Drivers who motor on through standing water in Lafayette Parish are now subject to penalty if they cause water to enter any building.
The City-Parish Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a “no wake” ordinance for drivers, despite concerns from some council members that the local law's vague language could allow for selective enforcement and assessment of fines.
Councilwoman Liz Hebert, who sponsored the ordinance, said prior to the vote that it’s intended for reckless joyriders, sightseers and other neglectful drivers during floods, as opposed to “the mom picking up her children from school, being careful with her child in the car.”
The ordinance is part of Lafayette’s traffic code establishing rules for drivers and carries the same penalties as those for speeding and making illegal U-turns. Those violations are punishable with a maximum $500 fine or a maximum prison sentence of six months, and officers have discretion over issuing citations.
That leeway was problematic for Councilman Pat Lewis and Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux in discussion leading up to the vote, although Lewis and Boudreaux voted for the measure with no amendments after extended discussion.
“I really want to take away the need for officers to use discretion,” Boudreaux said. “I think that has been a major factor in getting departments in significant trouble, when one officer sees it this way on Monday, and a similar situation is seen differently on Thursday.”
Lewis and Boudreaux were concerned that cell phone videos made in bad faith, either through doctoring or to pursue personal vendettas, could be the basis of citations issued under the new ordinance.
The ordinance provides only that it’s illegal for drivers to drive in a way that “introduces” standing water to buildings or causes water to enter buildings. It does not address how such violations could be discovered.
Boudreaux pressed Police Chief Toby Aguillard, who addressed the council, to establish a strict standard that citations under the new ordinance would occur only when officers physically witness violations. Aguillard said that is typically the basis for similar traffic violations, but he avoided promising a cut-and-dried standard.
“Most officers would never write a citation without witnessing the crime,” Aguillard said. “But of course, as we all know, video is good stuff these days.”