Today’s Headlines

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

  • Leandra’s Law–the Times reports there were 37,695 convicted of drunken driving in NYC last year. A law that would saddle a group of the highest-risk NY motorists of this size, each year, with the stigma and significant (if not insurmountable) impediment of an interlock device, would be a huge step forward.

    Sure, you can have someone else blow for you, but the bottom line is anyone who sees you have one of these things in your car will think twice about getting in (or letting their kid get in). I suppose the most popular means of circumvention will be to register a car in the name of a family member. If someone has a link to the current text of the legislation (or maybe I’m dreaming, I seem to recall from the congestion pricing debacle that the Assembly does not release legislative text to the public until after a bill is enacted or definitevely defeated), it would be interesting to see if it contains any provisions to prevent that.

  • Car Free Nation

    New rules for curb cuts (yea!) but more off street parking…
    http://www.brownstoner.com/brownstoner/archives/2009/11/city_planning_t_1.php#more

  • Senate Clown Show

    “The problem with the Senate is they’re all a bunch of clowns who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, and don’t have the votes to pass anything; it’s been like this all year,” one Democratic assemblyman said of the Senate Democrats.

    http://www.observer.com/2009/politics/carl-kruger-obstacle

  • jsd

    It’s obvious to me that while Leandra’s Law doesn’t go far enough, it is a great first step. I am assuming the logic behind the law is that a child under the age of 15 is not old enough to make the personal decision to not enter the car. Therefore the person driving is responsible for putting them in far greater danger than they ever had any control over.

    But, using this same logic, shouldn’t felony status be extended to all drunk drivers, regardless of whether or not they have a child under the age of 15 in the car? Other drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians have as much a right to feel safe on the street (or sidewalk) as passengers in the actual car itself. A 13 year old didn’t make the choice to be hit as a passenger in another car, and neither did the 47 year old bicyclist and 63 year old pedestrian. Driving drunk requires a significant enough leap in judgment (everyone knows it is illegal and extremely dangerous), that it should be classified as a felony in all cases. Just like robbery or assault. The driver often makes the decision before even leaving the home that he or she will drive drunk. Or perhaps they make a similar decision before taking that first shot. By the end of the night, they may be personally responsible for the death of another human being.

    I understand this could result in a significant increase in the number of felonies the courts may have to handle, but it may finally result in a legitimate enough deterrent to keep drunk drivers off the road.

  • Josh

    The cover of today’s Daily News has a large picture of (if I’m not mistaken) the girl who was shot by a stray bullet in the Bronx last night. The headline reads “ENOUGH! Here’s the face of latest victim of our city’s gun plague”. Now, I certainly think decreasing gun violence is a worthy cause for the local papers to champion, but wouldn’t it be nice to see similar outrage about pedestrians and cyclists being killed by cars?

  • Senator Kruger is a clown, no question about it. But there are other clowns in the Senate too, namely the Republicans who could form a grand coalition with the Democrats, bypassing Kruger y sus amigos, and actually get something done, but prefer instead to sit on their hands and watch the Democrats get all the blame.

    The Senate Democrats who appear to never even have considered the possibility of reaching out to their Republican colleagues are also clowns. Basically, everyone in that body who puts their own power games above helping the people of the State of New York fits the definition.

  • Josh

    Also, from across the pond, London Underground blogger Annie Mole wrote today about a talk she attended last night given at the London Transit Museum about how expansion of the London Underground drove suburban development (specifically, in the period between 1924 and 1939). Definitely worth a read on the subject of transit-driven (rather than auto-driven) development.

  • Well, jsd, why don’t we extend felony status to using your cell phone to send a text while driving? And for other distracted driving, like taking your eyes off the road to reach for a sandwich you have on the seat next to you? Research has shown that texting while driving puts you at greater risk of having a collision than driving with a BAC of .08.

    Or, even better, since we’re not worried about making our penalties commensurate with the severity of the crime, let’s use an approach that works tremendously well as a deterrent in other countries: If you’re caught with a BAC over .08, we cut off your hands. I’m sure that would significantly lower “drunk driving” too!

    I mean, after all, who cares if we ruin a few lives if we keep those folks who had two glasses of wine at dinner off the road? They deserve it!

  • jsd

    I’m sorry nanterking, I simply have no sympathy for a drunk driver. I have lost more than one friend because of them. All were in the car that was hit.

    You can always put a phone down, or stop looking for a sandwich. You can’t stop being drunk. Consciously deciding to drink and then drive is more than a lapse to send a quick text (which is outrageous in it’s own right). It represents a conscious decision to consume alcohol and operate a multiton vehicle in traffic, with hundreds of innocent drivers, passengers and pedestrians, for an extended period of time with no .

    I see what you are getting at with the slippery slope argument. But give me a break with the “couple of glasses of wine” argument. Call a cab, or walk home.

  • Giffen

    nanterking,

    There is a simple issue that you’re overlooking. Punishment should be proportional not only to the severity of the crime, but also to its avoidability and the certainty with which it can be proven to have occurred.

  • Nanterking,

    I take JSD’s analysis to be directed at the issue of whether the elements of the proposed felony are well-tailored to the harm intended to be prevented or punished, not the issue of whether the punishment is proportional to that harm. A drunk driver with a 12 year old strapped into a seatbelt may well be less likely to harm that 12 year old, as compared to one that is an unbelted passenger in another car, or who is walking or bicycling nearby. If the harm intended to be addressed by the new felony is the harm that drunk drivers do to kids, without question that harm extends outside the confines of the drunk driver’s car. So the question remains, why stop there?

