Bill to Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists Will Resurface in Albany

VUannouncement.JPGAssembly Member Brian Kavanagh, speaking, with Daniel Squadron and Scott Stringer at last year’s rally for Hayley and Diego’s Law. To Squadron’s right are Wendy Cheung, Hayley Ng’s aunt, and Jon Adler, representative for the families of Ng and Diego Martinez.

With the state legislative session underway, Albany will soon turn its attention to business that lawmakers never got the chance to address last year. One bill to keep an eye on would give police and prosecutors a new tool to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

After two preschoolers were killed in Chinatown last January by a van driver who left his vehicle idling and unattended, lawmakers and advocates drafted "Hayley and Diego’s Law." The bill is what’s known as a "vulnerable user law." It would create a new offense called careless driving, which would carry penalties of up to $750 in fines and 15 days in jail for drivers who hit and injure vulnerable street users — including all pedestrians and cyclists.  

The basic purpose of the bill is to
create an intermediate offense appropriate for situations in which
prosecutors cannot, or will not, bring criminally negligent homicide or
vehicular manslaughter charges. Law enforcement will still need to be
pressed to prosecute cases of careless driving, as well as to bring
stronger existing criminal charges when warranted. Says Peter Goldwasser of Transportation Alternatives,
"Part of our job as advocates will be to make sure that law enforcement
knows there are new laws on the books." Passing this law will go a long
way toward making it easier for police and prosecutors to pursue
justice for victims of traffic violence.

Goldwasser expects slight revisions to be complete in the next few weeks. After that, the timeline is less clear. "Traditionally in Albany, everything happens at the very last minute," Goldwasser noted, although, he added, "we know that Senator Squadron and Assembly Member Kavanagh are rearing to go." Goldwasser expects support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Vulnerable user laws have been passed in Oregon and Illinois. Jonathan Maus, editor-in-chief of BikePortland, says the success of his state’s law isn’t so much the additional prosecutions — until judges and police grow more comfortable with the law, the numbers will remain small — but rather the cultural effect. "The biggest thing is that it codifies a new definition for people who aren’t in cars," he says. "It’s given the whole process a way to look at people on the road." The Portland police department’s new policy of investigating all crashes in which a vulnerable user needs an ambulance would never have been implemented without the law, he said, even though it wasn’t required by the new legislation.

  • Case Study #1: Dennis Blum, yesterday’s sun-blinded Queens driver.

  • The Dynamic Mumeshantz

    I’d also love to see the City Council or State push thru a bill that states that ANY crime committed while driving with a suspended license is not able to be dismissed or plea bargained. EVER. Whatever you do you must pay the fine and do the time. No mitigating circumstances, no dropping charges. After all – if you can prove a license was suspended it should be case closed. My mouth is always wide open when I read that a suspended license case is dismissed for one reason or another.

  • Would this bill do anything to change the “Rule of Two” (the rather silly precedent that drivers don’t get charged for violating a law; rather they have to violate two laws simultaneously)?

  • Mumeschantz, so every automobile crime trial should be decided by a jury? No guarantee of avoiding the windshield perspective there.

    David, did you read the interview with Maureen McCormick? She explains everything about the so-called rule of two.

  • Ian Turner

    Dynamic, there is no reason to take away the freedom of the DA to allocate resources where they are properly needed. Handcuffing the DA’s office in this way will only result in more excuses, delays, and denials. Better to keep the DA’s feet to the fire at the polls.

    David, I’m convinced that the “rule of two” is just a ruse. In 2009 there were lots of examples where two or more violations were committed concurrently, which met with the same apathy as any other case of automotive violence.

    Cheers,

    –Ian

  • Jonathan, thanks for reminding me of the Maureen McCormick interview: sounds like she is in favor of scrapping the whole rule of two thing. Unfortch, other DA offices probably don’t share her priorities.

    Ian, it is a ruse, and a dumb one. As McCormick points out, someone going 20 mph over the speed limit probably wouldn’t see the stopsign anyway…

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