These Four Bills Do Deserve a Vote in the Assembly

Time to vote for street safety, Assembly members. Photo: Matt Wade/Flickr
Photo: Matt Wade/Flickr

The TWU’s attempt to weaken traffic safety laws cleared the State Senate but seems to be encountering more resistance in the Assembly. (You can contact your Assembly rep here to urge a “No” vote.) Meanwhile, there are there are several good bills that the Senate passed which have yet to come up for a vote in the Assembly.

Here are four to keep your eye on:

Eliminating the legal gray area for e-bikes. In 2002, the federal government reclassified low-power electric bikes, distinguishing them from mopeds and motorcycles. Albany, however, never adjusted state law, leaving New York’s e-bikes in limbo. Although it’s legal to buy and sell e-bikes, it’s illegal to operate them on New York’s public roads.

For years, the Assembly passed bills to eliminate the legal gray area and get state law in sync with the feds, while the issue stalled in the Senate. This year, roles have reversed: The Senate passed the legislation, 59-3, while the Assembly still hasn’t voted on its bill. The legislation has the support of Transportation Alternatives [PDF] and the New York Bicycling Coalition [PDF]. The groups are asking supporters to contact Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and Assembly Member David Gantt, the bill’s sponsor, to urge a vote.

Tougher penalties for unlicensed drivers who injure or kill: After the drivers who killed Noshat Nahian and Angela Hurtado were charged only with low-level misdemeanors for unlicensed operation, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly Member Marge Markey reintroduced legislation to toughen penalties for unlicensed drivers who injure and kill.

Their bills would affect drivers who are unlicensed or who have had a license suspended for driving infractions. These unlicensed drivers who seriously injure or kill while behind the wheel would face charges for vehicular assault, a class E felony, or  vehicular homicide, a class D felony.

The bill cleared the Senate, 61-1, but has not yet received a vote in the Assembly. (A second bill from Gianaris and Markey, which would require drivers with suspended or revoked licenses to surrender their vehicle registrations and license plates, has stalled in both chambers.)

Tougher penalties for hit-and-run drivers. The Senate has overwhelmingly passed at least two bills this year to increase penalties for drivers who leave the scene of a crash. Two of these bills (S1108 and S2136) would upgrade charges for hit-and-runs that result in serious injury from a class E felony to class D. Hit-and-runs that cause death would be upgraded from class D to class C. The change would increase fines and jail time for motorists who are convicted.

Only one of the bills, S1108 from Senator Marty Golden, would eliminate the loophole that enables drunk drivers to face less severe consequences if they flee the scene instead of sticking around for DUI charges. It would upgrade the lowest level of hit-and-run from a class A misdemeanor, carrying up to one year in prison, to a class E felony with up to four years of jail time. Bills to increase hit-and-run penalties have passed the Senate for years, but have stalled in the Assembly — a pattern that seems likely to continue this year.

Adding a cyclist and pedestrian component to driver’s ed. This piece of legislation, also sponsored by Golden, would add material to the DMV’s licensing exam about how to safely interact with cyclists and pedestrians. As in previous years, the bill easily cleared the Senate but remains stuck in committee at the Assembly, where it is sponsored by Walter T. Mosley and nine other lawmakers.

Lawmakers are working past the scheduled end of the legislative session and are expected to wrap up this week.

  • I recently passed the written test and undertook the compulsory five-hour class to get a New York driver’s license. All the questions about bikes were on issues such as what cyclists were obliged to do (use lights, ride at the side of the road and so on) while none of the questions I encountered covered how to interact safely with cyclists. In the five-hour class, I was shown, among other things, a long, corny film from more than 20 years ago about how people would have to change their ingrained driving habits with the advent of anti-lock brakes. How such an out-of-date film was meant to help new drivers was mysterious to me. That time could have been far better spent on learning how to interact with pedestrians and cyclists safely, as Sen Golden’s bill suggests. It’s not as if any drivers on New York City streets appears to have the slightest clue how to drive around cyclists.

  • ddartley

    Did you go through this because you’re actually getting a license, or as some (excellent) journalistic research? Thanks for sharing.

  • Joe R.

    If the e-bike bill passes, will it finally be legal to operate an e-bike in NYC?

  • rao

    Ah, that would explain the cabbie who honked and repeatedly gestured and yelled at me while riding on the left side of Lexington Avenue. “Other side! Other side!” I thought at the time: how would he have any clue about what cyclists are “supposed” to do? Of course — bad information from drivers’ ed. I’m guessing the course didn’t tell you that cyclists are allowed on the left side of wide one-way streets.

  • Kevin Love

    Yes.

  • Jesse

    Why would he even care? Was he trying to turn left? Would he have said the same thing if you’d been on the right side and he was trying to turn right? It always amazes me how cabbies treat everyone outside of a cab like a nuisance instead of a potential customer.

  • com63

    I thought you were always supposed to ride on the left side on one way streets (so you are more visible to drivers). On very wide streets, cyclists are permitted on both the left side and the right side.

  • rao

    He wasn’t even trying to turn left. I think he just wanted to get to the next red light 5 seconds faster.

  • rao

    According to DOT, cyclists “must ride bicycle on the right side of the roadway” except that “bicyclists may use either side of a 40-foot wide one-way roadway.” http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/bicyclerules_english.pdf

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