IN OUR OPINION: Stranded motorists cost county time, money

Farm Forum

Brown County has no authority to recoup money for the time and resources it takes to rescue stranded motorists, even when it’s clear the driver shouldn’t have been out in the snow.

But should commissioners have that ability?

The question came up when a driver was stuck on Richmond Road during blizzard conditions Feb. 10. Brown County Highway Superintendent Jan Weismantel estimates that it cost more than $1,000 to rescue the driver and his passengers that day. At least three rescue vehicles were sent out to help the driver.

The county says the driver needlessly put responders at risk and wasted valuable time and resources that could have been spent on real emergencies during the blizzard.

But there is no way, at least by county or state law, to further penalize the driver after the rescue.

The bottom line is that county officials don’t want drivers on the road during hazardous conditions. Maybe a fine in this case would send a message to other drivers, but let’s be realistic: There will always be people stuck in the snow when they should have heeded warnings and stayed home.

Instituting financial penalties also initiates lots of other questions: What authority does the county have to ban driving in the snow, and does this apply to only certain types of vehicles or drivers? How does the county communicate the message to stay off the roads? And if folks are allowed to drive if it’s a true emergency, who decides which emergencies count?

We certainly wouldn’t want a potential fine to deter someone from calling for help when they really need it.

In this case, the county should be thankful that no one was hurt Feb. 10 and consider how to better warn drivers from making the same mistake in the future.