TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


Question 142: How far may a taxi driver go in cooperating with patrons’ immoralities?

Six months ago I lost the only job I ever had—doing precision grinding in a shop that made machine tools. The company folded, and no other outfit had an opening. We had savings, and I bought into a contract deal with Suburban Taxi and invested in a cab. They provide the license and dispatching service for a monthly fee plus one dollar per dispatch. Everything else I take in over expenses is mine, and I can work whatever hours I want. The first two months I did not make as much as I had been getting in unemployment compensation, and I thought I had made a disastrous mistake. Driving seven days a week and averaging ten hours a day, I also miss the time my wife and I used to have together on weekends. But now I am catching on to the business. I think I can make a go of it and might even be able to make a fairly decent living.

In this business, I meet all kinds of people and see the seamier side of life, and a few things are bothering my conscience.

Sometimes people want to use the cab as a place to do something immoral. They give me a destination or just tell me to drive around a quiet neighborhood, and along the way I realize they are taking drugs or having sex. They may ask me to take them to a quiet place and park for a while, so that they can do what they want. Youngsters especially ask for that, and, having kids of my own, I hate to do it.

Sometimes a man wants me to cruise around until he spots someone to try to pick up or buy drugs from. One guy even wanted me to help him find someone to mug and offered to share the take. (I refused and told him to get out!)

A lot of my best business comes from several large hotels where conventions are held and people stay when they are in town on business. The best deal is a run into downtown. From there I always can go to the airport and get a fare back to my suburban base. And, even with the wait in line at the airport, the round trip really pays. In the evening, a fare often wants to head downtown for sex or drugs. Of course, if they give me any definite destination in the county, the law requires me to take them to it. I could lose my license if I refused, so I don’t have much choice. But sometimes they tell me what they are after and want me to take them where they are likely to find it, or even to suggest a place, such as a “good” strip club.

I am learning fast. Some drivers get something for delivering business to the strip clubs, massage parlors, drug dealers, and so forth. I am not about to make any deals like that. But to support my family I do need all the income I can get. To tell the truth, I want to go just as far as I can. But I am afraid I have been going too far, and that is why my conscience is bothering me.


This question concerns cooperation in wrongdoing and the responsibilities to admonish, bear witness, and report crimes. The questioner has refused to cooperate formally in wrongdoing, and his problems mainly concern material cooperation. He may comply with the law and take passengers to definite destinations, even if they tell him that they plan to do something immoral there. But under suitable conditions he should admonish and try to divert passengers who reveal immoral intentions. Providing information about how to carry out an immoral intention might remain material cooperation; but, applying the usual criteria, such cooperation, in my judgment, almost always would be morally unacceptable. The same must be said of cruising about or finding a suitable place to park so that passengers can engage in specified immoral activities. Civic responsibility, limited by reasonable self-concern, requires reporting crimes and trying to prevent them. The questioner also should admonish minors who behave immorally in his cab, especially if they are sure to realize that he is aware of what they are doing.

The reply could be along the following lines:

Usually, when people ask how far they can go without sinning, I respond by criticizing their legalism and urging them to commit themselves to more generous service and the pursuit of holiness. But you have good reason for wanting to know precisely where your moral obligations lie—you must support your family and already are working hard to fulfill that responsibility. Under the circumstances, the fact that your conscience is bothering you is a sign of appropriate moral sensitivity. So: Precisely how far may a taxi driver go in these matters?

To a great extent, your problem is one of cooperation. Cooperation in wrongdoing that involves sharing the wrongdoer’s bad will is always wrong. Any taxi driver who makes a deal, such as you rightly reject, with a purveyor of vice—for example, a strip club operator or drug dealer—to deliver prospective patrons must intend that they and the proprietors of the establishments do business. By intending that, a driver endorses the evil intentions of both parties to those transactions and thus wrongly cooperates with them. Similarly, you could not have helped the mugger find a victim in exchange for a share in the take without also sharing the mugger’s bad intention. That would have been not only immoral cooperation but a criminal act of your own, and so you rightly refused.

It seems to me you should report to the public authorities the information that commissions are being paid to taxi drivers for delivering business to certain unlawful enterprises. While your report may well be ignored, it might help the authorities deal with those unlawful activities or encourage them to undertake such an effort. Reporting the intending mugger to the police probably would have been pointless. But in refusing his proposal, you also should have explained why you would not do such a thing and urged him to repent. That admonition might have been fruitless too, but very likely you had nothing to lose by it, and, reinforced with a prayer, it might have borne fruit.

The law requiring you to take passengers to any destination they specify within the county presumably is just, and only serious reasons would justify refusing to comply. In abiding by it and so taking passengers wherever they wish to go, you need only share their intention to reach their destination. If a passenger tells you he or she wishes to reach a certain destination in order to commit some sin there, you need not intend the sinning as an end and you can choose to transport the passenger as a means to earning the fare, while only accepting the fact that it facilitates the sin. People who do not state their plans perhaps intend nothing wrong in going to a destination, no matter what it is. For example, a woman going to an abortion clinic could be planning to intercept and dissuade people from having abortions there.

