So Far, NYPD Isn’t Enforcing New Vision Zero Law as Intended

It was a welcome development when NYPD filed the first-ever charges under Section 19-190, a new law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. The law was intended to enable precinct officers to impose consequences for reckless driving, but so far, NYPD doesn’t appear to be using it this way.

Image: WNBC
Even when CIS is on the case, application of Section 19-190 is no sure thing. As of Friday afternoon, police had not charged the driver who killed 82-year-old Manhattan pedestrian Sui Leung, though available information suggested the victim had the right of way. Image: WNBC

Section 19-190 applies a “strict liability” standard to traffic crashes — that is, a driver who strikes a pedestrian or cyclist when the victim has the right of way is presumed to have committed a misdemeanor, unless the driver can show he was not at fault.

For years, only CIS personnel were authorized by NYPD to file charges against motorists for causing injury and death, unless an officer witnessed a crash. But by making such collisions crimes, and therefore empowering rank-and-file officers to file charges, Section 19-190 was meant to put an end to NYPD’s “observed violation rule.” Theoretically, if a precinct cop determines that a driver hit a pedestrian who was crossing with a walk signal, that officer should now be able to make an arrest on the spot.

More than a month after the law took effect, however, there is no evidence that NYPD is applying the law as intended. Motorists have killed at least 12 pedestrians and injured countless others in the last five weeks. The only confirmed instance where NYPD filed charges under Section 19-190 involved a weeks-long CIS investigation. Streetsblog has a request pending with NYPD about how many times police have applied the law, and if precinct officers are enforcing it.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro pointed to potential obstacles to enforcement before Section 19-190 was adopted:

Unless Intro 238 is communicated repeatedly to rank and file police officers via memorandum, roll call instructions, and formal in-service trainings, most police officers will not even become aware of the new law. And awareness is just the starting point. Intro 238 runs counter to the general belief held by many officers that a traffic crash is by definition a non-criminal matter, peripheral at best to the core police mission of fighting crime.

There are thousands of serious crashes a year in NYC, and CIS investigates only a few hundred. Section 19-190 is supposed to give police the latitude they need to deter traffic violence by bringing charges against dangerous drivers who would otherwise go unpenalized for harming people. If Mayor de Blasio expects drivers to get the message, he’s got to get NYPD on board first.

  • JudenChino

    Is Section 19-190 meant to be a codification of the principle of negligence per se?

  • A

    What is CIS?

  • alexblac

    NYPD’s Crash Investigation Squad.

  • BBnet3000

    If they had any plans to enforce the law against drivers, the first hint would be getting their own personal cars off of the sidewalk and out of the bike lanes, and making sure the tint on the front windows is of a legal shade.

  • Kevin Love

    Meanwhile, in the rest of the world…

    Actually, we don’t have to go far. Just across the NY/Ontario border. Where there is a different set of laws and attitudes concerning criminal negligence.

    Kitty MacLeod was killed by a car driver while she was crossing an intersection in Hamilton, Ontario. Criminality was immediately suspected, and charges laid. The car driver was prosecuted by Crown attorney Lidia Narozniak. A quotation from the car driver’s trial:

    “Crown attorney Lidia Narozniak argued the intersection of Governor’s and Overfield is a busy pedestrian area …

    “It’s an area where pedestrians can be expected,” Narozniak said. “The claim, ‘I didn’t see her’ is proof of a lack of due care and attention and reason for conviction.”

    Kevin’s question:
    When are prosecutors going to be saying that last sentence in New York?

  • Srsly, whatisit?

    Is that a rhetorical question?



  • Matthias

    Collision Investigation Squad, formerly the “Accident” Investigation Squad.