Cy Vance to Albany: TWU Bill Would Hinder Cases Against Drunk Drivers

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance sent a letter to state lawmakers warning that a bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers at crash scenes would undermine law enforcement’s ability to collect evidence of impaired driving.

The bill, which sailed through the State Senate yesterday with no public notice and without a public hearing, would bar police from detaining many professional drivers — including bus drivers, taxi drivers, and limo drivers — following a crash. Instead, a driver suspected of breaking the law would receive a desk appearance ticket.

The bill passed the Senate at the behest of the Transport Workers Union, which doesn’t think bus drivers who kill and injure people should be subject to charges under the NYC Right of Way Law.

On Tuesday, Vance sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. It read:

Although the amended bill attempts to exclude drivers who may be driving under the influence of alcohol, police officers often conduct field sobriety tests even when there is no immediate suspicion of impairment, and must often wait a significant period of time for the arrival of equipment to conduct those tests. By prohibiting the detention of omnibus drivers at the scene of collisions, the bill prevents law enforcement from gathering evidence vital to bringing criminal charges in appropriate cases.

“In a city full of pedestrians and cyclists, we should be working on ways to make the city safer for New Yorkers, and certainly not promoting changes that would hold some drivers to a lower standard than others,” Vance wrote. “For these reasons, I urge our lawmakers to vote against this bill.”

NYPD and Mayor de Blasio’s office oppose the bill, along with Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The bill is now in the Assembly, where it’s the last day of the 2015 legislative session. Families of people killed by New York City drivers are in Albany today trying to convince Assembly members to stop the bill. You can support them by contacting your representative right now.

  • Gepap

    Just on an Albany procedural notice, since this blog keep posting the same statement over and over:

    Almost no bill in Albany EVER gets a “public hearing”, which has a specific definition, and the bill was introduced in both houses of the Legislature in March, and the public, if it had any real interest in its own governance (which you should have) has been able to read said bills and then contact your own state level representatives since then, because once bills are introduced they are part of the public record.

    As for public notice, yes, the bill was committed from the transportation committee to the rules committee without any long notice, much like many of the bills that get passed in June in Albany on any issue. So that means that this bill did not get any “special” treatment beyond what any bill strongly backed by an influential lobby group with some actual political muscle gets.

  • Yes, the standard procedure in Albany is opaque and favors groups that pay for access. We don’t intend to imply otherwise.

  • Gepap

    Where to start?
    1. This bill in its versions was a matter of the public record. If you actually claim to want to educate your reading public, then why don;t you add links to the public websites that your readers would be able to use to read the bills that get introduced in Albany?
    2. Unless I missed something, unions have power because they have members. Those bus drivers you disapprove off? Newsflash, they are fellow NYS citizens, and they get to vote – in fact, a bus driver gets as much voting power as the editor of a blog! So their “access” is based on being able to show the represent thousands of voters in the State, and since elected officials get into office by being elected, they can in fact show they that matter politically. Families for Safe Streets was able to get laws passed last year in Albany by organizing and lobbying – where they “paying for access”? Oh, how awful they are! For shame!

  • Jimmy

    Since the bill makes this exception/provision for all “omnibus drivers” this isn’t limited to MTA or, say, Rochester RTS drivers, right?

    S 126. Omnibus. Any motor vehicle used in the business of
    transporting passengers for hire, except such a motor vehicle used in
    the transportation of agricultural workers to and from their employment.

    That’s “dollar vans” and Peter Pan buses, etc. etc. etc. No?

  • drosejr

    This bill would hold bus drivers, taxi and livery drivers to lower standards than the rest of the driving population. Do you agree with the methods used to achieve that end, or the end itself?

  • Yes, you’re correct. Thousands of bus drivers can collectively petition the state to pass laws that excuse “omnibus” drivers from laws aimed to protect the safety of millions of state residents.

    Or, shorter: people can advocate for terrible ideas if they like

  • Morris Zapp

    Such bullshit.

    Only one of those groups is comprised almost solely of volunteers who are not on the clock while lobbying in Albany. Only one of them makes significant monetary contributions to lawmakers. By no means do they have equal access, and only a liar or a fool would claim to believe otherwise.

    Also, only one group wants to kill members of the other with impunity. The fact that that’s beside the point is indicative of everything that’s wrong in Albany.

  • Gepap

    1. The language of the bill that passed the Senate can be found here:

    http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S4494B-2015

    The bill isn’t a good bill by any stretch of the imagination, but no, it does change the standards to which these drivers are held in terms of the law. Instead, it imposes certain limits on how police officers at the scene can deal with these drivers. So omnibus drivers can still be fined or charged with a misdemeanor if their acts fit the acts necessary to incur those criminal charges.

