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Senate Bill by Gounardes Would Seize Licenses from Reckless Drivers

State Senator Andrew Gounardes has a bill that would get reckless drivers off the road. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Mayor de Blasio has come out in favor of a State Senate bill that would seize the licenses of drivers who get three moving violations in any 12-month period — though the mayor opposes a similar measure that has been proposed in the City Council.

The Albany bill was introduced quietly by State Senator Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge) last month and has not received much attention until Friday, when the mayor said such a bill would work well in conjunction with the coming increase in school-zone speed enforcement cameras.

Mayor de Blasio supports State Senator Andrew Gounardes's effort to rein in reckless drivers. Photo: Mayor's office

"We need Albany to pass another law to increase the fines for multiple violators," de Blasio said at the speed camera press conference on Friday. He did not mention Gounardes's bill specifically, but had mentioned the senator's efforts earlier. "We need folks who consistently break the law, and consistently speed, to face higher penalties. And for the worst offenders, we need to see their licenses suspended once and for all."

The Gounardes bill, S5203, is short but sweet, consisting of a single paragraph:  It would suspend the "driving privileges entirely for at least one year" of anyone convicted of three moving violations within a 12-month period. The bill outlines the violations as "disobeying [a] traffic control signal, speeding more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit, participating in a race or unauthorized speed contest, overtaking a school bus, reckless driving, failure to yield to a pedestrian, and operating a motor vehicle while using a cell phone or operating a motor vehicle while using a portable electronic device."

"It's a real easy concept: three strikes and you're out," Gounardes told Streetsblog.

It is unclear how many New York State drivers would lose their licenses under such a bill. The state Department of Motor Vehicles could not immediately come up with a figure. But  New York City police officers wrote more than 700,000 moving violations in 2018 in just the five boroughs — an indication that many drivers are exceptionally reckless.

The Gounardes bill would complement a City Council bill by Brad Lander of Park Slope that would allow authorities to seize cars that have been caught on camera speeding or running red lights five or more times in a 12-month period, with the car being returned only after the driver passed a driving-safety course. That bill is currently stalled because it may require some state approval. Also, it is opposed by Mayor de Blasio.

The Gounardes bill would apply only to summonses issued by police officers — so that drivers could not fight their suspensions on the grounds that they were not driving at the time the car was caught doing something dangerous. It appears that the ability of drivers to make such an excuse is one of the sticking points that the de Blasio administration has with the Lander bill.

Gounardes said state lawmakers could possibly help pave the way in a separate bill.

"This bill specifies the driver, who will be known because the police officer will issue the summons," he said. "But we can think about other things we can do to strengthen the automated enforcement. If you get a certain number of tickets, say, you could lose your registration.

"My bill is just one remedy," Gounardes added. "We need to come up with a robust toolkit to go after the worst offenders."

Gounardes said he was unsure if the bill could be passed by the end of the legislative session in June, but was hopeful that the mayor's support would help.

"I'm certainly going to make the strongest case I can," said the senator, who replaced street safety opponent Marty Golden in January, and has had a string of legislative victories. "Hopefully what the mayor said helps."

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