  • Actually, the “couple of glasses of wine” resulting in someone ending up at the threshold of .08 is, in some individuals, not unlikely. That is the problem with “drunk driving” and the levying of the same penalties on all in that category. Those that are right at the threshold are not necessarily putting anyone at greater risk than someone who is driving while only sleeping for 3 hours the night before. Are you going to charge the latter with a felony? There is a tremendous difference between someone driving at a BAC of .20 and one with a .08, but positing that all should be charged with a felony makes no distinction.

    Also, you are failing to recognize that “calling a cab” or “walking home” are not such simple alternatives in the majority of this country. Sure, they work in NYC, but this is a NY state law we’re talking about. While this does not *excuse* driving while intoxicated, if we’re being reasonable, we have to recognize that people go to dinner in suburban/rural environments not intending to become intoxicated, have two or three glasses of wine with dinner, and then drive home. That individual is not placing people at risk commensurate with the individual who goes out and starts taking shots, as jsd implies all who end up being charged are doing.

    I am suggesting that we all express moderation in tackling this problem, instead of rushing to judgment and suggesting that a felony for everyone is appropriate. Felony charges are life-ruining for anyone who wishes to be a contributing member of society. The guy who has resolved himself to sling crack for the rest of the life may be non-plussed by another felony, but someone who is looking to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, or businessperson will have his life ruined by a felony charge imposed after a few glasses of wine with dinner. I don’t want to live in a society where we are willing to turn productive members of society into non-productive ones with no reasonable hope for the future over some indiscretion. I believe in second chances, and unfortunately a felony leaves one with no second chance.

  • Larry Littlefield

    As for taking cars home, I would defend the practice.

    When doing field work with colleagues at City Planning in transit inaccessible locations I would travel to the office, wait for the last person to arrive, travel to get a city car, go through the procedure to sign the city car out, and then travel to the location of the field work. After a few minutes work it was time for lunch. We had to repeat the whole ordeal at the end of the day.

    When doing field work on my own I generally used my own car, to avoid that hassle, and didn’t put in for reimbursement, to avoid THAT hassle, or used transit. I got eight hours of work done in an eight hour day.

  • The scariest aspect of Nanterking’s post is that he is correct that felony /charges/ are sufficient to ruin your life. Your life will be ruined whether or not the state can prove the case; it will be ruined even if they drop the charges. The charge alone is disqualifying.

    Prosecution used to be about noticing that a crime has been broken, and finding who did it. It is increasingly about deciding who to go after, and then finding a law they’ve broken.

  • Red

    http://www.lohud.com/article/20091118/NEWS01/911180328/1018/NEWS02/Three-foot-buffer-for-cyclists-proposed-on-roads

    Two Westchester state legislators say they will introduce a 3-foot passing law in January.

  • Josh

    The 3-foot buffer bill is one of those things that sounds great, but amounts to an empty gesture when you bear in mind that almost all the roads presently in service were designed without taking into account the need for enough space for such a buffer (certainly the point here isn’t to induce head-on collisions with oncoming traffic, a risk that one motorist quoted in the article alluded to), and that it’s not like it’d ever be enforced anyway.

  • “instead of rushing to judgment and suggesting that a felony for everyone is appropriate”

    But are felonies for the drunk mommy microtrend appropriate? jsd is right that singling out particular drunk drivers doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The problem is that when MADD ran out of ideas, they embarked on a successful campaign to lower the BAC threshold so that now, nobody knows what a drunk driver is. It’s easy for us in the city to say that any evidence of drinking is enough; there are plenty of alternatives to driving and we are the pedestrian hazards. We should talk about making this the law—that any drinking and driving is drunk driving in city limits—and eliminate the ambiguity. But outside the city it is still socially acceptable to have one or two drinks and drive, and yet, depending on an number of unpredictable factors, that activity can still land people with a very socially unacceptable DWI. As a result there are all kinds of easy outs for the rich, powerful, or connected. So for example police officers (who know that .08 is crap) don’t subject each other to any BAC limit, and it’s no surprise that they have been disproportionally responsible for drunk driving deaths lately.

    If we were to step back from the dogma and take a look at results, we might be able to get somewhere. Did lowering the BAC threshold to .08 make any difference in the alcohol related fatality rate? I’m under the impression that it hasn’t, that the rate has been relatively flat for some time, and if that’s the case then there is no justification for this random criminalization of socially acceptable behavior. MADD would like to chase that BAC threshold down to .00 and move on to prohibition, but personally I’m only interested in not being hit by dangerous drivers (of any kind). Their advocacy is no longer helpful.

    If we had new equipment to indicate intoxication that was actually reliable—which the err-on-the-side-of-guilt status quo gives no one any incentive to develop—we could establish truly deterrent penalties without worrying about the false positives. And in the mean time, we could use the current shoddy equipment with scientifically rather than politically determined thresholds for intoxication. I would suggest an automatic one-year license suspension, for, let’s say a threshold of .12. (Drunk driving is not so much felonious as it’s an indicator that you can’t be trusted to operate a vehicle.) And driving without a license would mean the state takes the car, whosever it is. The law would be subject to automatic reversal if it did not reduce the alcohol related fatality rate within a year.

    We should be judging by results, not by tabloid-news-fueled rage over drunk mommies.