Still, even in taking people to definite destinations in compliance with the law, you may be tempted to approve of their immoral desires. Needing all the income you can get, when business is slow you might wish that a group of people attending a convention would decide to go to town for sinful purposes. Deliberately entertaining that wish would involve willing their immorality. You must guard your thoughts so as to avoid sinful wishes—which also would be profitless, since your wishing does not affect others’ choices.

Moreover, even when people ask to be taken to a definite destination, if you have good reason to think their plans are immoral, and especially if they tell you of their immoral plans, you should try to divert them or urge them to change their minds. For instance, if someone wishes to be taken “for a night on the town” to a district where immoral entertainment and prostitutes are available, you might point out that the neighborhood is crime ridden and the prostitutes may well be diseased, and suggest other, morally acceptable entertainment as a better alternative.

In making such efforts, of course, you may not tell lies, and your duty to admonish passengers is not absolute. You need say nothing unless you think speaking up might be effective, and you can proceed in ways unlikely to deprive you of needed income. For example, rather than admonishing a passenger before you arrive at a destination and receive the fare and a tip, you might carry cards with brief, carefully prepared exhortations suitable for various situations, and give them to passengers after settling with them. For instance, for women going to an abortion clinic:

Is abortion a necessary evil?
It is bad. An abortion wipes out a tiny baby.
But it is never necessary.
Birthright helps a woman make a better choice!
Call: [telephone number].

If someone who wants to do something immoral does not tell you to go to a definite destination but asks you to select or suggest a place, he or she is seeking your help, not only as a taxi driver, but also as a possible source of information about opportunities to fulfill illicit desires. Though you could supply such information without intending the wrongdoing, the cooperation almost always would be wrong due to its bad consequences. You might be tempted to encourage the person to go where you suggest, and you hardly would be in a position to bear witness or try to deter him or her. Therefore, it seems to me, in such cases you almost always should refuse to cooperate, ask passengers to state a definite destination, and, if necessary, take them back to where you picked them up. Of course, if someone forced you to provide information about where to satisfy illicit desires—for example, by threatening you with a gun—you could do so not only without intending that they satisfy them but without wrongly accepting bad consequences. But it seems to me you may not provide such information under ordinary conditions, even if you cannot otherwise make adequate income as a taxi driver.

My judgment is the same with respect to requests to cruise about or identify a suitable place to park for specified immoral purposes. However, if someone wishes to cruise in a particular neighborhood without specifying any immoral purpose, you may comply and need not ask about his or her intentions. I suggest you have in mind various places unsuitable for sexual activity and/or drug abuse but suitable for a quiet conversation or a pleasant stroll. Then, if someone tells you to go to a quiet place and park without specifying an immoral purpose, you can drive to or suggest one of those places.

Your problem is more complex when someone simply directs you to a particular quiet place and asks you to park, or without asking permission takes advantage of your cab’s comparative privacy to engage in morally illicit behavior. Generally, I believe, you should respect passengers’ privacy and ignore what they do and say to one another in your cab. But if you notice people engaging in what you believe to be criminal activity in your cab, you have a civic responsibility, limited by reasonable concern about your own safety, to try to prevent the crime. If you think reporting the incident to the public authorities might help, you ought to do that.

Moreover, if you notice minors engaging in seriously immoral behavior, such as sex play, in your cab, tell them you have children of your own and admonish them. If they do not desist, do what you can, consistent with your legal responsibilities, to cut short their ride. This obligation will be the greater if the misbehaving young people are sure to realize that you are aware of what they are doing, for then your toleration will seem to condone their wrongdoing. Even in the case of adults, if silence would seem to condone the wrongdoing, it would be appropriate for you to express disapproval.

The moral problems might tempt you to stop trying to make a living by driving a cab. This service, however, usually meets a real and legitimate public need. I doubt that observing moral limits will prevent you from doing well in the business, particularly if you keep your cab clean and comfortable, and provide dependable and courteous service to regular customers.

Carried out in a Christian way, taxi driving offers many opportunities for witness and spiritual growth. Many drivers display personal items; you might get an icon or crucifix whose artistic quality would appeal even to nonbelievers and mount it on your dashboard where passengers will see it. When people ask questions or talk about it, or otherwise provide suitable opportunities, you can tell them about your faith. During your long hours of work and many periods of waiting for a fare, you have a good deal of time to use as you see fit. I am sure you will use some of it in thinking about family problems and making plans. I suggest some be used for spiritual reading and regular prayer, not least for your passengers: that at the end of their lives all will safely reach the right destination.