After Hearing, Vallone and Vacca Support Strengthening Careless Driving Law

This morning’s City Council hearing on traffic crash investigations is already having an impact. Public Safety Committee Chair Peter Vallone, Jr. and Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca announced today that they will introduce a resolution in support of Albany legislation to make it clear that the police can enforce the state’s careless driving law.

Right now, the NYPD isn’t enforcing that law, which was named after toddlers Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, killed in a 2009 crash in which a delivery van left unattended and in gear jumped a Chinatown curb.

Under current police protocol, only the citywide Accident Investigation Squad, a special unit called when someone is killed in a traffic crash or likely to die, employs Hayley and Diego’s Law. At today’s hearing, the NYPD said that the department has instructed regular cops not to issue tickets under Hayley and Diego’s Law after judges threw out arrests where the officer didn’t witness the violation directly.

The state legislation, sponsored by State Senator Dan Squadron and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, would make it explicit that police officers can issue tickets for careless driving without directly witnessing the violation.

“We believe that providing law enforcement with this additional tool is one of the surest ways to hold careless drivers accountable for their dangerous behavior,” said Squadron and Kavanagh in a statement given to the Council today. “This new legislation will make our original law more effective by ensuring that officers will issue a violation when careless driving warrants one.”

The Squadron/Kavanagh bill, which was only introduced last week, doesn’t yet have any co-sponsors in Albany. If the City Council passes a forceful resolution in support of the legislation, however, that could prove a good kickstart to the bill.

We’ll have more on today’s hearing later today.

  • Anonymous

    You know, I did tell y’all I had a bad feeling about Hayley and Diego’s law:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/02/04/da-vance-explains-decisions-to-file-charges-or-not-in-traffic-crime-cases/#comment-173306661

    I just sent an email to several of the Council Members who were at today’s hearing urging them to pass a City Council resolution calling on Albany to pass Kavanagh and Squadron’s new bill, inspired by the end of Noah’s penultimate paragraph above.  Please do the same.

  • Anonymous

    @ddartley:disqus  And another:  http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/08/16/paterson-signs-two-traffic-justice-bills-into-law/#comment-173295267

  • Hey wait a minute, I’m down to hold drivers responsible, but issuing traffic tickets without seeing them do anything wrong seems like a bad idea. If they’ve committed a provable crime, charge them with it! When it comes to tickets, the police officer has to see it, otherwise this law could all too easily result in a large expansion of police powers, already at the highest level in recent memory.

  • @facebook-712642248:disqus Well, there are more ways to show evidence that a crime was committed than eyewitness testimony from a police officer. I mean, if a bank is robbed and there were no police present, are the authorities powerless to charge or prosecute the perpetrators? Of course not.

    The law might be flawed but the policy is flawed too. The “lack of probable cause” excuse is laughable – putting aside the myriad instances where police issue citations or make arrests without anything remotely resembling probable cause (a violation of civil rights), the  police often use the flimsiest evidence to demonstrate probable cause for a citation or arrest. Circumstantial evidence or bystander testimony is often enough. 

    Note that we’re not talking about convictions here… just citations! Ultimately a trial – or in the case of violations, a judge – ought to settle whether or not the facts successfully support the charges. Does that happen often when it comes to non-fatal incidents of driver misbehavior? I have a difficult time believing that it’s news to the council that drivers fight all tickets VERY HARD and that the police and the  district attorneys in the 5 boroughs are ill-equipped to invest significant resources into VAT transgressions. (Even DUI and speeding citations are often challenged vigorously and successfully, regardless of the certainty of the situation or the accuracy of the evidence collected. A sliver of doubt is a mountain for any prosecutor to climb.) 

    What’s most irritating here is that this constant shortage of resources has now morphed itself into a galling NYPD policy: “Don’t bother going after anything that might waste our time.” That is a violation of state and federal law and undermines the entire criminal justice system – both the effective and ineffective parts. EVERYONE in charge knows this. It’s only a matter of time before the shit hits the fan. So many politicians and their appointees across the legal system have successfully ducked out of the way after keeping the shit flying with cowardly policies and shady practices. 

    Maybe it would be unfair to expect the current NYPD brass to take all the hits for a long progression of sins from all over the place; this is one facet of a complex history of institutional rot and decay across decades, spreading to Albany and Washington. (How is the DA’s office guilty of intentionally producing poor work if the state court system’s budget is a river run dry? How is the NYPD guilty of under-enforcement if the public doesn’t react much to under-staffing proposals?) But this has to stop sometime, and it’s clear that in their moment in the spotlight, NYPD command is desperate to avoid a reckoning – backed into a corner, hiding behind flimsy excuses and poor work, hardly convincing anyone who’s paying attention that they’re the world class police force that they need to be. If we want to reform the NYPD, these lame attitudes need to be the first thing to change. 

  • Joe R.

    @facebook-712642248:disqus The law in question only applies if a person is injured or killed. I would rather have police focus on cases where motorists actually kill or injure people instead of giving seat belt tickets or other nonsense.  Too bad the law doesn’t require someone who is proven to cause a serious injury or death to lose their license permanently. I personally couldn’t care less if the driver goes to jail. In fact, it could be argued that jail makes little sense because in most cases these people aren’t dangerous except behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. However, I do want someone who kills or seriously injures someone through negligence to never again drive a motor vehicle for the remainder of their natural life (and screw the excuses usually used for giving them back their license, such as “I need it to get to work”).

  • KillMoto

    I agree with Daniel.  If I shoot someone in the face and they die, I should not be held accountable unless a police officer actually saw it. 

  • Voter

    I think Vacca’s statements are commendable and should, for now, be taken seriously.  But he should know that people are watching and will hold him to his word.

    Vacca is nothing if not camera savvy.  During his opening statements at the hearing on bicycles over a year ago he gave a very nice soundbite about bikes and pedestrian safety, but then went on to give the floor to Norman Steisel, two women from NBBL and Marty Markowitz and his song-and-dance routine, leaving little time for public testimony. 

    In the months that followed he was involved with much behind-the-scenes maneuvering to thwart bike lanes in the city that this blog and he ended last year with an anti-bicycle press blitz, promising bike-focused legislation in 2012.

    So, yes, he deserves a sincere thanks for co-chairing this hearing today and for his tough questions.  But let’s see what kind of legislation he and his committee turn their focus to once the heat from this hearing has died down.  Will it be more parking bills or will it be real legislation that has the power to save lives?  Only time will tell.

  • Eric McClure

    If there’s any doubt about the cause of a crash that results in injury or death, the vehicle should be impounded and the information contained in its Event Data Recorder, better known as the “black box,” downloaded.

    A Pennsylvania court just admitted black box evidence in a fatal highway crash that revealed the possibly drunk driver was doing almost 90 mph.

    Creating legislation in New York that would allow police to impound a vehicle and retrieve the EDR data would obviate the need for patrol officers to have to observe illegal driving.

  • Brent

    It might be useful to shift the burden of proof of fault in civil lawsuits; in other words, require drivers to prove their “innocence” in crashes with vulnerable users. Better driving behavior should be at least one result of such a provision.

  • Brent

    It might be useful to shift the burden of proof of fault in civil lawsuits; in other words, require drivers to prove their “innocence” in crashes with vulnerable users. Better driving behavior should be at least one result of such a provision.

  •  The careless driving law it’s very important because careless drivers are responsible for many car accidents. Even if this violation can’t be compared to others like impaired driving or speeding, people could die because you as a driver are not focus on the road but on your phone or something else.

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