Topic: Society

The Cabbie and the Speeding Ticket: An Ethics Puzzle
(9/20/2006)

Some days it's not easy being an ethicist. Some days it's not cheap, either.

I was late getting out of my legal ethics training session in Kansas City. The attorneys in the seminar had lots of questions and it was a lively group; some of the best exchanges can occur in the post-program discussions, and I hate to cut them short. But suddenly I was pressed for time, and after packing up and checking out of the hotel, there was only a bit more than an hour before my departure time and a 40 minute cab ride to the airport ahead of time, or so I was told by the hotel clerk. I noted my plight to the cab driver, and he said," You'll be OK. I can get there in a lot less than 40 minutes."

And he could, too, or would have if not for the police car that flagged him down for going 72 on a 65 mph stretch of highway. "A hundred dollar ticket," he said ruefully. "What an idiot I am." He turned off the meter while the cop, true to tradition, worked as slowly as possible to ensure that as much time would be lost as possible. "I'm sorry. I hope you make your plane."

As it turned out I did, but when I got out of the taxi, my ethics alarms started ringing. Was I partially culpable for the speeding ticket? True, I didn't ask him to speed…or did I? Certainly he took a risk on my behalf.

I concluded that I should contribute to the speeding fine, although my cab driver never suggested this and appeared surprised when I handed him $25 above the $43.00 fare. But was 25$ enough? Should I have paid half, or perhaps even the whole amount?

Or was I a fool to pay anything at all? Echoing through my head, I have to confess, was this thought: "Your business is ethics, now. Be a role model: what is the right and fair thing to do?" I reasoned that I shared some responsibility for the speeding infraction, and therefore had an ethical obligation to contribute toward the fine. But there was a nagging little voice, nearly drowned out but still perceptible, that argued that I was looking for an obligation where none existed, that contributing was certainly a kind and generous thing to do, but hardly an ethical obligation.

And that voice is only slightly louder than the far more annoying one accusing me of being a piker and a fraud for not giving the cabby more. "You just gave him the smallest amount that would soothe your guilty conscience!" it sneers.

"Baloney!" the other little voice counters. "In fact, the cabbie blew it…he made you later than you would have been if he just followed the speed limit! He should consider himself lucky to even get a tip!"

I'm tired of listening to these guys. What do you think? Did I do the right thing or not?

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