Tougher Penalties for Unlicensed Drivers Who Hurt and Kill People Now in Carl Heastie’s Hands

A bill to make it a felony to cause injury or death while driving without a valid license has passed the State Senate. Assembly Speaker Heastie can get it to Governor Cuomo's desk.

Carl Heastie can help prevent crashes like the one that killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian. Will he do it? Image: WNBC via Daily News
Carl Heastie can help prevent crashes like the one that killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian. Will he do it? Image: WNBC via Daily News

For the second year in a row, the State Senate has passed legislation to elevate penalties for unlicensed drivers who injure and kill people. Now, it’s up to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to ensure it reaches Governor Cuomo’s desk.

Carl Heastie
Carl Heastie

The bill would make it a class E felony to cause serious injury or death while driving without a valid license, as long as the license was suspended or revoked for traffic offenses. State Senator Michael Gianaris has tried to push the bill through Albany for the past several years, in response to a number of deaths in his district.

In one of those crashes, truck driver Mauricio Osorio-Palominos killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian on Northern Boulevard in Woodside. Osorio-Palominos was charged with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation — a low-level misdemeanor that tends to be the default charge for killing someone while driving without a valid license in NYC.

For taking the life of a child while driving a semi truck through New York City without a valid drivers license, Osorio-Palominos, who had a history of traffic violations and license suspensions, faced a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. The outcome of the case is unknown, but defendants charged with aggravated unlicensed operation usually plead guilty and are sentenced to a fine with no jail time.

In some cases, police and district attorneys file no charges against unlicensed drivers who kill. Last October, an unlicensed driver backed over 8-month-old Navraj Raju as his mother pushed him in a stroller on an Astoria Boulevard sidewalk. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown declined to charge that driver with a crime.

Since the launch of NYC’s Vision Zero initiative in 2014, motorists without valid licenses have killed at least 24 people walking and riding bikes, according to data tracked by Streetsblog.

The Assembly version of the Gianaris bill, sponsored by Queens rep Aravella Simotas, is currently in the codes committee, where it stalled in 2016. It has four co-sponsors.

“The law needs to be strengthened, not just to punish, but more importantly, to create a powerful deterrent to driving with a suspended or revoked license,” Simotas told the Times Ledger. “Deterrence is absolutely critical to saving innocent lives because we know that as things stand now unlicensed drivers are still getting behind the wheel. I’m still hopeful we can get this done before the legislative session ends and send the message that unlicensed driving is a serious crime.”

As the person in charge of the Assembly, Heastie, who represents the Bronx, can see to it that this bill gets to Cuomo if he chooses. We have a message in with Heastie’s office asking if he supports it.

  • Ken Dodd

    To me, this is the wrong direction. I don’t see why having a license should make killing someone through reckless driving any less of a crime.

  • Joe R.

    Just driving without a valid license, even if you don’t kill or injure someone, should result in permanent revocation of driving privileges, plus forfeiture of the vehicle you’re driving. I don’t see why you should need to kill or injure someone before driving unlicensed is taken seriously.

  • Tyson White

    Wait, so it’s NOT a felony to kill someone while driving without a license now???

  • reasonableexplanation

    Forfeiture of the vehicle might make a difference, but permanent revocation of driving privileges? The penalty for driving without a license being to have your license taken away seems like it wouldn’t do anything; I mean the person is already driving without a license now, why wouldn’t they do it again in the future?

    Once something is already illegal, making it illegaler won’t do much. other strategies are needed.

  • Joe R.

    I know that. The real deterrent here is vehicle forfeiture. Most people can’t afford to buy another vehicle whenever they’re caught driving unlicensed. That’s what would put real teeth in the law. The idea would be to flip the equation of driving unlicensed so that people either get a valid license, or just don’t drive if they can’t be bothered. The point of permanent revocation of driving privileges would be to let people know they need to stop driving without a license right now because if they’re caught they’ll never again have the opportunity to get a license. It’s sort of like the same rationale behind tax amnesty where we tell people to come clean and pay the taxes you owe before we need to come after you. If we have to come after them, then they’ll end up paying a lot more.

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