    2. This bill moved because an advocacy organization (a workers union) hit the pavement in Albany and put pressure on representatives to pass it. no, I don’t have a problem with that.

  • Gepap

    Since this bill does not in fact change any of the civil or criminal penalties in the law, saying it lets these drivers kill with impunity is a lie, unless you think that going to jail or paying a fine don’t count as consequences, and that only the act of being arrested at the scene does, even if said arrest only leads to a desk appearance ticket later down the line.

    Since people are free to provide campaign donations, the fact that some volunteer groups don’t do it doesn’t make them better or more pure or more worthy of attention or respect. It only makes them less politically powerful.

  • drosejr

    Read the commentary by Cy Vance, and tell me again if this doesn’t change the law in a negative context, while also gutting the central tenets of the Right of Way law.

  • drosejr

    And that’s the central problem with Albany; those that make campaign donations to politicians are more powerful than those who don’t. My last reading of the constitution seemed to indicate that voters had the power, not monied special interests.

  • Gepap

    Money is used in politics to gather votes, by paying for attention (adds, rallies, canvassers, etc.) So yes, votes in the end are what matters.

    Every person posting on this blog has the right of free association. All of you could start the SafeStreets PAC and put your money were your collective typing hands are an put in for a kiddy pot that would direct contributions to safe streets friendly candidates. After all, I assume all of you think of yourselves as better people than your regular MTA workers, and yet they were smart enough to organize not only to fight for higher wages, but for political influence.

  • If you think the only intent of TWU is to spare its members the indignity of cuffs or a few hours in jail or that they’ll stop their fight against ROW so long as this particular bill passes, I have a bus route in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

  • Gepap

    I did read his letter, its rather short. It says that by putting limits on the cops and what they may do you threaten the ability of police to collect all the evidence you need regarding investigations of possible drunk driving.

    Did you read the bill? After all, a nice easy link is provided.

  • Joe R.

    One dollar, one vote. What a great system. We’re all seeing how well this is working out for those without the dollars.

    Lobbying and lobbyists should be banned, period. Representatives should listen and vote based on what the people they represent ask for. Note the operative word—people. That’s individuals who write letters to their representatives.

    What we have now is more like an aristocracy or a plutocracy.

  • Gepap

    I think you miss the part in which democracy at the end is a result of competing and varying desires. What makes you think that whatever letter you and others here wrote to their representatives weren’t outnumbered by the letters written by omnibus drivers? And if they wrote more letters than you did, are you fine with them passing this bill?

  • This is a bit like saying all’s fair in environmental regulation because the Koch brothers and Greenpeace have the same right of free association.

    No one here thinks anyone is better than anyone else. In fact, quite the opposite. Advocates think we all ought to be held to the same standard under the law. TWU thinks its members deserve special treatment.

  • Joe R.

    First off, no, I highly doubt any individual omnibus drivers wrote letters. Maybe the handful who were taken away in cuffs may have, but I doubt it. Second, part of the job of being a legislator is to filter out people writing to pass questionable laws. Suppose some large number of people write a legislator to legalize murder? And suppose fewer people write them to not do so? Do you really think the legislator should listen to those people wanting to legalize murder?

    It isn’t just listening to the majority. Part of being a true leader is to vote your conscience when the majority is wrong. In this case we’re not even talking a majority here.

  • Gepap

    Your doubts aren’t a point of contention, nor do they say anything about what actually happened with regards to who many actual constituents contacted their elected officials about this specific bill.

    As for voting your conscience, that is where you lose me here – everyone always claims the sides of the angels when other people say things they disagree with or advocate for the opposite. I support strong gun controls, for example, and think people who want lose gun laws are wrong. I believe those people who want lose gun laws believe they are right and I am wrong. politics in a democracy is about working out that disagreement in some manner short of violence. Claiming your rectitude isn’t enough.

  • qrt145

    You know that a proposed street-safety-related policy must be *really* bad when even Cy Vance speaks up against it!

  • Gepap

    “This is a bit like saying all’s fair in environmental regulation because the Koch brothers and Greenpeace have the same right of free association”

    As long as you live in a democracy, that is in fact the truth. Thankfully most people do in fact want some significant level of environmental oversight and protection.

    With regards to this right of way legislation the union argued forcefully enough to get a vote in the Senate. Perhaps now advocates will be able to make their case to the Assembly, and the bill might not become law, and if that is the final outcome, the democratic system of governance worked.

