NYPD Charges 0.7 Percent of Drivers Who Injure and Kill With Careless Driving

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

Three years after Albany established the offense of careless driving, NYPD continues to apply the law in only a tiny fraction of crashes that result in the death or injury of pedestrians and cyclists.

There were 152 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the city in 2012, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and 14,327 injuries. Of those 14,479 crashes, DMV data show NYPD cited 101 motorists for careless driving. That’s a citation rate of less than 1 percent.

It’s also the most careless driving citations issued by NYPD in a single year since Hayley and Diego’s Law took effect in 2010, when police wrote 99 summonses. In 2011, the first full year NYPD had the new law as part of its traffic enforcement toolkit, it was applied just 87 times.

The careless driving statute, part of Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1146, is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, toddlers who were killed in 2009 when a van, left unattended and idling, rolled onto a sidewalk in Chinatown. The driver was not charged by NYPD, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, or his successor Cy Vance.

Careless driving was intended as a minimum penalty to hold drivers who injure and kill accountable, in lieu of a more serious criminal charge. Under the law, drivers who injure pedestrians or cyclists while failing to exercise due care are subject to mandatory drivers’ ed, and could be sentenced to fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months.

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

In February 2012, 16 months after the law went into effect, NYPD revealed that the department prohibits precinct cops from issuing careless driving citations unless an officer witnesses a violation, or the crash is investigated by the Accident Investigation Squad (now known as the Collision Investigation Squad). Since CIS investigates a relative handful of crashes a year — around 300 cases annually for some 14,000 injury and fatal crashes — in effect NYPD does not enforce against careless driving. NYPD said the protocol was adopted after summonses were dismissed in court because officers weren’t witnessing violations, but department brass didn’t say how many cases were thrown out.

Data on NYPD careless driving citations was obtained from the DMV after a freedom of information request from Transportation Alternatives. “The promise of the law was that the driver who, while driving carelessly, killed or injured a pedestrian or bicyclist wouldn’t be able to leave without any consequences,” says TA general counsel Juan Martinez. “Right now, if you injure somebody, unless you critically injure them, there’s no consequence. That’s not what legislators had in mind when they passed the law.”

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

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Dan Squadron, the original bill’s primary sponsors, have tried for two years to amend the law and close the purported “loophole.” We have asked Kavanagh’s office whether he plans to try again in the next legislative session. We’ll update here when we hear back.

  • Kevin Love

    So if my daughter is sexually assaulted and violently murdered, but a NYPD officer does not witness it, there is no crime?

    Or is a car driver killing one of us peasants like a lynch mob killing a black man in the Jim Crow era. In theory illegal, but the local police will create any excuse they can to do nothing.

  • Brad Aaron

    It’s implied in the story, but: That NYPD waited 16 months to tell anyone they “couldn’t” enforce the law, and then did so only when prompted, speaks to their interest in putting it to use.

  • Anonymous

    It all stems from the NYPD presumption–not written anywhere but deeply ingrained in the mindset and customs of NYPD officers–that any violence done with a motor vehicle (absent intoxication or hit-and-run) is an accident, not a crime, and therefore subject to special rules such as the requirement that a non-CIS officer must actually witness the conduct in order to issue a summons.

  • Anonymous

    Replacing the headline’s “0.7 Percent” with “fewer than 1 percent” might help the numerically challenged among us more easily grasp the bottom line of this important post.

  • Brad Aaron

    That was in the original headline. It was too long.

  • Anonymous

    It sort of is written somewhere:

    “Under [New York State] law, when drivers haven’t been drinking, prosecutors must first find “recklessness” when applying the most serious criminal charges.
    That means the driver was aware of the risk of his or her behavior but disregarded it anyway — a state of mind that is often difficult to prove in court.”

    http://nypost.com/2013/03/25/drivers-who-hit-peopl

    It essentially allows anything called an “accident” to be treated as non-criminal.

  • Ian Turner

    Your link is broken.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Another headline edit suggestion: it’s more awkward sounding, but “NYPD Charges With Careless Driving 0.7 Percent of Drivers Who Injure and Kill” would be accurate while the current headline is not. Not trying to be a trifling grammarian; the current headline is actually incorrect and misleading: (I can explain, IF you want.) One other (but longer) alternative could be “NYPD Brings Careless Driving Charges against 0.7 Percent of Drivers Who Injure and Kill.”

  • Kevin Love

    One small correction. Not any violence done with a motor vehicle is ignored, just violent acts committed against us lowly peasants.

    What happens to motor vehicle operators who cause even minor injuries to an NYPD officer? They get charged with things like attempted murder and aggravated vehicular assault.

    See:
    http://nypost.com/2012/08/22/driver-held-in-cop-hit/

    Just remember, there’s one law for us and a totally different law for them. The law that applies to us inferior peasants says that our lives are worthless and car drivers can kill us with no consequences.

    The law that applies to them is that violent and dangerous car drivers that endanger NYPD officers get arrested and charged with serious offences, even if the NYPD officer only suffers minor injuries.

  • Anonymous

    We need to change the law to take NYPD out of the equation: every fatality or injury should trigger a careless driving citation and the burden should be on the driver to prove otherwise to the DA , not to the cops…
    Enough with this non sense….

  • clepsydre

    “Right now, if you injure somebody, unless you critically injure them, there’s no consequence,” There’s also no consequence if you kill them, as in the case of Mathieu Lefevre.

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