New Penalties for Reckless Drivers Now In Effect, But NYPD Isn’t Ready

In May, the City Council passed a package of legislation to crack down on traffic violence. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bills. Today, one of the most important bills in that package goes into effect: Intro 238, also known as Section 19-190, creates a new criminal misdemeanor charge for reckless drivers. But NYPD’s legal department has yet to create an enforcement directive for officers and investigators on the street.

The driver who killed Jean Chambers would have faced criminal charges, not just a traffic ticket, under a law that took effect today. Photo via DNAinfo

Under the new law, a driver’s failure to yield to a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way is a traffic infraction with a fine of up to $50 or 15 days in jail, or both. If the driver strikes and injures the pedestrian or cyclist, that escalates to a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $250 or 30 days in jail. Unlike a traffic infraction, a misdemeanor charge involves an arrest and a required appearance in court. Guilty pleas or convictions result in not just a fine or possibly jail time, but also a permanent, public criminal record.

Many sober reckless drivers who injure and kill, leaving behind victims including Jean Chambers and Allison Liao, among many others, have until now gotten off with nothing more than a traffic ticket and a fine payable by mail.

But will police use the new tool? Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who helped push for its passage, isn’t so sure. “At the mayoral signing of 19-190, I tried to buttonhole Transportation Bureau Chief [Thomas] Chan to ask what steps would be taken to inform and train rank and file officers,” he said in an email yesterday. “He told me he would have to check with department counsel. Last night, I raised the issue with Chief of the Department Banks via Twitter. No reply.”

Vaccaro wants to see the department embrace the new law sooner rather than later. “NYPD has given New Yorkers concerned about street safety no reason to believe that anything will change on August 22 when the misdemeanor law takes effect,” he said.

NYPD did not reply to a request for comment, but City Hall says the department is still looking into it. “This is an important new tool to improve the safety of the streets for pedestrians and cyclists,” said de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell. “It’s currently going through NYPD legal which analyzes new criminal law and develops enforcement directives.”

Next up: Cooper’s Law, also signed in June, allows the Taxi and Limousine Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of cab and livery drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws. It takes effect September 21.

  • HamTech87

    This is inexcusable, and clear evidence of dysfunction within the De Blasio administration. It was signed on June 23rd, so the NYPD Legal Department has had 60 days to write the enforcement directive. How long does it take to write a memo based on an already passed law?

    Our lives are in danger on NYC streets, and some lawyers in the De Blasio administration are sitting on their hands? wtf?

  • Keegan Stephan

    they’ve been really busy. #OpSafeCycle

  • dave “paco” abraham

    For any crashes that occur starting today that NYPD does not issue tickets, would those injuried be able to sue NYPD for nor enforcing the laws on the books?

  • chad

    You can bet this law will be applied when the victim is a police officer.

  • Kevin Love

    When the victim is a police officer, Attempted Murder charges get laid. See:

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

  • Samuel L Bronkovitz Presents

    OpSafeCycle should show all us bikers that the NYPD is squarely *against* cyclists, and we shouldn’t be looking to them for any help at all.

  • SteveVaccaro

    No. But they would be able to embarrass the sh!t out of them.

  • Mark Walker

    Perhaps it’s time to move into the post-NYPD era of traffic enforcement. Transfer traffic functions from NYPD to a new traffic police force. To staff the new force, reduce NYPD ranks and budget accordingly. There is a precedent for this: We once had separate transit and housing police forces before Giuliani merged them all into one giant army that seems incapable of enforcing traffic laws as they apply to drivers. One immediate benefit of separating traffic enforcement from the NYPD is that traffic officers would be free to ticket NYPD patrol cars and private cars when they park on sidewalks or in bike lanes. Once the traffic force is up and running, bring back the transit and housing police forces too. Every time I use the subway, I want to see cops on foot patrol, on platforms and in trains. The housing projects have their own dire policing needs which would also be better met by a separate force. Don’t worry about the cost; cutting the NYPD budget will pay for everything.

  • Bolwerk

    I always figured one thing that would help the generally bad state of policing here would be to split enforcement and investigation into completely different units. Not just for traffic, but for everything.

    The people doing enforcement shouldn’t be investigating themselves because, you know, they can just clear themselves.

  • Steve


    If something happening like this, is it ok for NYPD to take action?

  • Komanoff

    That’s a really interesting idea, Mark. Anyone else out there think so?

  • lop

    If De Blasio wants traffic cops to ticket cop cars for illegal parking there doesn’t need to be a new agency for it, all he needs to do is tell Bratton to get on it. How would a new agency be immune from the political influence that helps keep NYPD from enforcing parking regulations to the benefit of pedestrians and cyclists?

    NYCHA pays NYPD to patrol. Didn’t Giuliani and Bloomberg think it was cheaper that way? Any study showing one way or the other? Given the mess that is NYCHA without first reforming the agency it’s not obvious having the policing outsourced to NYPD isn’t more efficient.

  • Ian Turner

    Can you clarify what you mean by “like this”?

  • Kevin Love

    I presume that this is a reference to the violent, dangerous criminal car driver at the 30 second mark.

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    Let’s see what excuse cops give next for not doing their job.

  • nycbikecommuter

    NYPD doesn’t care about being embarrassed…

  • SteveVaccaro

    There is no claim against the police for failing to enforce the law, unless it can be shown to be an equal protection violation (which would be extremely difficult to so). but we have to use the tools available to us, including public remonstration, lobbying and electoral action to win a police force more open to enforcing this law.

  • walks bikes drives

    The police forces were merged to eliminate duplicity. The housing police are still in existence: their vehicles are marked PSA. The transit bureau is also still in existence: their vehicles are marked TB. They are just like additional precincts added to the NYPD ranks. As long as the number of rank and file are still proportionate, it makes sense for them to me merged.

  • chekpeds

    OMG what a great idea… let’s do that NOW .. lets start a petition on Change .org

  • chekpeds

    it certainly did not eliminate duplicity nor duplication

  • chekpeds

    I think its brilliant.. we should start a petition on Change .org

  • chekpeds

    see the woman killed on the upper east side.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/09/04/will-nypd-and-tlc-apply-coopers-law-to-cabbie-who-killed-woman-on-ues/
    meanwhile they are towing parked motorcycles as if they were a danger to humanity…

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