How Many Bad Drivers Are There in New York State? DMV Doesn’t Know — And Doesn’t Seem to Care!

Reckless drivers kill and kill and kill again. Does the state DMV care?
Reckless drivers kill and kill and kill again. Does the state DMV care?

The state Department of Motor Vehicles either doesn’t know — or doesn’t care to know — how many reckless drivers are on the road.

That’s the shocking conclusion from the agency’s denial of a request for that basic information from Streetsblog, which asked in May, “How many New York State-licensed drivers have three or more moving violations in any 12-month period?”

The answer? DMV “does not have a way to know which records in our possession might answer the questions you have asked,” the agency’s Freedom of Information Law and Subpoena Unit responded on July 29. “Nor does the DMV maintain the records requested in a manner that permits practical retrieval.”

The agency also denied the request on the grounds that “asking a question, or requesting information, is not a request for records as envisioned by the Freedom of Information Law.”

Perhaps, but back in May, Tim O’Brien of the DMV communications office, told Streetsblog that to obtain the information,  we would “have to submit a FOIL request” (see his specific instructions below).

obrien email

On Monday, O’Brien told Streetsblog, “The communications office does not have the data you are seeking. The FOIL office is a separate office within DMV. If you believe you have been denied access to records, the letter you received should have spelled out the appeals process.” (Editor’s note: There will be an appeal.)

It’s no minor issue that the state agency in charge of licensing drivers can’t easily put its hands on driving records. A pending bill by State Senator Andrew Gounardes would suspend the licenses of any driver with three or more moving violations in any rolling 12-month period, so it is crucial that policymakers know how many drivers would be affected.

“You’ve got to be kidding me — the DMV either can’t track or won’t report information on the most dangerous drivers on the road?” Gounardes said when Streetsblog informed of the DMV non-response to our request for information. “My ‘three strikes and you’re out’ bill relies on agencies having the ability to protect the public by suspending licenses of the worst traffic offenders. I will be looking into legislative solutions to ensure that the information is gathered, maintained and made available to the public.”

It can’t be that difficult to determine how many drivers — or vehicles — have been slapped with multiple moving violations. After all, cars that have been nabbed by a red light or speed camera in New York City end up in the city’s “Parking and Camera Violations” database.

There are roughly 40 million parking and moving violations in the database, making it difficult to spot patterns with the naked eye, but fortunately, cyclist (and Streetsblog Advocate of the Year 2018) Brian Howald created “How’s My Driving NY,” a website that combs the database and spits out reports on individual license plates in a split second. Streetsblog asked Howald to sort the database for all vehicles that have received three or more moving violations in any 12-month period.

The result: 614,498 vehicles.

And that’s just in New York City — and just the vehicles with three or moving violations caught on the city’s sparse 140 or so school zone camera systems in any 12-month period (plenty more drivers have more than three red light or speed camera violations, but they are spread out across a wider time frame).

It doesn’t take much imagination to see that Gounardes’s bill could remove hundreds of thousands of reckless drivers — if the state DMV decides to take its oversight role seriously.

  • MotoBX

    Fun fact (okay not a fact but bear with me): The NYPD’s disdain for all things with two wheels will lead to the following after Gounardes’ bill .

    For bicyclists: “You were observed running three red lights before I stopped you. Here are your 3 tickets for failure to obey a traffic control device; your license is suspended.” I’m pretty sure I’ve read that here. Someone said they’re fighting $1800 in fines from one stop.

    For motorcyclists: “We fully stopped traffic, during rush hour on the LIE/SIE/Belt in order to conduct an unconstitutional Motorcycle only Checkpoint (called a “Step Out Initiative” to avoid the 4th amendment requirements that come with checkpoints). You were observed filtering. Here are your tickets for disobeying pavement markings, reckless driving (at 5 mph), and illegal lane change. Your license is suspended.” I see this one on the motorcycle boards all the time, multiple violations for one act of lane splitting/filtering at a checkpoint. Nevermind the violations they make up if you’re not riding with a camera to keep them in check.

    Unless you’re on 4 wheels weighing >2500lbs, the NYPD will treat you like shit.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The insurance industry knows. With the whole “big data” thing it should be possible to estimate:

    1) The number of vehicles insured out of state to avoid paying for a share of NYC’s bad drivers.

    2) The number of uninsured drivers.

    3) The number of insured drivers in assigned risk, and the share of those drivers who are only in assigned risk due to their low level of experience.

    What you run into is this. If you can’t drive, it is believed, you are not in the middle class. Barriers to driving are barriers to joining the middle class. The cost of insuring a new driver is so sky-high, that only the affluent can afford it (believe me, I’ve paid). So unless you allow people to drive uninsured or out of state, you are freezing minorities out of the middle class.

    This is the reason why there is no crackdown on uninsured drivers and out of state plates. Why the issue isn’t even in the public discussion.

    From the point of view of Westchester it’s great, let the people in Brooklyn who register their cars where they actually live pay for the rest of it. In fact, there is a distinction between “Brooklyn urban” and “Brooklyn suburban” in rates.

  • mfs

    While I’m not sure this is deserving of a story — some editors might ask their reporters to keep doing reporting rather than report on a dead end — this is way out of line with how other agencies handle such requests. There’s an entire unit at NYC DOE that does this work of database querying and a good deal of their work is FOIL-inquiry driven.

  • Vooch

    great article – keep up the pressure.

