Today: Urge Cuomo to Amend or Kill Disastrous Albany Hit-and-Run Bill

District attorneys and traffic safety advocates across the state are asking Governor Cuomo to kill a bill that would stall efforts to reform state laws that create an incentive for drunk drivers to leave the scene of harmful crashes.

This year the Assembly and State Senate passed a bill (A5266/S4747) to create the offense of aggravated leaving the scene, a class C felony. Prosecutors and advocates have repeatedly requested that lawmakers fix a flaw in state law that makes it more attractive for drunk drivers to flee the scene of a crash, since the penalty for drivers who hit-and-run is less severe than the penalty for drunk drivers who stay at the scene. But the new legislation severely limits when the more severe charge may be applied.

As passed by the legislature, the new charge may be brought only when a driver leaves the scene of a crash resulting in the death or serious injury of more than one person. It must be determined that the crash was caused by reckless driving, and the driver must be driving without a valid license due to a prior DWI or leaving the scene conviction, or have a prior conviction for leaving the scene or DWI in the last 10 years.

Prosecutors are asking instead that Albany elevate felony penalties prescribed by existing law, by changing the charge for leaving the scene of a serious injury from a class E to a class D felony, and the charge for a fatal hit-and-run from a class D felony to class C. (Class E is New York’s least severe felony category.)

Groups including the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and STOP-DWI NY, along with more than 100 crash victims and their families, have written to Cuomo and Assembly and Senate leaders asking that the bill be dropped or amended.

The bill was sent to Cuomo’s desk on November 30 and must be signed or vetoed by December 11. Cuomo could act on it at any time. He could also let the bill die by not signing it.

“I know there were a lot of conversations that are going on,” Cuomo said last week. “We want to get the best law we can.”

“We want it amended to simply elevate the current leaving the scene charges and thereby remove the incentive to flee,” said Maureen McCormick, Nassau County vehicular crimes chief, in an email. “But if the legislature won’t amend it, the bill should not be signed because it does nothing for traffic safety and I believe the legislature will not pass another, less restrictive C felony — the one we need — if they have already enacted this one.”

TA and Families for Safe Streets are urging people to contact the governor’s officeAssembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to ask them to amend or veto the bill.

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