In the battle against motor accidents – does a citizen have any Halakhic obligation to report to the authorities a driver for transgressing road traffic regulations?

1. A person who is in possession of evidence regarding a civil matter has a duty to testify in court when summonsed (Vayikra 5:1; Rambam, Hil. Eidut 1:1). Although a breach of this duty carries no financial penalty – stemming as it does from one’s general moral (rather than strictly legal) obligation to perform acts of kindness to others – Chazal cautioned against refusing to testify save in cases of “proven loss” (Rashi, Bava Metzia 33a, s.v. “kol…”), such as where the witness is scared of the repercussions of testifying or will sustain monetary loss by testifying.

2. In our case, the ‘fear factor’ (if real in the first place) can often be totally avoided by making the report directly and discreetly to the authorities. Moreover every offending driver is aware, at least in the intellectual sense, that such reporting is for his own and other people’s good (he simply cannot be bothered to make the effort to control himself from driving wildly…). Therefore, in the case at hand, it cannot be said that the witness will sustain any “proven loss” by failing to testify; and even if such loss or other inconvenience is entailed, every citizen appreciates the need to do everything in his power to prevent accidents from occurring.

3. Even where the witness is in danger of sustaining a genuine loss by testifying, there is a separate legal duty “not to stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:16; and see also Sanhedrin 73a), as well as the general duty to “destroy the evil from your midst” (Devarim 13:6). As Israel knows only too well, road accidents are literally sakanot nefashot (matters of life and death). This being the case, even in cases of loss, the witness has a duty to speak out against a reckless or negligent driver, when such action may well prevent future road accidents (chamira sakanta me’isura).

4. A further factor in this regard is that a failure to speak out (i.e. the act of omission) is actually regarded, in Halakhic terms, as a sin of commission (see Tosafot, s.v. “aval” Shevuot 30b). This is especially true in a case involving sakanat nefashot. Anyone who refrains from reporting a traffic offense committed by a driver, or a doctor who fails to report any adverse health consequences likely to impact on his patient’s ability to drive safely, will thus be regarded as ‘aiding and abetting’ the sinner in his crime.

[Source: “Reporting Traffic Offenses” by Rav Yona Fodor, vol. 21 “Techumin,” pp. 193-197]