    Even better – ask ‘How many currently liscensed Drivers have been in a crash resulting in a death ?” – crickets

    notice how the question is framed – its not a guilt question, just a statistical point.

  • William Lawson

    Never forget that after drink driving scumbag Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha killed Allison Liao in a crosswalk after refusing to yield to her, not only did the DMV give him his license back, but they also dismissed his tickets in less than a minute. They believed his claim that Allison “ran in front of his car,” despite there being a very clear video which showed that the opposite was the case. The DMV is as much of an obstacle to Vision Zero as the NYPD. Like most city agencies, it’s staffed and run by people on the make who just want to do the minimum amount of work possible to guarantee their eventual retirement to Florida. We need massive, sweeping reform of these institutions in order to cut the cancer out of them and make them work properly. Start by hiring people who are passionate about their jobs and the reason for them. We are putting our lives in the hands of lazy, ignorant, incompetent and uncaring morons who refuse to do their jobs, and people are dying because of it. All of these people need to be fired.

  • AMH

    It doesn’t sound like a dead end to me, but rather a continuing effort. I’m glad that this is on the record, and that at least one state senator is on board. The fact that a state agency admits that it doesn’t store records in a way that they can be retrieved is pretty appalling, if not necessarily shocking, and in my mind newsworthy.

  • bettybarcode

    I thought that any time you were pulled over, the officer could look up your driving record.

    So does the DMV have statistics on the number of drivers who have suspended licenses due to moving violations, as opposed to unpaid fines? Are you more likely to lose your license for ignoring tickets than for running red lights?

  • Brian Howald

    For context:

    The data I analyzed is school zone speed camera summonses from January 2014 to early August 2018 and red light camera summonses from February 2007 to July 2018 (with the bulk of that data, >95%, coming after July 2013).

    There were 7,564,720 such summonses over these time periods. The above-mentioned 614,498 vehicles received 2,671,078 of these summonses, or 35.3% of all such summonses.

  • Alan

    Bicycle tickets do not, by law, result in tickets on your license. (They sometimes do because the DMV is incompetent.)

    But otherwise accurate.

  • MotoBX

    The law says you can’t get points, very true. However, do bicycle offenses still count as a moving violation on your license?

    Ultimately, this is probably moot as I’m sure someone will get an exception for bicycle violations.

  • Urbanely

    “Start by hiring people who are passionate about their jobs and the reason for them.”

    It’s hard to do this when many positions are based on civil service. I had to do hiring in the civil service system and it is extremely difficult to find qualified candidates in some civil service titles. There’s also a pesky thing known as “1 in 3” that requires you to take one of the people from a hiring pool if a certain number of people show up. Add to that the fact that some of the positions are so low paid that the employees are collecting benefits and/or living in public housing, and you will understand why we get what we get. It’s a hot mess all around.

  • Joe R.

    There’s also the fact these are all union positions. I had a job once when I was in a union. I never felt so demoralized. Getting merit pay raises wasn’t possible. You were basically stuck with what you were hired at, and the measly annual contractual raises, which were something like 20 cents an hour each year. Some union jobs have increases based on years of service, but that rewards time spent on the job, not whether or not you went above and beyond the call of duty. I actually did negotiate a merit raise by threatening to quit. The boss had my back and he threatened to quit also if me and another guy who was also doing a good job didn’t get decent raises. Of course, the union threw a shit fit when they found out about it, but there was nothing in the contract specifically prohibiting these raises. For city jobs however there is only the pay scale. You can’t get more by doing a good job, and that sucks for anyone with even an inkling of ambition.

    You’ll get better people when merit raises are possible and doing a better job is actually highly rewarded. Until then just expect to get people who will do just barely enough to keep their job for 20 or 25 years so they can get a pension.

    For cops a good metric for how well you’re doing your job is either consistently low crime statistics, or reducing crime in high-crime areas. The usual performance metric, the number of tickets or arrests, is meaningless. We should reward actual results.

  • Joe R.

    We shouldn’t even have assigned risk pools. Those may charge bad drivers a higher rate, but it’s still a rate partially subsidized by good drivers. We should charge bad drivers what they actually cost insurance companies. If it makes driving prohibitive, so be it. If enough people couldn’t afford to drive, or lost their licenses for good due to bad driving, other options to get around would appear. Not driving wouldn’t be assumed to be a barrier to the middle class.

  • Joe R.

    It’s 100% moot if you don’t even have a driver’s license, as I’m sure is the case with a significant minority of cyclists, perhaps even a majority. NYS lets you get a state non-drivers ID card which is functionally as good as a driver’s license for the purposes of ID. I’ve had one since my early 20s. I never really had much of a desire or need to get a driver’s license since I never made enough to afford a car.

  • Bill

    My guess is that it’s based on how the data is captured. They often don’t have access to court data, so they don’t want to count moving violations that were merged or otherwise duplicated. They may also not know how to group the citation data into stops, and most dmv citation data is guilty only.

    You’d need someone (there’s a group at one of the university that does this – transportation research center) that has access to both court data and citation data, and can ensure the moving violations are not duplicate, and also determine whether you mean 3 in multiple stops or even if there are three separate violations in one stop. It’s not easy to do, that’s why you are getting this response.

    In my state we could do this no problem but we are able to do the above.

  • Larry Littlefield

    How about the uninsured/underinsured portion of the insurance bill? A big chunk of it, as I recall.

  • Patricia Oatridge

    Not surprised, I wrote one to Albany with a foil request and was told they did not have that info and I could appeal the same office that sent the lack of info to me


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