During last year’s campaign for Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance came out with a broad traffic safety platform, promising to beef up investigations into deaths caused by drivers. Many of those commitments turned into official policy today, as Vance announced a significant expansion of the DA’s vehicular crimes unit. Vance also pledged to support state and local legislation to help reduce the threat of dangerous driving on New York City streets.
Vance took over the Manhattan DA post this year from Robert Morgenthau, whose legend never extended to the realm of traffic safety. Today’s announcement appears to signal a distinct break from the practice of vehicular crimes prosecution in the Morgenthau era, when drivers seldom faced consequences for deadly negligence and recklessness on crowded city streets.
Vance’s office will now provide specific training in vehicular crimes to 24 assistant DAs, four times the number of attorneys who had previously specialized in that field. In addition to traffic fatalities, the unit will focus on traffic assaults and reckless driving. The unit will also work more closely with the NYPD "to investigate, prosecute and prevent vehicular crimes," according to Vance’s office.
"Vehicular injuries and deaths remain a serious problem in Manhattan," Vance said in a statement. "In 2009, Manhattan had 55 vehicular deaths, including those that did not involve criminal liability, tens of thousands of incidents with injuries, and hundreds of DWI arrests. Today’s announcement reflects the office’s commitment to vehicular crime prevention."
As part of his street safety push, Vance pledged to advocate for a legislative agenda, including a bill currently pending in Albany to establish speed cameras in New York City. A spokesperson for Vance’s office said he also supports Hayley and Diego’s law, a bill intended to make it easier to prosecute drivers who injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists.
One of the reasons today’s announcement is so significant is that the Manhattan DA’s office commands attention from the press, the public, and other prosecutors. Vance indicated that he wants his office to take the lead on traffic safety: The Manhattan DA will host a training summit this fall
for law enforcement officials from across New York state.
Some of the measures in Vance’s announcement first surfaced at a traffic justice forum hosted by Transportation Alternatives and street safety advocates last spring. TA praised today’s policy announcement. "We congratulate District Attorney Vance and his staff for taking on
this crisis with such energy and putting so many resources behind the
effort to make streets safer," said TA director Paul Steely White.