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One Year After Taking Effect, State’s Vulnerable User Laws Gathering Dust

3:44 PM EDT on October 13, 2011

Graph: Transportation Alternatives, based on data from New York State DMV

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the adoption of Hayley and Diego's Law, which established the charge of "careless driving" in New York State and gave police and prosecutors a new tool to hold motorists who injure pedestrians and cyclists accountable. Unfortunately, says Transportation Alternatives, over the past 12 months the law has gone largely unenforced by NYPD.

Intended to demarcate a middle ground between moving violations and more serious criminal charges, Hayley and Diego's law prescribes that drivers who caused injury "while failing to exercise due care" be required to take a drivers education course and be subject to fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months. But a law is only as effective as those who enforce it, and TA has found that applications of VTL 1146, the statute that includes Hayley and Diego's Law as well as Elle's Law, are as rare as ever.

Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng were killed in January 2009 when an idling, unattended van jumped a curb in Chinatown. The driver was not charged.

T.A. filed a Freedom Of Information request in May with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and found that the number of applications of VTL 1146 has remained more or less steady for the last few years. T.A. estimates that there will be approximately 77 citations of the statute in 2011 based on a total of 32 citations issued as of June this year, while 97 tickets were issued under 1146 in 2010, 87 in 2009, and 92 in 2008.  These statistics show that a year after these new penalties meant to protect New Yorkers went in effect, they are barely being applied.

“Our family worked hard for these laws to deter motorists from dangerous and lethal behavior,” said Wendy Cheung, Hayley Ng’s aunt. “Nothing can undo the crash that took Hayley away from us, but we can prevent tragedies like this from happening to other families. And we can hold someone who breaks the law and takes a life responsible for their actions. We hope the police will use all the tools at their disposal to bring justice to our streets and protect others from the pain of losing a loved one to traffic violence.”

It should be noted that, in the city, VTL 1146 is enforced by NYPD and the Department of Motor Vehicles and, while district attorneys may advise police to apply it in certain cases, it does not fall under DA purview except for repeat offenders.

Streetsblog has a message in with NYPD regarding TA's findings.

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