  • Gepap

    Correct, some of the provisions of this bill apply to all people driving passengers for pay. The prohibition from arresting at the scene is limited to licensed bus drivers, though that would include all bus drivers, not just drivers for municipal transportation authorities.

  • Joe R.

    When you’re in gray areas you’re correct but this is hardly a gray area. As others have mentioned, this bill is just the first step to allowing bus drivers to run people over with impunity. In short, it’s the first step to legalizing murder, but only for a select group. Moreover, the fact that it only applies to a particular group send shivers down my spine. Are we heading towards a society with one set of laws for the privileged class (in NYS that would be the wealthy, union members, politicians, and lawyers), another for commoners? That’s really my biggest concern here, and the reason why I think any leader worth the title would have voted against this bill just so they can look at themselves in the mirror. I might have still thought it was a bad bill if it applied to everybody, but at least I might be able to square it away in that case as legislators giving the people something they asked for.

    Incidentally, since you mentioned gun control, I feel both sides are insane. A happy medium would be any citizen without a criminal record can carry any weapon they wish, provided it’s registered and they have proper training. Instead, one side wants absolutely no controls while the other wants to make it just about impossible for law-abiding citizens to arm themselves.

  • Tyler

    Yes…. Gepap. This is a SERIOUS issue. The police should not be given an ever-increasing maze of contingencies and options and so on to enforce what should be a very simple law. I’m sorry if this means a couple bus drivers have to “suffer” the indignity of being detained. Oh Lordy! How terrible! How could they ever recover?! (keep in mind the indignity of the injured or dead pedestrian/cyclist)

    The law should not require complex navigation. This just invites the NYPD to be even sloppier than they already are. And what about the charges that could be made later? Well, if you thought I didn’t do anything wrong at the scene of the “accident” why are you charging me now?

  • Gepap

    I am not in the business of hyperbole, which is the death of any reasoned debate,

  • AlexWithAK

    It’s called Streets PAC and it was formed several years ago. Many who read this site do contribute, thank you very much.

  • WalkingNPR

    If I really felt that a large number of TWU members were writing letters/calling/tweeting their reps the way we are now, then I’d be a lot more okay with what’s happening. Let them hear the voices (and number of voices) on both sides and make a decision that encompasses that as well as their own good judgment. However, I’m with you in the sense that I doubt many individual TWU members are doing this–it’s the professional lobbyists vs. Joe Schmo pedestrian. And Joe Schmoe pedestrian who’s not a member of TA or Streetsblog reader probably doesn’t know his rights are even at stake.

  • Jimmy

    Awesome. And I’m sure the application of the law would be equal for a dollar van driver and an MTA bus driver, right?

  • Gepap

    Where doe the law require “complex” investigations currently? How does this bill require “complex” investigations?

    Conversely, should investigations not be thorough? After all, the whole point is to be able to have the police substantiate criminal charges in front of a court, so that people can be successfully prosecuted under this local law.

  • Gepap

    Good.

  • AlexWithAK

    So in summary: The system is corrupt and favors the powerful and well connected and we shouldn’t complain about it. And if the general public wants to be informed they ought to cull through the volumes of bills written in leagalise and decipfer them so that they “know what’s going on”. Got it.

  • Gepap

    No, because the law has additional provisions that apply to bus drivers that don’t apply to other omnibus drivers.

  • AlexWithAK

    I should form a group of 30-something white guys to advocate that we be exempt from traffic laws.

  • Gepap

    Feel free to complain all you want – what else is the internet for? But your complaining online achieves nothing and I would think that if people actually believe their political system is corrupt that they would ACT:you know, do more than just complain online.

    As for reading bills, a member of the public could always feel free, if they find a bill they think possibly objectionable but which they don’t fully understand, to call the office of one of their representatives and ask for an explanation, or ask some advocacy group about it. But if your question is why can’t the political system always just do what you like in a way that asks you to do absolutely nothing at all, well, that isn’t how it works.

  • Tyler

    Complex NAVIGATION of the requirements of the law. The law as-is is fairly simple. You injure or kill a pedestrian/cyclist, you are detained and the incident is investigated. Add the amendment and the police now have to determine which special class of driver you are and what special rights you have to avoid various ‘indignities’ associated with striking a pedestrian/cyclist with your vehicle. Judgements of negligence/recklessness have to be made ON THE SCENE. And once that road side tribunal is completed in 2 mins, the special driver is sent along his/her merry way and the unspecial driver is put into a police car.

    Why should the police be engaging in this sort of roadside courtroom activity? (The NYPD already does this FAR too much already…. now we want to codify it?!!)

