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Albany Lawmakers Fail to Advance Bills on Careless Driving, Select Bus Lights

3:55 PM EDT on July 1, 2013

Proponents of safer streets and a stronger MTA fared better than usual in Albany this year, securing speed cameras for NYC and scoring a tentative win on the transit lockbox -- which now depends on Governor Cuomo's signature to protect straphangers from budget raids by state lawmakers, including himself. However, legislators failed to pass bills that would have restored speedier bus service to NYC and helped protect New Yorkers from motorists who injure and kill.

NYPD refuses to enforce the law named after Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng, who were killed by a careless driver in 2009.

A bill to bring an end to NYPD’s self-imposed ban on penalizing motorists for careless driving cleared the State Senate, but for the second year did not make it out of committee in the Assembly.

The bill would amend Hayley and Diego’s Law by explicitly stating that officers may ticket or arrest drivers who harm pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable street users whether or not they directly observe an infraction, as long as officers have reasonable cause to believe a violation was committed. Current NYPD protocol prohibits precinct officers from issuing tickets under VTL 1146, the state statute that includes Hayley and Diego’s Law as well as Elle’s Law.

Hayley and Diego’s Law went into effect in 2010. It established the offense of careless driving, and imposed penalties, including the possibility of license sanctions and jail time, upon drivers who injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists. The bill and its amendment were introduced by Senator Dan Squadron and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. It is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, two toddlers who were killed in 2009 by a driver whose unattended and idling van jumped a curb in Chinatown. The driver was not charged with a crime by Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau or his successor Cy Vance.

Neither house acted on this crucial piece of legislation in 2012. This year it died in the Assembly transportation committee.

Legislators in the Senate and the Assembly failed to advance a bill to bring back the lights to Select Bus Service buses. Flashing blue SBS lights were used without incident for over four years until the MTA brought SBS service to Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard. The lights were switched off after City Council Member Vincent Ignizio and State Senator Andrew Lanza complained that motorists were confusing SBS buses with emergency vehicles.

A state law limits the use of flashing blue lights to volunteer firefighters, though no legal action was taken to get the MTA to stop using blue SBS lights. Since the lights were turned off, passengers can't distinguish SBS buses from other buses as easily, which has slowed boarding times.

S05703B and A06076C, sponsored by Senator Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner, respectively, would have allowed the MTA to use flashing purple lights on SBS buses. Though according to Kellner purple was designated by the State DMV, and is the only color available, Lanza ridiculed the proposal.

"This should have been an easy bill -- a simple fix that would have helped speed transit riders on their way," says Nadine Lemmon of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "Its failure highlights the failure of Albany's perennial end of session scrum. Sometimes, it's just illogical what makes it over the finish line and what does not."

We've asked the MTA what's next for SBS lights.

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