No More Excuses: Albany Bill Tells NYPD How to Enforce Careless Driving

Graphic by Carly Clark

At the February City Council hearing on NYPD traffic enforcement, council members and the public learned that a driver who injures a pedestrian or cyclist in New York City is not normally cited under the state vulnerable user laws unless an officer witnesses the violation. NYPD officials said department protocol prohibits precinct officers from issuing tickets under VTL 1146, the state statute that includes Hayley and Diego’s Law as well as Elle’s Law, because the citations are prone to being dismissed in court.

Legislation pending in Albany would amend Hayley and Diego’s Law by making clear that officers may issue tickets for careless driving whether or not they observe an infraction. Meanwhile, thousands of pedestrians and cyclists are injured in traffic every year with barely any repercussions for motorists. Though the department’s prohibition on careless driving citations does not apply to the Accident Investigation Squad — the 19-officer unit assigned to conduct full-scale investigations in instances where someone dies or is believed likely to die — NYPD rarely employs VTL 1146 to assign responsibility to drivers who injure and kill.

In 2011, the first full year after Hayley and Diego’s Law went into effect, 161 pedestrians and cyclists were killed on New York streets. NYPD issued just 84 citations for careless driving last year, according to preliminary data obtained by Transportation Alternatives from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. That number represents a drop from 2010, when officers issued 98 citations under VTL 1146.

“It is appalling that the number of 1146’s would go down after the passage of the Hayley and Diego amendments to it,” says attorney Steve Vaccaro. “Hayley and Diego’s Law was a clear indication that the legislature wanted enforcement against drivers who injure carelessly. The flat trend in 1146 citations means NYPD doesn’t care. It is also a reflection of the fact that staffing of the officers who write the bulk of the 1146’s — the AIS detectives — is far too low.”

In March, City Council Member Steve Levin announced a number of measures intended to reform the way NYPD handles traffic crashes, one of which was a bill to require that at least five officers per precinct be trained to conduct AIS-scale investigations. That bill has since been reduced to resolution status, as has another that would have mandated that NYPD investigative protocols conform to state law.

Graphic by Carly Clark

The gap between 1146 citations and pedestrian and cyclist injuries is enormous. In 2010, the latest year for which injury data are available, 13,892 pedestrians and cyclists were hurt in collisions with drivers — a large enough number that the 98 VTL 1146 tickets issued that year hardly merit consideration. Says Vaccaro: “The number of 1146 citations represent a fraction of one percent of the universe of cases in which the statute might apply — crashes involving a motor vehicle and a vulnerable street user in which the driver’s failure to use due care was a contributing factor.”

Juan Martinez, general counsel for Transportation Alternatives, describes a scenario that plays out across the city on a daily basis: “A cop gets to the scene of a crash. There are witnesses who want to tell their stories, to see justice. The cop wants to do justice. A lot of times there isn’t a lot of mystery — the wheels are over the pedestrian. But their hands are tied by the policy.”

Martinez says the prohibition against beat cops writing careless driving citations is contradicted by an opinion from the state attorney general, as well as case law.

“Because of this NYPD policy the law has been rendered impotent,” Martinez says. “The benefits to safety, which the sponsors and supporters of the law expected, we haven’t seen the effects on the streets.”

The amendment to Hayley and Diego’s Law is sponsored by Senator Dan Squadron and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. To date, they are the only sponsors in their respective houses. Still, in a statement to Streetsblog, Squadron expressed hope that the bill will clear the legislature.

“Our bill to strengthen Hayley and Diego’s Law was one of the 311 bills that the Senate Republican leadership attempted to shelve by sending it to the locked vault of the Rules Committee,” said Squadron. “But there’s still over a month left in this legislative session — and we’re continuing to push to provide law enforcement with the necessary tools to effectively crack down on careless driving.”

  • even if the cops wrote a ticket based on a witness statement it will be easy to get it thrown out of court. the witness would have to show up and recite the exact same story

  • Joe R.

    The best witness is the vehicle’s black box. Unlike human witnesses, it’s not subject to bias. All motorists should be held to the same standard that commercial drivers are held to-namely if there’s a collision, the black box data is automatically downloaded and checked to see if any laws were violated. Checking if the driver was speeding is trivial. You can even check if the driver ignored traffic signals by comparing the vehicle’s GPS data with the city’s computerized traffic light data (which presumably has the exact times each traffic signal would have been red).

  • Ben Kintisch

    Thank you Senator Squadron and Assembly Member Kavanagh. It’s about time our elected officials stand up for those injured and killed by careless motorists. Mayor Bloomberg, can you please stand up, too?

  • Eric McClure

    @facebook-1494180198:disqus , I know if I saw someone run down as a result of a driver’s negligence, I’d be more than happy to suffer the inconvenience of testifying to that effect.  And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that.

  • Mb

    I was hit by a truck on Canal street in September,  18 foot flat bed, I thought I was dying as he dragged me. It was hit and run. Anyway, the cops were total jerks when they came to the scene. I was crying and really shocked, nothing was hurting, I could stand. 15 minutes later my back started to hurt and one of the cop told me that it was BS, he had been playing football all his life , it hurts when you fall, not afterwards, I was being fishy for insurances……..
    I filed a complain to the precinct in Chinatown, met an inspector to complain about the cop…….He told me that I should be happy to be alive and that there was no camera on at 11.15 am on Canal street, week day!!!!!!!!!!!!!I had back surgery in January, with implants, plates and screws put in my spine, they are a bunch of A….., I am so upset.
    And my bike is dead.

  • Steve Li

    A camera for the bike is important. However, the NYPD are not willing to handle the complaint and incidence recorded in the camera. They said that they will ONLY handle cases if there is a crash or accident. They are not going to prevent accidents.

  • Nathanael

    The problem is not the laws; the problem is the sick, abusive culture of the NYPD under Ray Kelly.  This is the department which believes its jobs is to lock whistleblowers in mental institutions (look it up), fill quotas for ticketing and arresting innocent people (look it up), harass and assault peaceful protestors (look it up), steal and break cameras held by people witnessing police-committed crime (look it up)… and as for actual crime?  NYPD COMMITS crimes, so why would they ever investigate other criminals?  Those are their colleagues!

     I only exaggerate slightly.  The problem is not the law.  The problem is Ray Kelly.  When he is hauled off in chains and sent to maximum security prison at hard labor for the rest of his life, then maybe it will be possible to start cleaning up the NYPD and returning them to “protect and serve”.

  • Nathanael

    Remember, this is the police department which was caught driving cars down the pedestrian/bike paths on bridges.  They aren’t going to do their job.  Until Ray Kelly is removed, the only hope is other police departments or citizen militias arresting and prosecuting the criminals with badges, and I don’t hold out much hope for that.

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