined to do it. I honestly think you can't morally criticize someone for going only a few miles per hour over the speed limit."
Exception: School zones.
8. Honking at someone for not going as soon as the light turns green. "If you beep immediately, that’s morally suspect. But if you wait five seconds and the person still hasn't moved, there's nothing wrong with beeping. Of course, a less obnoxious little beep rather than a long blast of the horn is preferred. That’s what I do. I will beep if I wait five or six seconds and the person hasn’t moved. It will be a soft touch of the horn, not a loud blast."
Exception: An obnoxious honking of the horn that you know will scare the hell out of the driver in front of you.
7. Rubbernecking at an accident. "Rubbernecking and the slowing down of traffic
6. Not using a turn signal when changing lanes. "This is what I've been thinking about most. The idea is that people won’t let you change lanes if you signal — and that’s not very nice of them. So what does one do to protect oneself? You do something independently that is morally questionable (mostly disobeying the law) to stop someone from doing something that is more morally questionable. Sometimes it is all right to do something that would be immoral to prevent someone from doing something that is otherwise not morally kosher. My impression is that most people in Miami do not use turn signals when changing lanes. If most people were nicer, then you would have all the moral reason to use your turn signal."
Exception: When a cop is watching, because not using a turn signal to change lanes is technically illegal, and no one wants a ticket.
Exception: When you are going to make a left exit.
4. Blasting reggaeton in traffic with your windows down. "A person who does this is a less good citizen. There’s a blasting level that I would even call unconscionable! There's a level where others can't help but hear you, and they may want quiet in their car or maybe are having an important conversation going on. It’s just wrong to blast at that level. It’s an offensive, aggressive act. And if it's done intentionally, which I sometimes suspect it is, all the more so.
"If the person doesn't realize they're too loud, it's not as bad. In general, what you do deliberately is worse than what you do negligently. If you're not thinking about the volume and it's so loud that it's annoying people, it's not as bad as deliberately doing it to annoy them. I wouldn’t call it an exception, but I think it’s a little neglectful of the rights, welfare, and pleasure of the happiness of others. When you get carried away, it may be excusable, but it's not an exception."
Exception: If someone is blasting something important, such as a warning about an atomic blast, a criminal at large, or a driver going the wrong way.
3. Flipping people off when they cut you off. "Giving someone the finger is a very vulgar and unmannerly thing to do, even if that someone has done something against you. It’s just bad manners. You know, in ancient times, Aristotle stated that manners were our minimum morality, the most minimum of moral questions. I believe really bad manners can approach bad morality. So I think if you give someone the finger, it’s approaching a wrong action. I wouldn’t call it a wrong action. There’s a category in theoretical work on ethics called 'offenses.' So I would say giving the finger is an offense, but not necessarily wrong.
"For example, a honk is not inappropriate, but flipping the bird approaches wrongdoing. A person named Roderick Chisholm pioneered the notion of an offense, and that’s what I would call this: Giving the finger is an offense."
Exception: "I think there are times when bad manners can be morally called for or permissible. If someone is talking in a racist manner and you try to talk to them and they won’t listen to you and it's getting worse and worse, I don’t see it
2. Not letting people driving very expensive cars merge into your lane. "A very expensive car is not an excuse for being rude to someone. This is a capitalist democracy — come on, now!"
Exception: "I don't think any kind of excuse allows for this, but if the expensive car had a racist bumper sticker, then I guess it’s understandable why someone would not let them merge into their lane. But it better damn well be racist! If it’s just a Make America Great Again bumper sticker, it's only racist by association and innuendo. The bumper sticker really has to be explicitly racist for any kind of exception."
1. Cutting the queue in traffic. "Well, one kind of thinking in morality, and it comes out of Kant, is something called rule utilitarianism: It is wrong if it would be bad for everyone to do it. I'm not convinced that's dispositive of the ethical issue here. Sure, it would be bad if everyone did this. What I think about in this case is what do most people do? If most people do wait in the line and then there were a few people who cut in, then I’d think probably one should be waiting in that line. But if you know lots and lots of people are cutting the line, this is what a philosopher calls a 'state of nature': There is supposed to be a rule here, but people are acting as if there are no rules and it’s whatever you can get out of the situation.
"I'm inclined to say if everyone or mostly everyone is skipping the queue, then if you do it too, it’s not so bad. But if lots and lots of people wait patiently in that line, one has to do one's fair share. I have a feeling that most people are patient, and as a good citizen, one ought to be on the side of patience."
Exception: A medical emergency.