The defendant's plea of "accident" is ignored in Russia if carelessness is the cause. — Drawing by J. Sanford Hulme.
True Crime

Is Carelessness A Crime?

by Edward Orleans

Complete Detective Cases | Nov. 1940 | Vol. 2, No. 6

A motorist of the mildest manner and the best intentions can take human life as easily as the most bloodthirsty thug. Is not he criminal?

The Russian Supreme Court has been reported to have decreed recently that carelessness, resulting in the breaking of machinery, etc., in factories and on farms, will be adjudged a crime. Offenders found guilty will be imprisoned or exiled. The defendant’s plea of “accident” is to be ignored. The fact that the offender was careless enough to permit it will be considered sufficient grounds for conviction.

Under the new ruling it will no longer be necessary to prove that workers who started fires or damaged machinery did so on purpose. Muddle-headedness and general stupidity will be regarded as criminal traits.

This new Russian decree will be hailed as one of those highly debatable rulings, with the sentimentalists lined solidly against the courts.

However, carelessness, regardless of criminal intent, is in effect a crime.

In this glorious land of free and relatively untrammeled indulgence in bootleg hooch and hoop-la we had, during 1929 and 1930, 29,531 deaths from automobiles alone—a sufficiently large number of fatalities to satisfy the blood-lust of even the most vehement warrior.

And Heaven only knows how many lives were lost, and what uncounted millions of dollars in property and forest preserve were burned up by careless or reckless fools, who, if they had their just deserts, should have been stood up against a wall and shot.

Whether carelessness is a crime or not, the victim of its effects suffers just the same. If Billy Bohunk is cleaning a shotgun, which should have been unloaded, but which accidentally fills your valuable skin full of bird shot, you arrive in the hospital, or in the morgue, almost as certainly as though Legs Diamond himself, or one of his gallant aides, had turned a sub-machine gun loose on you.

Modern existence is cribbed and confined by a flock of addle-pated fools, who make life infinitely more hazardous and difficult for us than it has any reason for being.

At the intersection of any principal street in America we run the risk of imminent death a thousand times a year. Were it not for the splendid and really heroic work of our traffic cops, we’d be dodging wildeyed motorists, careening around a corner on two wheels, about half our time. And they couldn’t always miss us.

We all have heard the expression “criminally careless”, but have we ever known the expression to be more than an empty phrase? Apparently the Russian government is going to hold the term at its face value. Certainly it will be interesting to note how far their action is valuable in reducing accidents.

There is a lot to be said in commendation of the Russian idea of penalizing those responsible for accidents. It might be well if we were to take a leaf from their book. Life might not be quite so exciting. But quite a few of us would live longer—and have many more legs and arms to show the undertaker when we came to die.

Again we have passed through another Fourth of July to read the next day of hundreds of deaths over the country from explosives, from drowning, from automobile and aviation accidents. How many of those could have been prevented?

~ The End ~