De Blasio Wants Albany to Make Careless Driving a Crime [Updated]

NYPD currently issues careless driving summonses to fewer than 1 percent of motorists who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists. Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data via Transportation Alternatives.

As part of his Vision Zero agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants Albany to elevate careless driving to a criminal offense, increasing penalties while making it easier for police to hold reckless motorists accountable.

Enacted in 2010, Hayley and Diego’s Law was intended as a default infraction for crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. But under Ray Kelly, NYPD normally applied the law only in cases of very serious injury or death, seemingly in place of criminal charges. Department protocol prohibits precinct cops from issuing careless driving citations unless an officer witnesses a violation or the crash is investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad. As a result, fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Department brass told the City Council two years ago that the current policy came after summonses were dismissed in court because officers weren’t witnessing violations, though NYPD didn’t say how many cases were thrown out. State lawmakers have so far failed to pass an amendment that would allow beat cops to write careless driving summonses, and de Blasio wants to take a somewhat different approach.

From the Vision Zero blueprint, released Tuesday:

The City supports amendments to the Hayley and Diego law to make this violation a misdemeanor, increasing the penalties associated with carelessly harming a pedestrian or bicyclist. By making this a crime rather than a traffic infraction, the law would explicitly allow a police officer to issue a summons to a person who failed to exercise due care and seriously injured or killed a pedestrian or bicyclist, based on probable cause, even if the officer was not present to witness the crash.

The city also wants to extend vulnerable user status to highway workers.

Right now, drivers summonsed for careless driving are subject to a mandatory drivers’ ed course, fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months. A de Blasio spokesperson told Streetsblog it’s not clear yet what class of misdemeanor the city will aim for, but the lowest level, an unclassified misdemeanor, would put careless driving on par with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation and first-offense DWI.

Perhaps more important, classifying careless driving as a crime would theoretically lift the NYPD’s self-imposed ban on enforcing the law.

“Whether it’s a violation or misdemeanor is secondary as long as it’s being applied,” says Juan Martinez, general counsel for Transportation Alternatives. “Having the mayor’s leadership and having this political moment could make this possible.”

Streetsblog has reached out to state Senator Dan Squadron, sponsor of Hayley and Diego’s Law, for comment on de Blasio’s proposed amendment. We will follow this story as it develops.

Update: Squadron’s office sent us the following statement:

“We look forward to working with the Mayor and the NYPD on ensuring that Hayley and Diego’s Law is fully enforced and that it achieves its goal: cracking down on dangerous careless driving. Assemblyman [Brian] Kavanagh and I have been working to ensure enforcement since passing the original law and proposing an amendment to encourage NYPD action — a need that Vision Zero highlights.”

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    If the law does not protect all people, we need to change the law. This administration needs to make some real changes now.

  • Devil’s Advocate

    How is throwing people in jail going to cut down on the number of pedestrian/cyclist injuries and fatalities? This push reeks of a War on Drugs-style punitive approach to something that requires a lot more.

  • Reader

    The action plan is very comprehensive, and includes street design, enforcement, and legal changes. This is just one part of a broader effort.

  • qrt145

    There is a big difference between criminalizing the use of a drug, which often harms no one, or at least no one beyond the user, and criminalizing an injury or killing which actually happened.

    On those grounds alone, it may be worth it because it provides some semblance of justice to the victims. Does it also act as a deterrent? That’s a good question, but given the countries with the safest roads tend to have these policies means that at least there is a correlation, and something worth considering.

  • Brad Aaron

    Even if this measure went through, there would not be a wholesale jailing of reckless drivers. The system does not work that way.

    That said, the difference between a misdemeanor charge and driving away from a fatal crash without so much as a ticket would be monumental in terms of seeing some type of justice done on behalf of victims, including in civil court. And the deterrence value would be much improved from what we have.

  • Bolwerk

    Probably good, in general. Incarceration can’t be excused for people who don’t hurt anyone. Otherwise fine them and enjoy the extra revenue.

  • Kevin Love

    How about simply adopting the Canadian law? Here it is. Note that I edited out the parts dealing with aircraft, watercraft and railway vehicles. Canadian roads are twice as safe as roads in the USA. Proper laws, properly enforced, are a big part of this safety.

    Dutch roads are the safest of all, because infrastructure is even more important than law enforcement. But law enforcement still is one of the key elements of road safety. Here is the Canadian law.


    249. (1) Every one commits an offence who operates

    (a) a motor vehicle in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including the nature, condition and use of the place at which the motor vehicle is being operated and the amount of traffic that at the time is or might reasonably be expected to be at that place…

    (2) Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1)

    (a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

    Dangerous operation causing bodily harm
    (3) Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1) and thereby causes bodily harm to any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.

    Dangerous operation causing death
    (4) Every one who commits an offence under subsection (1) and thereby causes the death of any other person is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years

  • Eric McClure

    On first glance, I read that headline as “Carless Driving,” thought “driverless cars,” and was wondering why Mayor de Blasio would worry about robotic cars with so much Vision Zero work to do. And no, I have not had a drink today.


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