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TLC Commish: It’s Up to NYPD to Get Reckless Cab Drivers Off the Streets

Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock's mother, before today's TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron
Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock's mother, before today's TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron
Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock's mother, before today's TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron

The success or failure of a Vision Zero law intended to get reckless cab drivers off the road will depend on how often NYPD issues summonses and charges after serious crashes, the Taxi and Limousine Commission confirmed today.

Cooper Stock, 9, was killed last January by a cab driver who failed to yield on West End Avenue. Signed by Mayor de Blasio in June as part of a package of street safety bills, Cooper's Law allows the TLC to suspend or revoke hack licenses of cab drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws.

The law takes effect Sunday, but as we reported when the bill passed the City Council, since action against a cab driver's TLC license hinges on a conviction for a traffic violation or a criminal charge, its effectiveness may be severely compromised. Of thousands of crashes annually in which pedestrians and cyclists are injured and killed, NYPD investigates only a few hundred.

At a public hearing this morning on TLC rule changes necessitated by new Vision Zero laws, Dana Lerner, Cooper's mother, asked TLC board members and Commissioner Meera Joshi how the law would be enforced. Joshi said the TLC "works closely" with NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan and the Collision Investigation Squad, which according to Joshi has for the past few months contacted the TLC "within minutes" of any serious crash involving a for-hire driver. Upon getting the word from NYPD, Joshi said, the TLC dispatches inspectors to crash scenes.

The problem with this protocol is that it doesn't necessarily involve CIS, which still handles a tiny fraction of crashes. And even in cases where known information points to driver behavior as the primary cause of a serious crash, CIS investigations rarely result in summonses or charges.

Despite an unprecedented push from the mayor and City Council to reduce traffic violence, NYPD has shown no signs of reforming its crash investigation policies. This is evident in the department's failure to enforce another new law, known as Section 19-190, that makes it a misdemeanor for a motorist to harm a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way.

Since Section 19-190 took effect in August, New York City motorists have killed at least seven pedestrians and injured countless others. To date, no drivers have been reported charged under the law.

At a press conference before today's hearing, Lerner said Koffi Komlani, the driver who killed Cooper, was not issued a summons for failure to yield, as was reported by many outlets, including Streetsblog. Lerner said prosecutors with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance's office, who filed no charges, told her they didn't have the authority to interview Komlani. "They are refusing to do anything to get justice in this case," she said.

Komlani is far from the only cab driver to face no consequences after a serious crash. The cab drivers who fatally struck Kelly Gordon and Timothy Keith, for example, were reportedly not summonsed. Neither was the cabbie who severed the leg of Sian Green. Had Cooper’s Law been in effect at the time of those crashes, all of those drivers would theoretically remain in good standing with the TLC.

Cab driver education could presumably play a significant role in deterring drivers from the kind of behavior that would trigger Cooper's Law in the first place. But in the months since the bill was passed by the council and signed into law by the mayor, Lerner, who takes cabs frequently, told the TLC board only one taxi driver she has encountered was aware of it. Said Lerner: "Will I ever get in a cab where I don't have to do the work of educating the driver myself?"

Also this morning, several members of the TLC board criticized the new laws. Nora Constance Marino said the TLC should focus on prevention, rather than penalties. Recklessness is not the same as negligence, Marino said, and "accidents" -- i.e. negligence -- should not be penalized severely. Marino, an attorney, said it may be unconstitutional to revoke hack licenses.

Lauvienska Polanco, a law clerk at the Bronx Supreme Court and member of Manhattan Community Board 12, according to her bio, said it was unfair to take a TLC license from a driver with an otherwise clean record who answers the phone while making a turn and kills someone. "That's it, his livelihood is gone," Polanco said.

The TLC board is expected to vote on rule changes in October. A TLC spokesperson said the agency would apply the new laws once they take effect, regardless of whether the rule-making process has concluded.

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