It was a year ago today that the City Council transportation committee, led by James Vacca and Peter Vallone Jr., convened a hearing on pedestrian and cyclist safety and the failure of NYPD to properly investigate traffic crashes.
“Driving in our city is a privilege, not a right,” said Vacca, to a room packed with victims of vehicular violence and their loved ones, safe streets advocates, and media. Of dangerous drivers, Vacca said: “I want to know what the police department is doing to track down these scofflaws. We have to bring these people to their senses. We don’t accept gun violence as a way to die. We shouldn’t accept traffic deaths as a way to die either.”
Vacca and Vallone listened sympathetically to hours of testimony from those whose lives were forever altered by traffic crashes, and whose misery was often compounded by an inept and indifferent NYPD. Council members learned that the department has just 19 officers assigned to its Accident Investigation Squad, and that no one else on the force has the authority to charge a motorist with careless driving, much less a serious crime, unless the officer witnesses a violation.
“There will be laws arising out of this,” said Vallone, who grilled NYPD brass alongside Jessica Lappin, Gale Brewer, Dan Garodnick, Steve Levin, Letitia James, Brad Lander, Dan Halloran, and Vincent Ignizio.
Five months later, council members introduced the Crash Investigation Reform Act. Among its provisions was the formation of a multi-agency task force charged with reforming NYPD crash investigation protocols, which allow thousands of serious injuries to go uninvestigated every year, in violation of state law.
Since last July, the Crash Investigation Reform Act has gone nowhere. Vallone has pretty much been a no-show on matters of street safety, while Vacca spent the rest of the year targeting delivery cyclists and working to make it easier for motorists to park.
Speaker Christine Quinn, whose imprimatur is essential to moving legislation through the council, has not taken a position on NYPD crash investigation reforms.
Meanwhile, 15,465 city pedestrians and cyclists were injured in 2012, and 155 were killed, according to NYPD. About 1 percent of those crashes were investigated by police.
“Over the last year, over 280 New Yorkers died in traffic,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, in a statement issued today. “How many of those deaths could have been averted if only the NYPD had listened to the voices pleading for reform? If the tear-stricken faces of victims’ families failed to move them, if the outraged questions of council members failed to move them, will that tragic number perhaps finally move Ray Kelly’s police department to make the commonsense reforms necessary to bring the ongoing plague of lethal and lawless driving under control?”
We’ll have more on the one-year anniversary of the City Council traffic safety hearing in upcoming posts.