Gianaris: Time for Albany to Stiffen Penalties for Unlicensed Drivers Who Kill
This morning State Senator Michael Gianaris again called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would stiffen penalties for motorists who hurt and kill people while driving without a valid license.
Joined by State Senator Toby Stavisky, Assembly Member Francisco Moya, and reps from Transportation Alternatives and Make Queens Safer, Gianaris spoke to the press at Woodside Avenue and 76th Street in Elmhurst, where alleged unlicensed driver Valentine Gonzalez killed an unidentified woman last Sunday.
“How many deaths at the hands of unauthorized drivers will it take before we make sure the punishment fits the crime in these cases?” said Gianaris, according to a press release. “It is heartbreaking to see one family after another suffer the loss of a loved one because irresponsible drivers get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.”
Gianaris introduced a bill last year to make it a class E felony to cause serious injury or death while driving without a valid license, as long as the license was suspended or revoked for traffic offenses. A second Gianaris bill would require drivers with suspended or revoked licenses to surrender their vehicle registrations and license plates. Margaret Markey is the primary sponsor of both bills in the Assembly.
Gianaris brought the bills after an unlicensed truck driver killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian on Northern Boulevard in Woodside in December 2013. Weeks later an unlicensed driver killed senior Angela Hurtado in Maspeth. Both drivers were charged with aggravated unlicensed operation. The driver who killed Hurtado pled guilty and was fined $500.
NYPD and city district attorneys typically charge aggravated unlicensed operation, a low-level misdemeanor, when an unlicensed driver kills someone. This offense carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, though jail sentences are all but unheard of.
Aggravated unlicensed operation is the same charge that police and prosecutors apply when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction. In practice this means that an unlicensed driver who kills a senior in a crosswalk faces the same penalty as an unlicensed driver who turns without signaling.
State senators voted down the felony bill in the codes committee last session, and the bill stalled in the Assembly codes committee. Lawmakers in both houses failed to move the registration and license plate bill out of their respective transportation committees.
According to Make Queens Safer, three Queens NYPD precincts in the vicinity of Sunday’s crash issued 370 tickets for unlicensed driving in January alone.
“My proposals would create a serious deterrent so that anyone thinking about getting behind the wheel without a license will think twice or face real jail time if they do so and kill or seriously injure someone,” said Gianaris. “I call on my fellow legislators to pass these bills immediately before we face yet another tragedy.”