  • Joe R.

    I’ll bet good money if this bill becomes law within a year or two my “hyperbole” will become fact. As things stand now more often than not any driver who kills a person in NYC isn’t charged with a crime. Sometimes they get a fine, sometimes they don’t even get that. So yes, it’s practically legal to kill someone with a motor vehicle now because society insists on calling it “an accident”. We’ve just taken the first baby step to codifying this concept into law.

  • Gepap

    Feel free to do so. I would expect to see many scathing posts on this Blog about that group if you did create it.

  • Tyler

    And which of these 50 layers of a previously straightforward law do we expect the police to adjudicate on the roadside? Or should they just stop enforcing the RoW law…. which seems to be a not far off result.

  • Maggie

    Actually, the governor was elected on a broken promise to clean up corruption in Albany. Within the last six months, the leaders of the New York State senate and assembly have each been indicted on federal corruption charges. This bill slimed its way through the senate after the city blocked it, with zero consultation or consideration of the many, many actual victims. People who have been maimed, or injured for life, or buried their children, because some jackass driver did not bother to yield to a vulnerable New Yorker just trying to get across the street.

    Thanks for letting us all know how well you think Albany politics is working. It’s incredible that this bill is what TWU decided to spend its political capital to push for.

  • JudenChino

    You’re just flailing here:

    I think you miss the part in which democracy at the end is a result of competing and varying desires. What makes you think that whatever letter you and others here wrote to their representatives weren’t outnumbered by the letters written by omnibus drivers? And if they wrote more letters than you did, are you fine with them passing this bill?

    Right. Letters to legislators. Just lol. This is not democracy. We have elections. But we do not have a functioning democracy in NY State. Ok, and when you fall back on that argument, you reveal you have no argument. Albany is broken and this legislation is just one clear example. The costs and benefits are obvious. It’s a lower standard for omnibus drivers. That’s unsafe. There’s nothing else to discuss.

  • Joe R.

    If you bother to read this blog, you’ll see loads of examples where a supermajority spoke out in favor of some safe streets project, many wanted it, and in the end it wasn’t done, perhaps because somebody with influence might lose their free parking spot. One example which comes to mind is closing off Central Park to cars permanently. The idea is as popular as any idea in NYC might be, has been for years, and yet cars still go through Central Park. Why? If our leaders really listened to their constituents, instead of moneyed special interests, then Central Park would have been closed to cars for the last decade at least.

    It’s all fine and dandy to posit how democracy should work in theory, except we ceased being a democracy once we allowed big money heavy influence on politics. This bill stinks but the process at which it was arrived at stinks even more.

  • Gepap

    What 50 previous layers would you be possibly referring to? A link to the bill is provided elsewhere. i suggest you actually read it.

  • Tyler

    I already replied below describing the added complexity the police would now be presented with… I’ve read the bill. You can keep saying “click on the link. read it.” if it makes you feel better.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll also add what if the police decide to send a driver on his/her merry way without noticing if the driver had issues which may have caused the incident (i.e. sleep deprivation, side effects of drugs, medical conditions, etc.)? The same driver is free to kill again, perhaps will do so within minutes of being released. This is why the police should detain the driver each and every time. Now if the law only perhaps exempted bus drivers from being taken away in handcuffs that would be fine but the police need more than a few minutes to investigate. Until the driver is cleared, he/she shouldn’t be driving, period.

  • djx

    You made me LOL. And it’s funny because it’s true.

  • Joe Enoch

    I’ll take any support we can get, but jesusfuckingchrist this is the same guy who refused to pursue charges against a taxi driver who tried to kill a bicyclist with his car, fortunately failed at that, but in the process mounted a curb, drove at high speed on a crowded sidewalk and severed a tourists’ leg.

    Who IS Cy Vance?

  • Niccolomacchiavelli

    Best discourse I have read here in years driven by one guy that can reason. Streetsblog does the best transportation advocacy journalism in NYC. But the comment section is largely a Hallelujah Chorus absent of any reasoning. It has become full of knee-jerk anti labor jeremiads which leads me to generally conclude that there is some sort of dog whistle in the reporting that I am too thick to absorb. Yet here, a single guy with a clear understanding of politics, and why we do it, has revived my faith in the comment section. You should hire this guy to explain politics to your readers on a regular basis.

  • Tommy

    NYC Transit bus operators are tested for drugs and alcohol by the Transit Authority for even minor accidents…. this is Di Blasio lying again.

  • District Attorney Vance (who I think is in a position to judge the legal aspects of this bill) is saying this, not Mayor de Blasio.

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